Obi-Wan Kenobi is a live-action TV series that I’ve been hoping for since long before it was ever announced. Actually, prior to the rise of Star Wars live-action television programs like The Mandalorian, I hoped that Lucasfilm would make a stand-alone Obi-Wan Kenobi film set between the events of Revenge Of The Sith and A New Hope.
We only have the two-part Series Premiere to go off of at this point, but judging only by the first two episodes I’m sort of torn. By the end of the first episode of The Mandalorian I was in love. By the end of the first episode of The Book Of Boba Fett I was concerned.
But after the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi I’m just . . . neither particularly excited nor really disappointed. Maybe it’s simply too early to tell.
There were some nice surprises. The trailers made this look like a show that would once again be centered around Tatooine, where Kenobi—hidden from the Empire and its Inquisitors—looked over a young Luke Skywalker from the shadows. And it certainly started that way until the big twist: a precocious, opinionated and rather wild ten-year-old Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair).
Leia, not Luke, is the Baby Yoda of this story. Or that’s how it appears to be shaping up. When Leia is kidnapped from her palatial home on Alderaan, her adoptive parents Bail (Jimmy Smits) and Breha Organa (Simone Kessell) turn to Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) for help.
The aging Jedi, meanwhile, is living a life of quiet solitude on Tatooine, going about his business with his head down, living a “normal life”—something he instructs a fugitive Jedi to do when said Jedi turns to him for help. “Bury your lightsaber in the desert,” he advises, in so many words, which turns out to be exactly what he has done.
But Obi-Wan is not keen on the idea of tracking down Leia’s captors. As he told the Jedi, he tells her parents, “I’m not the man I once was,” and refuses to assist, forcing Senator Bail Organa to pay him a visit in person.
The timing works out pretty well. At this point, Obi-Wan has had a close call with the trio of Inquisitors that showed up on Tatooine to track down the runaway Jedi. The Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend—who also plays Agent 47 in Hitman!) along with the Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) and Third Sister (Moses Ingram) have arrived on the desert planet to ferret out the Jedi, but he gets away when the Third Sister and Grand Inquisitor clash.
The Third Sister—Reva—is determined to find Obi-Wan Kenobi, presumably because it will grant her status and power within the Empire. As the Grand Inquisitor makes very plain at one point, she is little more than a gutter rat with Force powers to them—little better than rebel scum. So she goes against his orders time and again, recklessly but effectively pursuing Kenobi.
His first brush with Reva is a close call. He’s just been scolded by Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) for surreptitiously dropping off a Star Wars toy (heh) for Luke (Grant Feely) when the Fifth Brother and Reva show up and start questioning everyone about the Jedi’s location. Reva notices Owen casting a furtive glance her way and hones in on him, but he plays it very cool telling her that Jedi are vermin, and he kills vermin on his farm.
Reva is ruthless, however. She tells the crowd—Obi-Wan hiding nearby in the shadows—that she’ll kill the farmer and his family if they don’t tell her where the Jedi is hiding. The Fifth Brother intervenes, stopping her and telling her that she’s gone too far. So she hatches a new plan and sets a trap for Kenobi.
The trap involves sending kidnappers to Alderaan where they lay in wait for Leia, who has a free spirit and is prone to sneaking out of the palace and into the surrounding woods. I guess Alderaan is such a nice, peaceful place that they don’t worry too much about security because the plan goes off without a hitch.
After clashing with her snooty cousin at a banquet in the palace, Leia sneaks off instead of apologizing—breaking the sacred pinky swear with her father!—and the kidnappers swoop her up and take her to the gritty urban planet of Daiyu (an adventure young Leia seems only mildly resentful about given how stir crazy she’s gotten on Alderaan).
Obi-Wan, meanwhile, has just encountered the fugitive Jedi—hanging in the town square. It’s heavily implied that he committed suicide. Perhaps because he was tired of running, perhaps to save the innocents of Tatooine from the Inquisitors—but certainly because Obi-Wan refused to help him and sent him to fend for himself in his time of need.
So when Bail Organa is standing in Obi-Wan’s cave, his defenses are already down. Bail convinces him to go search for the girl and tells her where the kidnappers are headed. Grudgingly, the Jedi Master agrees, taking on a role perhaps more suited for our Beskar Steel armored friend.
Obi-Wan heads to Daiyu and begins his search for the missing Leia. The city is gritty and neon. Spice dealers haunt the streets. Stormtroopers tell people to get out of the way. It’s a place where no signals can be traced in or out and where fake Jedi scam unsuspecting people.
