It was clear from the beginning that Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi was going to continue the tradition of “nostalgia” TV shows. But Obi-Wan Kenobi differs in several fundamental ways from The Mandalorian or The Book of Boba Fett. It has both the advantage and disadvantage of following an established major character within a limited timeframe and with limited plot options.
The prequel trilogy ends with Obi-Wan retreating into hiding on Tatooine. The original trilogy starts with Obi-Wan living in hiding on Tatooine. Making a series about what happened in-between therefore sounds somewhat superfluous. Six entire episodes of how we got from point A back to point A.
I am very pleased to say that Lucasfilm and Disney have somewhat managed to get off on the right foot.
Having A Plot Is Not Automatic
Already the first episode of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series has more plot than half a season of each of the previous shows. Meaning, where for example The Mandalorian opens up with an arbitrary dude strolling around arbitrary planets hunting his arbitrary bounties, Obi-Wan Kenobi drops with the weight equivalent to an original Star Wars film. We get a clear plot with a clear objective and we set off. That is something which is, sadly, not at all obvious in today’s cinema and especially not in streaming platform TV shows that may or may not know when they want to end. (That being said, I am somewhat suspicious about the announcement that has just been made, that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been highlighted for a second season. I think everything there depends on how the first season is going to end, and whether the writers had been counting on a second season or not.)
But as far as the first half of the first season is concerned, one could say that with a little editing, the first few episodes could make an absolutely normal two-hour film. Clear plot, likeable protagonists with clear characterisation.
The Missing Link
Obi-Wan’s advantage is of course the principal character. Obi-Wan is THE Jedi, in fact, he is the first Jedi the audience saw on-screen all the way back in 1977. His name may lure in even that part of audience that lay dormant and deaf to the call of The Mandalorian or even of the sequel trilogy. The same can be said about the lead actor, Ewan McGregor, and Hayden Christensen who has come back to reprise his role as Anakin/Vader (with the help of James Earl Jones for the voice).
And Anakin/Vader may be just the right name to call him. Because both Obi-Wan and Anakin/Vader are the “missing link” between their prequel and original film selves. It’s well written and the actors perform it brilliantly. One can look at Vader and think of him as Anakin and it feels right. In a similar manner, Ewan McGregor is acting somewhere between his prequel self and Alec Guinness.
Space For Character Development
There is only one notable change about the character of Obi-Wan. In contrast to both his cocky prequel self and the more relaxed, peaceful A New Hope self, the Obi-Wan we meet is a defeated man haunted by his past.
Which is absolutely all right in terms of character development. Perhaps the contrast may come off to a first-time viewer if compared to the final scene in Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan looks more or less happy (if one can use such word), and hopeful. But the new series makes it clear that Obi-Wan has been living under a rock for a decade - and really, in that way his, I do not hesitate to call it depression, would make sense. In the very first episode, we are introduced to a man who has been haunted by nightmares of his failure, living a dull desert routine every day, and who so far has not been able to contact his master, Qui-Gon, the way the RotS ending prompted him to.
The advantage of this is, of course, that there is plenty of space for character development. If Obi-Wan is to become the “Alec Guinness” character we know, he still has some journey ahead of him, and we can follow it.
Uncle Owen and The Inquisitors
Other major characters’ portrayal is also commendable. Joel Edgerton IS uncle Owen, a little younger, but already the grumpy, I-don’t-really-approve-of-this-Jedi-stuff person we know. The same can be said about other characters who appear in the first episodes - both the major ones (no spoilers) and the supporting ones.
And finally the Inquisitors. I feel that the Inquisitors may be the only weak point of the series. Not Moses Ingram’s Reva. Despite reminding one of (evil) Kylo Ren, she very well represents the definition of the Dark Side: angry, impatient and competitive. What makes her look promising is that she has her own personality and agenda, and it is clear that her importance will grow as the story progresses.
The remaining Inquisitors however are clearly affected by their pre-existence in the cartoon version in Star Wars Rebels. They mostly specialise in “evil one-liners” (the Fifth Brother) or “evil speeches” (the Grand Inquisitor) and they are very much cardboard villains.
It is not that the actors are bad. For instance Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor manages a great impression of Jason Isaacs - the original voice of the same character in Rebels.
But let’s not be too critical here. Darth Vader in the original film was also just an evil evil guy delivering “evil one-liners” and look how it worked. The difference is, of course, in the amount of presence one can project. But then, there must be some space left for the actual Vader. And, like I said before, he is certainly done just right.
Very Few Easter Eggs But ‘Dark Era’ Atmosphere
One more thing should be noted: the series has so far avoided the fan-service that has sometimes become the hallmark of recent shows to the point that it had sometimes felt excessive. Obi-Wan does not do that. There are very few easter eggs, nearly none. But that is all right even for me as a hardcore fan. Obi-Wan Kenobi has enough material on its own. The plot pulls you in and you do not have time to wonder about what easter eggs could have been put here or there.
The atmosphere however is evocative of other stories from the Empire era. Gamers who enjoyed Jedi: Fallen Order will find a very familiar vibe and visuals in Obi-Wan. There is even one moment (and one is just right) when Reva taunts her prey in a way that resembles the Second Sister. As far as the atmosphere is concerned, it is a good thing that Disney maintains the same aesthetics and vibe for this era.
Summa summarum? Obi-Wan Kenobi has started on the right foot, and one can only hope that it will finish as well as it started.