Note: This will be a spoiler-filled review (watch it if you haven’t!)
There’s no feeling like seeing a Star Wars movie in the theater. The months of anticipation, theorizing and deconstructing trailers leading into an immersive and otherworldly experience. The lightsabers clashing, the John Williams score playing, the plot twists and sweeping planetscapes. For a couple of hours, you’re in the Star Wars universe, with the sensation that everything is happening in real-time… and it is downright epic. This formula worked so well on me that I actually enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it in theaters… both times! I missed out on this experience with the original and prequel trilogies, but the sequels (and re-releases of The Phantom Menace and Empire Strikes Back) proved to me the magic of the movie theater when it comes to a galaxy far, far away.
OBI-WAN KENOBI TRAILER: HERE
The Star Wars powers-that-be have pivoted off the movie model after the nine-installment Skywalker Saga and a couple of spinoff films, opting to instead release semi-annual series on Disney. I’ve watched them with the excitement of a Dallas Cowboys game on Sunday afternoon, from the emotion-racked final season of the Clone Wars to the cinematic excellence of The Mandalorian, and each series has gotten a thumbs up from me. But they’re not the movies.
For me, the Disney+ limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi was more than a series. The show felt like a serialized Revenge of the Sith Part II, a formula that both captivated me with its promise and tortured me with its week-long margins between episodes, and offered fans of my generation the ultimate and glorious culmination of the prequel trilogy’s redemptive arc. I didn’t care to temper expectations, especially after Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen, the two actors who brilliantly portrayed Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy, were confirmed to the cast.
The Mandalorian earned its reputation as a must-watch show. Clone Wars Season Seven was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. Rebels, The Bad Batch and The Book of Boba Fett have been net pluses to the Star Wars universe in my opinion, and more content for me to consume at the very least.
But here’s the thing. Star Wars just hits different when it’s about Anakin Skywalker and a pure battle between Jedi and Sith. There’s no more crushing moment in Star Wars than Order 66, no more thrilling action than the clashing lightsabers of the Skywalkers to cap off Empire Strikes Back and no more captivating narratives than when film’s ultimate bad guy, Darth Vader, and his Empire are challenged by a rag-tag group of rebels.
So, did Kenobi hit the mark? The answer is a resounding yes.
We find Obi-Wan Kenobi 10 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, with a pretty good idea of where he is emotionally (coping with the aftermath of Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side) and where he will end up (a wise and benevolent mentor to Luke Skywalker). Anakin wields tyrannical power as Darth Vader, but his two hidden children, Luke and Leia, give the galaxy hope for freedom and prosperity.
The show fills in what happens in between, and, as it turns out, it’s a story worth telling. Vader’s Grand Inquisitors are hunting down the galaxy for Jedi, and one ambitious Inquisitor, Reva, captures Leia Organa from her home in Alderaan to lure Obi-Wan out of hiding. Obi-Wan’s reemergence introduces him to the horrifying truths — that Anakin has become Darth Vader — and awakens the obsessions of Vader, who wants to enact the revenge only a Sith can dish out. To keep Luke and Leia safe, Obi-Wan has to overcome his fears, tap into the Force and confront his former apprentice (I still can’t believe I typed that).
I’m going to start with those confrontations, because those were, by far, the most jaw-dropping, unfathomable, fanboy moments of the Kenobi series. Obi-Wan and Vader meet in lightsaber combat three times: on the outskirts of a town on the desert planet Mapuzo in the third episode, in a flashback in the Jedi Temple to open the fifth episode and in the season finale on a dark, remote planet with no surrounding lifeforms. As Obi-Wan builds his strength, the tide turns from an absolute wrecking at the hands of Vader in the third episode (third episodes of Star Wars are pretty good, what can I say) to a pretty even duel in the flashback to a shocking and decisive victory by Obi-Wan to close the show.
Each of those lightsaber battles had resonance and narrative purpose, which made the anticipation and hype pay off, impossibly. If you could have seen me in bed when Vader says the line “I will make you suffer as I suffered” as he Force-pulls Obi-Wan into the flames and watches him burn…words cannot describe my reaction. The uncanny parallels between Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel pre-Attack of the Clones and Vader’s real-time pursuit demonstrated a fundamental understanding of each character that was crucial to the show’s premise, as well as treating prequel fans like me to Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor reprising their roles decades later.
And then the final duel – the rematch of the century. Though without the epic “Battle of the Heroes” theme and the fiery backdrop of Mustafar setting the mood, episode six’s emotional climax was well worth the wait. Vader handles Obi-Wan once more, but Obi-Wan’s renewed Force abilities enable him to crawl back into the fight. Given new life, Obi-Wan attacks and lands a blow that finally cuts through Vader’s disguise… literally.
Right there was the climax of the series, and in this guy’s opinion of the Disney+ streaming show canon. Vader’s face is split, half Anakin and half Vader, but even more shocking, so is his voice, which alternates between Hayden Christensen and the iconic James Earl Jones. The agony on Obi-Wan’s face as he sees his old apprentice is matched by the best dialogue of the series — “it wasn’t your fault, Obi-Wan — I killed Anakin Skywalker,” Vader says.
