I still find myself conflicted on Obi-Wan Kenobi, a six-part storyline that looks mostly good on paper but completely fails in execution. Every story beat I hoped for is present here, particularly Obi-Wan coming to terms with Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. Stories I never imagined, like Obi-Wan meeting young Leia, work for me completely and enhance A New Hope without contradicting it. Introducing The Path is a great addition to Dark Times lore and I hope it is shown in future series, perhaps with a redeemed Reva (Moses Ingram) trying to help those she once hunted. For the nerd in me, it was lovely to see each of the six episodes mirror their respective story in the Skywalker Saga.
Conceptually, Obi-Wan Kenobi worked for me. It builds out the canon properly and gives us more time with Obi-Wan as he transitions between trilogies. It isn’t a complete failure like The Book of Boba Fett.
Why does it feel so goddamn cheap? So lazy?
Lucasfilm had one shot at making an Obi-Wan film that stands in sequence with nine visually inventive and often stunning films. A series that felt like movie. Unfortunately, more than any other live-action Disney+ series, Obi-Wan just frequently looks like total dogshit.
The Volume, when used correctly, is an incredible tool for creating digital spaces, but as with Boba Fett the production team uses it as a crutch, resulting in lifeless environments that look worse than set-dressing and green screen. Cinematic stagecraft has always dealt with artificial backdrops and simulated outdoor environments. The movies do it so well. Everything in this show, especially Tatooine at night, feels so awful. It’s like nobody even tried.
What stands out to me the most is the final duel of the series, which encompasses most of the show’s problems. This is supposed to be the big emotional moment where Obi-Wan finally accepts Anakin is gone. Never mind that the show spent so much time on Reva’s underbaked story when it should’ve focused more on Vader as the primary antagonist; at the very least, the responsibility of Chow & co. was to provide a confrontation that lived up to the iconic battle in Revenge of the Sith both physically and emotionally, and they fail to do that.
Fights, particularly lightsaber duels, should feel like dance sequences, with a rhythm all their own. George Lucas understood this. So did Rian Johnson, whose Throne Room fight in The Last Jedi was the only stand-out battle in that trilogy. For whatever reason, nobody in Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed to understand the assignment. The camera cuts with every swing. Characters shift what side of the screen they’re on between cuts. Cool moves are lost in the edit, rather than being seen in full, as part of a whole choreography. Who would ever want to watch this again?
The physicality of the fight is one glaring issue. The setting is another. Obi-Wan and Vader’s fight on a lava planet was long-awaited by fans ever since it was alluded to around the release of Return of the Jedi. Revenge of the Sith delivered an extraordinary, if a little nutty, final battle to end them all. Mustafar-as-Hell is as Star Wars as it gets, blending Lucas’ overt symbolism with an exciting action setting. Whatever planet their duel happens on here is just a world of grey stalactites. Who thought this was equitable?
Emotionally, most of what Vader and Obi-Wan accomplish here exists solely to explain why our hero calls him “Darth” in A New Hope, a ‘problem’ that exists because of Lucas’ later retcon of Vader’s backstory. It’s never been a big deal.
The show sets up an interesting arc for Obi-Wan in the second episode, learning his friend is alive, but there’s never a single moment where he tries to reach out to Anakin in this entire series. Their first meeting in Part III has him horrified and ready to fight. The same happens here. There’s no actual story being told between them, because all the oxygen is eaten up by Reva’s half-assed redemption arc.
Even the supporting cast is off-sync with the Obi-Wan and Vader confrontation. Roken (O’Shea Jackson Jr) basically tells him there is no reason to confront Vader and he’s only doing it for himself. That scene undercuts the dramatic urgency of the marquee fight of the film. It’s all so underdeveloped. A fight here between Obi-Wan and Vader that covers the same plot grounds is a good idea, in theory, but they just whiff it.
Let’s talk about Reva. Frankly, her story never comes together. We meet her in the first two episodes as a young Inquisitor dedicated to hunting down Obi-Wan to get close to Darth Vader. The next two episodes spin wheels and hint at a backstory we really ought to have known sooner. In Part V, she attacks Vader and loses, left for dead on Jabiim. Up to that point things are a wonky but not terrible; the stuff between her and Vader, and the Order 66 Backstory, are really strong.
But then her entire final act is predicated on Obi-Wan Kenobi dropping a voicemail that directs her to Luke Skywalker. So she magically shows up on Tatooine to attack him. It’s unclear whether she knows he is the son of Anakin Skywalker. Obi-Wan is too stupid to protect Luke from her, or even sense he’s in danger until he’s done with his plot-mandated fight with Vader. Thankfully Owen & Beru are there to protect him (the best part of the episode), but they fail too, leaving Luke at the mercy of Reva, who decides she can’t become a child murderer. Reva’s redemption is entirely self-motivated by the fact she can’t bring herself to kill a kid. Obi-Wan Kenobi, our hero, has nothing to do with it.
