REVIEW: “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (2022)

(CLICK HERE for my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Since it was first announced that Ewan McGregor would be reprising his role of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, I immediately began measuring the possibilities. For clarity, I’m a bonafide Star Wars fan. I grew up on the original trilogy, actually enjoyed the sequel trilogy, and liked the prequel trilogy before it became cool to do so. So having McGregor back in one of the franchise’s most pivotal roles was exciting. News of Hayden Christensen’s return only made this six-part limited series more intriguing, especially for die-hands and canon junkies who consume every morsel of Star Wars content available.

Directed by Deborah Chow, the series fits in the mostly unexplored space on the Star Wars timeline between “Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (McGregor’s last appearance) and 1977’s “Episode IV: A New Hope” (which featured Alec Guinness as Old Man Ben). It’s set ten years after “Episode III” with McGregor’s Obi-Wan hiding out on the desert planet of Tatooine. There he goes about his mundane daily ritual, blending in with the locals while keeping a watchful eye from afar on 10-year-old Luke Skywalker, the son of his old friend and Padawan Anakin (aka Darth Vader). Luke lives on a moisture farm where he is being raised by Owen Lars and his wife Beru (a returning Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse).

When not cutting meat for his brutish boss, Obi-Wan hangs out in his remote cave where he tries to reconnect with the force ghost of his old master Qui-Gon Jinn. Otherwise, in order to remain undetected by Vader, Obi-Wan has distanced himself from the Force and anything that remains of the Jedi Order. But that doesn’t stop the dogged Vader (played by Christensen, voiced by the great James Earl Jones), who oversees an ominous band of Force-sensitives called Inquisitors to eliminate any remaining Jedi. And once he gets a whiff of Kenobi, the true hunt begins.

Image Courtesy of LucasFilm

These hunters are led by the Grand Inquisitor (a slyly menacing Rupert Friend) who answers directly to Vader. But the film is most interested in an ambitious young Inquisitor named Reva (Moses Ingram). She has a ruthless edge and seems intent on impressing Vader. Is it to ultimately become the Grand Inquisitor herself or are there other motivations at work?

Reva quickly grows into a key character and at times the series seems more dedicated to her than the show’s namesake. Unfortunately her story arc never reaches the fullness of its potential. It starts strong and the hint of mystery surrounding Reva really drives the early episodes. But her arc, specifically in the final two episodes, feels rushed and in need of more attention. It’s as if chunks of her story are missing which makes it hard to really latch onto her as a character. Meanwhile Ingram’s performance begins shaky, but the actress seems to grow more comfortable as she progresses.

Obi-Wan comes out of hiding after he’s contacted by Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) whose adopted daughter (and the twin sister of Luke), a young Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair), has been kidnapped. Obi-Wan reluctantly agrees to find her and bring her home. But doing so draws the attention of Reva and Darth Vader himself who has a score to settle with his former Jedi master. This Obi-Wan/Anakin link turns out to be more than just a nostalgic nod. It forms the emotional core of the series and leads to some truly epic moments that are custom-made for the Star Wars faithful.

You could call Obi-Wan Kenobi” a series of big moments. There are callbacks, reveals, appearances, and showdowns that fans will be talking about for years to come. There are moments that many have been imagining for decades and answers to questions that some have mulled over since “Revenge of the Sith”. Some of the best moments involve Anakin/Vader – his psychological conflict, his revenge-seared conscience, and the path of violence he leaves in his wake. It’s hardly thorough, but it does leave you thirsting for more.

Image Courtesy of LucasFilm

At the same time, there are some noticeably far-fetched bits. Some are small; others are a little more obvious (such as a haggard Obi-Wan sneaking Leia by countless Imperials in the highly secure Fortress Inquisitorious by simply stuffing her under an oversized trench coat). And despite its many highly enjoyable peaks, there are instances where character logic is nearly impossible to reconcile (and I really tried to). Small quibbles overall but sometimes they’re too noticeable to overlook.

Performance wise, McGregor is terrific as is the adorable Blair who really embodies young Leia. And I love the Christensen/Jones dual effort in portraying Vader. The new characters are more of a mixed bag. I’ve mentioned Reva who teases better things than she delivers. The same could be said for the Inquisitors, some of whom simply vanish in the second half. Kumail Nanjiani is essentially comic relief who never feels in-tune with the tone of the show. And O’Shea Jackson Jr. plays an underground resistance leader who works at a single super-serious temperature. One exception is Indira Varma. She’s really good playing a double-agent who Obi-Wan and Leia encounter on their journey.

While not perfect, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is the kind of series many Star Wars fans were hoping for. It fully embraces the old while tossing in some new, and it leaves the door open for more. So far there has been no announcement of a second season, but several characters and story threads are sure to be explored in future Star Wars projects. Could it be in a “Kenobi” season two? Perhaps. After all, money and enthusiasm talks, especially with Disney. “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is now streaming on Disney+.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

6 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (2022)

  1. I got hung up on the part where Obi Wan tells that mean girl that he’ll help her fight Vader, he’ll distract him, and then he jumps on a space ship and takes off – See ya! That didn’t seem too cool. I’m in the 2 to 2 and half star range.

  2. Great review, and it syncs up with my view of the show, grand overarching narrative with many minor quibbles. I wanted to see more character moments, allowing those dramatic beats to breathe. The episodes are all concise, clocking in at just over 30 minutes. I think if they extended the episode lengths by ten minutes, that would go a long way in allowing the actors to fill in the gaps in the script. As such, this was an improvement over “The Book of Boba Fest,” and I’m eager to see more.

    • I 100% agree. Extending the episode times would have given them more moments to explore the characters more. I would have loved that. As it is, really enjoyed it. And McGregor….he’s soooo good.

  3. This show is a reminder of why I am a fan of Star Wars as this hit all of the right notes and made me appreciate the prequels a bit more. I love the narrative it took as it explored PTSD and Obi-Wan’s own arc to find redemption and peace of mind. I really liked the ensemble they created as I liked how they gave Indira Varma, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Kumail Nanjiani some strong guest performances while I just enjoyed every moment with Vivien Lyra Blair as the young Leia. I also loved what Moses Ingram did and fuck those fanboys with sand in their vaginas for their racist bullshit. I hope they get fucked in the ass.

    The last episode was great as was the final duel. It is the best thing that I think Lucasfilms has done since The Mandalorian. I wouldn’t mind a second season though I don’t think it’s necessary but a spin-off on Reva would be nice.

    This is not a good month for fans of mob films/TV shows as I just learned Tony Sirico aka Paulie Walnuts just passed away.

    • I thought the series had its ups and downs, but as a whole it hit the right notes for me. Some truly great Star Wars moments that’ll be revisited forever.

      The Reva/Moses Ingram stuff was frustrating. You had one side that instantly dismissed her without ever giving her a chance and another side who defended the character and performance no matter what. I found her to be a compelling character shortchanged by the series’ only real instance of crappy writing. I felt Ingram’s performance started shaky but got better as the show progressed. Curious to see what they do with her next.

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