I’m referring, of course, to Haja Estree (Kumail Nanjiani) a con-artist who uses magnets and accomplices to pull off Force grabs and Jedi Mind Tricks. Nanjiani is as charming and funny as ever and Haja turns out to be a really great character who I hope we see more of in this limited series. Obi-Wan is not a fan, however, and gets the man to help him at blaster-point. Haja sends him to a wretched hive of scum and villainy where it seems likely the girl is being held.
Kenobi sneaks his way in and finds the cell where Leia is presumably being held, but it’s an ambus. The kidnappers, led by Vect Nokru (Flea) grab him and reveal that the whole thing was just an elaborate trap set by Reva who is on her way now. The Jedi, however, has a trick up his sleeve (quite literally). A spice dealer sympathetic to his story about searching for his “daughter” gives him a little bulb of spice, which he tosses on the ground, quickly pulling a gas mask he was using as a disguise earlier over his face. The spice fills the small chamber and the kidnappers fall to the floor in a drugged daze.
Kenobi finds Leia the next cell over. She thwacks him in the stomach when he enters, certain he’s just another bad guy. He convinces her to follow him and make their escape, and they manage to get out just before Reva shows up. But she’s as precocious as ever and never really stops beleaguering our hero with questions and commentary. She’s incisive enough to impress him—and a fair bit wittier than 19-year-old Luke was in A New Hope. My how disappointed an older Ben Kenobi must have been when he discovered that Leia’s twin brother was so much duller.
It’s actually kind of interesting to think about where this story is headed. I suspect that Obi-Wan and Leia’s adventure is just beginning and will be resolved in the six-episode arc of this limited series. This means that Obi-Wan will develop a much closer bond to young Leia than he ever does to Luke. In some ways, this makes A New Hope more tragic than ever. When they go to rescue Leia on the Death Star, she and Obi-Wan never cross paths. He dies fighting Darth Vader (in a showdown we never knew contained such history when we first saw it) and she escapes with Luke and Han and Chewie and the droids. It’s only much later that Force Ghost Obi-Wan mentions Luke’s sister.
In any case, once the Grand Inquisitor discovers what Reva’s been up to he takes her off the hunt, vowing to bring in Kenobi himself. He should have had her arrested on the spot, because she’s not about to quit now. Instead, she puts a bounty out on Kenobi to confuse the Grand Inquisitor’s plans. This makes Kenobi’s life a great deal more difficult as well, as does the shuttering of the port—an obstacle he didn’t consider when it was just a paltry band of kidnappers and not the Inquisition itself.
Then again, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
Ahem. When Leia gets wind of the bounty she immediately assumes the worst, which I found a bit unbelievable. Despite him clearly rescuing her from the kidnappers and coming off as a gentle grandpa type, she jumps directly to the conclusion that he’s a bad guy working with the kidnappers and she bolts. He’s forced to chase her through the mean streets of Daiyu and pretty soon we get the Star Wars version of John Wick, as bounty hunter after bounty hunter takes up the chase.
Leia makes her way to the rooftops and we get one of the better action scenes in the two-part premiere. Kenobi chases her but is dogged by enemy fire. Reva makes her own way across the rooftops toward the commotion. Leia finally reaches a rooftop she cannot possibly leap across—and leaps anyways, missing by a long mile and falling—grasping a line on her way down. “Hold on, Leia!” Obi-Wan calls to her, but she slips and falls.
And finally, for the first time, the old Jedi busts out some Force powers. He’s put up a rather weak showing up to this point. No lightsaber duels, no Mind Tricks, no Force karate. But now he has no choice and he reaches out to the Force . . . and casts Feather Fall on the rapidly descending girl.
She lands gently and he rushes down to her. “You really are a Jedi!” she exclaims, and all I can think of is Willow telling Madmartigan, “You are great!” (Sorry, Willow is on my mind ever since the awesome new trailer for the Disney Plus TV series).
But they’re not out of the woods yet. They rush to the port but it’s all closed down and Inquisitors and Stormtroopers are everywhere. Obi-Wan tells Leia that the Inquisitors were former Jedi who turned on their own and now hunt them across the galaxy.
All seems lost when a bounty droid appears behind them and is suddenly blasted to smithereens by none other than Haja, who turns out to be a con-man with a heart of gold. He gives them a key to a big freight hauler and instructions on how to get out of the port on it—the Imperial forces won’t be watching freight haulers, only passenger vessels. Obi-Wan doesn’t want to trust him but has little choice.