Vader hates his old master and that his master has gotten the best of him once more, but just as the blue saber has sliced through the mask, we see the glimpse of human, and of Anakin, in Vader that we won’t see again until Return of the Jedi. In a show full of “oh wow, Vader really just did that” moments, it’s these emotion-wrought confrontations that fulfilled the Kenobi show’s potential. It’s freaking awesome.
A six-episode series can’t just be judged by its peaks, and Kenobi worked well as a show on its own. The trick was the surprise appearance of Princess Leia Organa, who becomes a major catalyst in Obi-Wan’s narrative arc and a great help to the rebels in her own right. Actress Vivien Lyra Blair absolutely knocks the role of a 10-year-old Leia out of the park, with the charisma, sarcasm and courage that is so central to one of the saga’s best, and most underrated, characters. Even the series’ weakest episode, the fourth, featured a can’t-look-away performance by Blair, and while the show shifted more toward its narrative heart of Obi-Wan vs Anakin, Leia fit in perfectly. Her reunion with Obi-Wan on Alderaan with the Leia theme closing out the visit brought tears to my eyes. As much as Kenobi basked in the prequels, Leia’s appearance added depth and character development to the original trilogy, which nobody saw coming.
And finally, I’ll touch on the clear strength that is most personal to me — the restoration of the prequels. The Clone Wars and video games like Battlefront have helped turn the tide on public perception of the trilogy (along with the passing of time and coming-of-age of the prequel generation), but Kenobi made good on its promise to give the trilogy one last ride.
From start to end, the show is soaked in prequels. After a lengthy highlight reel that recaps the prequel trilogy and sets the scene, Kenobi opens on an intimate and horrific flashback to Order 66 in the Jedi Temple, the first time we’ve seen it explored in live action since 2005, and closes on the live-action return of Liam Neeson as Obi-Wan’s master Qui-Gon Jinn, conjuring Phantom Menace nostalgia I didn’t even know I had and nevertheless warmed my heart. Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa and the Lars couple continue their characters’ post-prequel stories with more than mere cameos. Even the immortal greeting and meme “hello there” gets its one shining moment. Eight-year-old John, the one who constantly checked out the Star Wars encyclopedia because he couldn’t get enough of the Revenge of the Sith section — and wasn’t old enough to actually see the movie — had his heart’s desires fulfilled. At its best, Kenobi made those three movies more awesome than they already were, and even at its most mundane it was pretty darn awesome to see Ewan McGregor back as Obi-Wan.
Combine those three reasons along with stunning visual effects (some de-aging flaws excluded) and a John Williams score and you have the makings of a show that has earned its place in Star Wars lore and viewers’ busy schedules. I see it as the perfect fulcrum to balance the original and prequel trilogies, both chronologically (the show is set around halfway between Episodes III and IV) and thematically and enriches both sets of films.
As a hardcore Star Wars fan, I don’t see content as critically as I would other titles — I’m pretty satisfied to just watch Star Wars and enjoy the experience. And in spite of that, I had some nitpicks with the show. Multiple Inquisitors surviving direct lightsaber piercings was unnecessary and cheapened the stakes, and the new resistance stand-in wasn’t as rousing or sensical as its Rebels or Rogue One iterations. My main glass-half-empty observation — and this is where The Mandalorian and Clone Wars have Kenobi clearly beat — is that I didn’t care for a single newly introduced character, though Tala had her moments and I vibed with my mans Freck. The Inquisitors felt more gimmick than threat and the emotional weight of Reva’s arc didn’t quite land. All three drawbacks threatened to take me out of the intergalactic immersion that makes Star Wars spectacular.
But unlike those other shows, Kenobi wasn’t predicated on the successful establishment of fresh characters to succeed – it already featured a cast with Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia Organa. And through my experience watching the series, those flaws were present but didn’t really matter, nor did they detract from my enjoyment.
The first two episodes, which introduced Leia as a recurring character and ended with Obi-Wan’s realization of Vader’s identity, set the bar sky high, the third episode lifted that with its fiery clash between former friends, the fourth episode gave us some breathing room in the Kenobiverse and the fifth episode offered a true dream – a Clone Wars-era Jedi Temple flashback. The show kept getting better and better, culminating in one of the most riveting pieces of Star Wars action in the franchise and more than a mere “happy landing” (though it was certainly that).
Was watching Kenobi on a streaming service as immersive as the movies? Maybe not. In my idealized world, the show would have been distilled into a 150-180 minute movie and released in theaters. Still, Kenobi invented a new type of thrill, one energized by spoiler stiff arms, group chat reactions, nervous pivotal Roku play-button pushes and rewatches with my younger, Leia-age siblings that made watching the show a memorable experience.
Post-Kenobi, the Geonosian factory conveyor belt line of Disney+ shows that Lucasfilm has set into motion is offering some appetizing options in the next couple years, from the third season of the cult phenomenon The Mandalorian to a show that could recapture the Kenobi formula and cast in Ahsoka. Animated titles The Bad Batch and Tales of the Jedi are also on their way. It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan.
3 thoughts on “In Obi-Wan Kenobi show, Star Wars finds the perfect fulcrum to its prequel and original trilogies”
I’m glad to see Prequel nostalgia returning. At this point, I suspect there are many fans who would welcome the return (and perhaps redemption) of Jar Jar Binks.
I, for one, would be thrilled to see the triumphant redemption of Jar-Jar Binks.
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Same. He is Lucas’ favorite character after all.