Star Wars reviews: Obi-Wan Kenobi

The six episode Obi-Wan Kenobi miniseries has come to its conclusion on Disney+. Quite a few other people have already posted in-depth reviews & analyses of the show. Since I’m a huge Star Wars fan, I did want to also share some of my thoughts on it, too.

1) Hello There

Ewan McGregor as young Obi-Wan Kenobi was, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant casting decisions of the prequel trilogy. McGregor is an incredibly talented actor, and he admirably succeeded at evoking Alec Guiness’ performance while bringing his own particular take to the role.

McGregor continues to do quality work in this miniseries. He really brings to life an Obi-Wan who, a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith, is suffering from depression and PSTD, crippled by the fall of the Jedi and by his own guilt at not having prevented Anakin Skywalker from turning to the dark side of the Force and becoming Darth Vader.

There are moments here where McGregor’s performance, solely through facial expression & body language, evocatively brings across the pain this man is feeling. Deborah Chow did a superb job directing McGregor and the other actors. That moment at the end of episode two, when Obi-Wan learns that Vader is still alive, is an absolute gut punch, with the devastation & horror on McGregor’s face communicating volumes.

Likewise, as Obi-Wan sets out to rescue young Leia Organa from the Imperial Inquisitors, McGregor effectively shows the character’s gradually journey back from the despair event horizon, eventually bringing him to the place where he finds peace & acceptance.

Besides, Obi-Wan’s infiltration of Fortress Inquisitorius and his rescue of Leia was absolutely riveting. Plus that scene where he discovers the “mausoleum” with the dead Jedi displayed as trophies was one of the most disturbing in the entire Star Wars mythos.

2) Retcons R Us

There was some skepticism among fandom over this show inserting a major encounter between Kenobi and Vader in the time between the prequels and the original trilogy. Honestly, though, Star Wars has been revising is history & backstory pretty much from the word “go.” Despite what George Lucas likes to claim, he did not intend for Darth Vader to be Luke Skywalker’s father right from the start. Luke and Leia being brother & sister was also a late development. So there’s a long precedent for this sort of thing.

The key here would be how well this retcon got pulled off. I actually feel there was some wiggle room that allowed for it. Obi-Wan believed Anakin was dead at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but he’s aware Vader is alive in A New Hope, and when the two meet on the Death Star Obi-Wan shows no surprise at Vader now being a black-clad armored cyborg. At some point he must have learned that Anakin survived their duel on Mustafar and been radically transformed into a creature “more machine than man.”

And we get just that as Obi-Wan first comes face-to-face with his former apprentice on Mapuzo and utters an absolutely horrified “What have you become?” It’s another emotional gut punch, especially as we then see a badly out-of-practice Obi-Wan literally get raked over the coals by a vengeance-obsessed Vader.

Likewise, in their rematch in episode six, with the two on much more equal footing, we get an incredibly dramatic confrontation.

I try to look at this from the perspective of a younger fan. If you traveled back in time some 39 years to 1983 and said that one day we’d get to see a live action Star Wars television series featuring a stunningly fierce lightsaber duel between Obi-Wan and Vader, with each of them hurtling entire chunks of a planet at each other, seven year old me would never have believed you.

So, yeah, maybe it doesn’t fit 100% neatly into established continuity, but it was damned exciting, and I’ll take that over being overly anal about the consistency of a fictional universe that, as I said, already has a long history of being inconsistent.

3) From a Certain Point of View

“Anakin Skywalker was weak; I destroyed him.”

That is what Darth Vader tells Ahsoka Tano in the Rebels second season finale “Twilight of the Apprentice.” I always found that to be one of the most heartbreaking lines in Star Wars. It really encapsulates all of Vader’s self-hatred & loathing for himself, revealing just how far he has fallen.

Vader something similar in episode six. When Obi-Wan once again apologizes for having failed his former student, Vader flat-out tells him “I am not your failure, Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did. The same way I will destroy you.”

This appears to be the first time that Vader finally admits to himself that everything horrible that ever happened to him is his own fault. And it does help explain how Obi-Wan gets to the point where he is at in the original trilogy, where he truly believes that Anakin is “dead” and gone forever.

4) The Circle Is Now Complete

I’ve mentioned in the past that I enjoyed the prequels and found them underrated, and that certainly extends to Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin Skywalker.

I admit, at first I was puzzled by the decision to have Christensen reprise the role, since he was fully encased in the Darth Vader armor, with James Earl Jones supplying the voice.

But then in episode five we get an extended flashback to a training duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin the days before the Clone Wars. It was an effective sequence, especially as the narrative cut back & forth between this past segment and the “present” where Vader is hunting his former master, and Obi-Wan is able to draw on his knowledge of Anakin’s impatience, impulsivity & need to visibly achieve victory to outwit him and get the members of “The Path” to safety.

And then in episode six when we see Vader’s helmet split open, revealing his scarred face to Obi-Wan, enabling Christiansen and McGregor to act opposite one another when we get to the all-important moment when Vader tells Obi-Wan that Anakin is dead.

5) Fear Leads To Anger, Anger Leads To Hate, Hate Leads To Suffering

There’s a moment in episode three where Yoda’s warning to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back very much came to mind. After Obi-Wan and Leia arrive on Mapuzo, a fearful Obi-Wan panics & becomes angry, believing they’ve been betrayed. So it falls to ten year old Leia to have to try to take charge, leading her to accept a ride with the seemingly-friendly Freck… who unfortunately turns out to be an Imperial sympathizer.

It can be argued that if Obi-Wan had not let his fear get the better of him, if he had been patient and waited then Tala would have arrived soon after & quietly taken them to safety, and everything that subsequently went wrong, all of the death & suffering, might never have occurred.