Haja then makes a very big, very avoidable mistake. He tells them he’ll buy them some time and then places himself directly between the fugitives and Reva. It’s very brave and very stupid. He’s funny as ever, wise-cracking that she’s finally tracked him down and playing it off like he’s the Jedi she’s after. But of course she knows better and she’s able to read his mind and determine exactly where Obi-Wan and Leia are headed (raising one very big question: Why didn’t she just try this on Uncle Owen???)
So Haja doesn’t give them up on purpose, but he gives them up and soon Reva has tracked them to the ship before they can board and take off. She, in turn, is followed by the Grand Inquisitor who once again tells her to stand aside. So she stabs him to death. “You didn’t think I’d let you take all the credit?” she says as he dies on her lightsaber.
This gives Obi-Wan the opening he needs and he and Leia escape as an angry Reva shouts stuff like “I’ll get you you dirty rats! One of these days! I’ll get you, see!” from below.
So this is all pretty exciting stuff. Obi-Wan off rescuing a ten-year-old Leia actually makes a lot of sense when you think about Leia’s message to the Jedi as projected by R2-D2: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
By telling a story that builds a relationship between Kenobi and the young princess, we flesh out some backstory we never really knew we needed, but that actually does enrich the backdrop to the Skywalker Saga rather beautifully (or at least hopefully it will over the course of this series).
On the other hand, it is more Skywalker Saga and there is a part of me that just really wishes we could move on and tackle some other stories instead. Why did I like Rogue One and Solo so much? In large part because they weren’t focused so intently on the Skywalkers (though, obviously there’s the end of Rogue One that ties directly to A New Hope).
And this is why I have such mixed feelings. Just like I was thrilled to see Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian and again in The Book Of Boba Fett, there’s a part of me that just wants Star Wars in general to move on. This is a big universe with a timeline that spans many thousands of years. There are other stories to be told. Even in this timeline we have shows like Andor that look like they’ll dodge Skywalker lore rather effectively (my god the first trailer for that show looks fantastic).
Beyond this, I noted at least one plot hole above. Why didn’t Reva mind-read Owen? and why is security so lax on Alderaan when Bail Organa knows full-well the importance of protecting Leia. That seems out of character to me.
Also, are they perhaps trying just a little too hard to make Leia clever and precocious? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed child Leia very much but at times it felt like they were laying it on a little thick. Yes, adult Leia is very fierce and brave and never backs down, even as she witnesses her home world destroyed in one fell swoop and everyone she ever loved killed. But I think you can portray that without taking it quite this far all at once. Maybe I’m nit-picking at this point.
Finally, there was something just a little flat about the whole thing. It’s an exciting story that felt a little detached from itself. Perhaps it’s a prequel problem, I’m not sure. I thought everyone, and especially Ewan McGregor, acted the hell out of every scene and the writing was fine for the most part, but it just felt at times like a show that’s missing something. Some oomph, some momentum, some thing that makes us care a little bit more.
Again, maybe this is just a prequel problem. We already know how Leia dies (in my head-canon it’s when she’s blasted out into the vacuum of space by her murderous son and doesn’t Force Mary Poppins her way back to safety for no good reason—RIP Carrie Fisher). We also know how Obi-Wan Kenobi dies, at the hands of his old pal Darth in the lamest lightsaber duel of the entire franchise (no offense, George Lucas).
So what are the stakes in this show?
Maybe just filling in some narrative blanks and maybe that’s enough. I reserve judgement for now. For now, I’m happy enough to keep watching but my skepticism will watch with me, the two of us keeping one another company as always.
Oh, and I should note that for all my complaints there was plenty I liked, if I didn’t make that clear enough. Darth Vader’s return is epic, or promises to be anyways. When he opens his eyes in the Vader tank after Obi-Wan says his name, that’s a spine-tingling moment.
Then again, a minor plot hole: When Reva first mentions Darth Vader she just says Darth Vader and Obi-Wan looks like he’s seen a ghost. She then proceeds to say something like “Ah you didn’t know…Anakin is alive!” but how does Obi-Wan know that Darth Vader is Anakin…until she tells him moments later?
Anyways, lots to unpack, lots to think about. Much depends on next week’s episode and the three after that.
What did you think of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s two-part series premiere? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook. And follow me on this blog for all my TV reviews! I’ll be reviewing The Boys, Stranger Things 4 and The Orville as well (to name a few).