This is supposedly a story about Obi-Wan coming to terms with what he cannot change. How fighting Vader himself is not the answer (although, heck, had he just killed him here, a lot of problems would be solved – at least he thought he was dead after Revenge of the Sith. Here he just kinda walks away).
It’s also complete bullshit that this show put Luke Skywalker ‘in peril’ during the final episode, which requires every single hero tasked with protecting him to fall on their assess. It’s a tensionless scenario – we know she can’t kill Owen or Beru or Luke – and it makes Luke’s trio of protectors look like morons through and through. There was no reason this show needed to incorporate Luke outside of book-end sequences of Obi-Wan reaching his understanding with Owen about letting the boy grow up happily. Everything with Reva is contrived, worthless, and a distraction from the somewhat interesting Vader v. Obi-Wan material.
Frankly: Beru should’ve shot her for trespassing. It would’ve been shocking, and I’m sure plenty of angry think-pieces would’ve picked it apart, but it would’ve been a far more interesting ending that empowers the Lars family as Luke’s protectors in a way this version does not.
Which isn’t to say Reva doesn’t have potential down the road as the lead of a show about her helping The Path. But the route to get there is just stupid.
Anyway, my closing thought on Obi-Wan Kenobi is that it’s a solid 5/10 for me. It succeeds in the fan service department and a lot of good stuff came out of it, like the relationship between Ben & Leia. On every visual level, though, most of the show is awful to look at and frankly embarrassing coming from Lucasfilm.
There’s a lousy tradition in the Star Wars franchise: most of it sucks, the bad stuff is always filled with good ideas that become seeds for decent stories. The Prequels are an example of this. Clone Wars and Rebels redeemed many concepts found there. Thematic elements of that trilogy finally saw expansion in The Last Jedi.
Books and comics have played off a lot of ideas that movies whiffed, too. Boba Fett, for one, is a character who lived in the imaginations of fans for decades despite his joke death in Return of the Jedi. We’re now seeing novels that smooth over some of the odder choices in The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a cycle. It’s quintessentially Star Wars.
I was really hoping Obi-Wan Kenobi would be part of the redemption cycle of Star Wars stories, and on paper it probably reads that way. On screen, though, it just feels like a lot of good ideas that never properly congealed into a the show it deserved to be.
- Reva arriving on Tatooine so quickly is such a dorky plot movement.
- I really hated Roken arguing with Obi-Wan. At this point in the story, Obi-Wan should be in a position of influence and wisdom. Other characters should be listening to him.
- Naja isn’t trustworthy, why is Obi-Wan leaving Leia with him?
- Owen and Beru defending Luke was wonderful and I wish it amounted to more.
- Having Luke say “I’m not afraid.” Alright.
- Obi-Wan preparing to fight by shifting into his classic stance was a nice touch.
- The camera work continues to be inexplicably shaky and anti-cinematic. This is the show that needed to look and feel like a blockbuster movie. It just doesn’t.
- Despite the awful editing with the duel, the actual beats are interesting. Vader trying to bury Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan using the force to throw boulders at him. Obi-wan destroying his life support system and slashing his mask. I liked all of that.
- I liked seeing Hayden Christensen behind the mask, too, and his nasty smile when he says he killed Anakin Skywalker.
- Palpatine’s make-up isn’t great, but I’m glad he showed up to put Vader in his place. By this point in canon, Palpatine is done chasing down rogue Jedi, and has better uses for Vader. It seems odd, but it makes complete sense to me that Vader wouldn’t continue chasing Obi-Wan Kenobi. He has other fish to fry.
- It felt really goofy to me that Obi-Wan left Tatooine and travelled to Alderaan so quickly after Luke almost got eviscerated.
- I did love the Hello There delivered to little Luke. Doesn’t bother me that he once met Old Ben Kenobi.
- I finally got my Ghost Qui-Gon, and his wig is as bad as Mark Hamill’s in The Rise of Skywalker. What are they even doing at Lucasfilm? C’mon.
- I know this review sounds very negative. I mean, I guess it is, but I still ultimately really enjoyed seeing Ewan McGregor back in this role and hope to see more of him in the future. The ending leaves him open for more adventures, which I would like to see, as long as they’re thoughtfully crafted.
I’m hoping my buddy Greg can send me back a lightsaber from Galaxy’s Edge when he visits soon, but it depends on what they have in stock. It does not appear the Qui-Gon saber has been released yet.
Nothing. Honestly, this series has made me cancel a few pre-orders I’d set after the first two episodes. I don’t really need a Reva, for instance, because her story was so disappointing to me. I’ll still buy an Obi-Wan and a Grand Inquisitor (for my Rebels shelf), but otherwise I’m probably going to cool it on the Obi-Wan line of releases.