6) Make the Galaxy Great Again

The alien truck drive Freck, voiced by Zach Braff, comes across as a commentary on Trump supporters. Freck is a working-class alien, just the sort of individual we have seen exploited again and again by the Empire. Yet Freck, with the Imperial bumper sticker on his truck, his chumminess with Stormtroopers, and his fondness for “law & order” is very much siding with the oppressors.

When Freck turns in Obi-Wan and Leia, two people who want to genuinely make things better for people like him, it really evokes the phenomenon of voting against your own interests, of blindly swallowing propaganda, of treating liberals & progressives as “the enemy.”

(Gee, you’d think that, considering they co-starred in Garden State, Braff would’ve been more conciliatory to Nalalie Portman’s daughter 😊)

In contract to Freck we have Tala, portrayed by Indira Varma, an Imperial officer who joined up because she genuinely believed the Empire would make the galaxy a better place. Unlike Freck, Tala doesn’t have her head in the sand. She is able to face up to reality, to recognize that the government she serves is irredeemably evil, and as a result she now helps Jedi fugitives & force-sensitives escape the Empire.

7) “They were the only family I knew.”

I guess there has always been a small-yet-vocal subset in sci-fi and comic book fandoms who are angry & narrow-minded. Unfortunately social media really amplifies their voice out of proportion to their size. I was disgusted at all of the vitriol directed at actress Moses Ingram for her performance as Reva / Third Sister. Honestly, I felt Ingram did a great job with the role.

Reva, a former Jedi youngling, encapsulated just how dangerous & all-consuming the quest for vengeance can be. Reva joined the Inquisitors solely to get close enough to Vader so she could ultimately gain revenge on him for having slaughtered her friends & loved ones years before. So overwhelming was her desire to kill Vader that ANY price, no matter how horrible, seemed reasonable to Reva, even if it turned her into everything she hated.

In the end Reva is finally able to step back from the precipice. Before the final episode aired, a few viewers expressed the desire that she NOT reform, stating that that there have been too many redemption arcs in Star Wars and that some people simply cannot be saved from themself. And that’s true. But Lucasfilm ultimately wanted this series to be a hopeful one, and so, having seen that Anakin was seemingly beyond redemption, it was important for Obi-Wan to witness someone else make the conscious choice to walk away from darkness.

8) Cry “Uncle”

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have never been what you would consider three-dimensional characters. They exist in the original movie to basically be an impediment to teenage Luke’s dreams of the future. Owen comes across as unreasonably harsh & inflexible.

The final episode of this miniseries does a good job of fleshing them out. Underneath it all, they both love Luke, and they’re willing to risk their lives to protect him from Reva. It definitely adds some important nuance to the couple. It also helps explain why Obi-Wan left Luke with them in the first place. He knew they would care for Luke and, having witnessed the failings of the Jedi Order in raising Anakin, realized it was important for Luke to have a real childhood.

It also ultimately makes Owen and Beru’s off-screen deaths at the hands of the Empire in A New Hope all the more tragic. They were probably protecting Luke right up to the end.

9) The Sass is Strong with This One

Ten year old Vivien Lyra Blair does a good job playing young Leia. Working with child actors can be tricky, but Blair really pulls off the role, doing a good job playing off McGregor, as well as feeling like she could be a young Carrie Fisher.

Having Obi-Wan and Leia interact with each other at this point in the timeline is another one of those pesky retcons that the show manages to pull off.  You can argue that it’s rationalizing older plot & character beats long after-the-fact, but this story does explain why nearly a decade later Leia went to Tatooine to find Obi-Wan, why when Luke showed up on the Death Star and told her he was with Ben Kenobi her immediate reaction was an excited “Ben Kenobi? Where is he?” and why she eventually ended up naming her own son Ben.

I really did like the scene at the end where Obi-Wan told Leia about her parents; some viewers said it moved them to tears.

10) A Jedi with a Very Particular Set of Skills

I’m sure most of us were half-expecting it to happen, but it was still cool to see Liam Neeson return to live action Star Wars as the Force ghost of Obi-Wan’s old teacher Qui-Gon Jinn. Neeson had already reprised Qui-Gon when he voiced the character in The Clone Wars animate series, revealing how Yoda first learned that the fallen Jedi’s spirit lived on within the Force. But it was nevertheless great to see McGregor and Neeson share the screen again one more time.

Speaking of Jedi who’s names begin with the letter Q, the show had a very cool Easter Egg when Obi-Wan learns in episode three that his old comrade Quinlan Vos (created by writer John Ostrander & artist Jan Duursema for the Star Wars comic books published by Dark Horse) survived Order 66 and escaped to freedom along The Path.

11) “You should have killed me when you had the chance.”

Okay, so why didn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi kill Darth Vader when he had the chance?

Yes, obviously Vader couldn’t die here, because he’s still very much alive nine years later in Rogue One and the original movie trilogy. But I do think there should have been more of an explanation for Obi-Wan not finishing off Vader. Maybe the Grand Inquisitor and a bunch of Stormtroopers could have arrived at the last minute to save Vader, forcing Obi-Wan to flee? That might have made more sense.

I guess in-story Obi-Wan did not want to kill a foe who had already been defeated. He also might have felt that killing Vader wouldn’t have changed anything, because the Empire would still be in power, and Emperor Palpatine would have just found a new apprentice.

Whatever the case, it did feel to me like the one misstep in an otherwise well-done miniseries. Definitely could have used a bit of clarification.

Obi-Wan Kenobi wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but it was enjoyable. Hopefully we’ll continue to see further quality Star Wars content coming out soon.