Obi-Wan Kenobi review: playing all the Star Wars hits

Obi-Wan Kenobi review: playing all the Star Wars hits

Published May 27, 2022
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The galaxy in Star Wars is vast, and with its streaming series, Disney seems intent on exploring every single corner of it. So far, that has seen mixed success. The Mandalorian is the best new Star Wars character in years, but it turns out I really don’t need to know much more about what Boba Fett gets up to. Now we have Obi-Wan Kenobi, starring Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), which aims to fill in the gap between the original two trilogies. And for the first two episodes, at least, it works — Obi-Wan is playing the hits, reminding me why I actually care about Star Wars to begin with.

This review contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan is set a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith and starts with a very helpful recap that boils down the most important parts of the prequel trilogy to just a few minutes. You don’t have to worry about midi-chlorians or Watto. All that matters is the tumultuous and tragic relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin. After the recap, the show then shifts to the tragedy at the Jedi Temple so that you remember why Obi-Wan is hiding. (This scene might be tough to watch for some viewers following recent events in Texas.)

Ten years later, Ben, as he now likes to be known, is the hermit we were first introduced to in A New Hope. Every day, he clocks in for a shift at the desert meat factory before going home to sleep in a cave. Whenever he has some free time, he spies on Luke Skywalker and his family, looking for any sign of latent Force abilities so that he can start Luke’s training. Nobody seems to like poor Ben. A Jawa tells him how much he needs to bathe, while Luke’s uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) is outright hostile. So Ben mostly keeps to himself — and with good reason. Early on in episode one, a trio of Jedi-hunting Inquisitors land on Tatooine in search of Jedi to, well, hunt. One of them, a brash young Inquisitor known as the Third Sister (Moses Ingram), seems almost single-mindedly focused on finding Obi-Wan in particular.

But the show isn’t just set on Tatooine. (Thankfully.) The other side of the story follows Luke’s twin sister Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), now being raised on Alderaan as a princess. She has no interest in the royal life, though, and spends most of her time shirking responsibilities to play with a cute droid named Lola in the woods. Eventually, her propensity for running off gets her in trouble when a gang of outlaws (the leader of whom is played by Flea, the bass player for the Red Hot Chili Peppers) kidnaps her. This, it turns out, is all part of the Third Sister’s plot to lure Obi-Wan out of hiding by appealing to his inherent need to help people. And so it goes that Leia’s parents convince him to come out of Jedi retirement. He’s their only hope.

The show succeeds early on by really understanding what makes Star Wars cool. And it all starts with McGregor, arguably the best part of the prequel movies, who is very convincing as a man fighting against his base urges just so he can survive. The dude looks rough (though better than I would after a decade of hard desert living), and one of the show’s highlights so far has been watching him wrestle with the hard-wired instinct to be a hero. Obi-Wan also has some great villains so far; the Inquisitors are suitably menacing, with the Third Sister in particular gripped with a clear and unyielding desire for power that makes her seem capable of anything.

My favorite part, though, has been how lived-in the universe feels, much like classic Star Wars. The worlds aren’t painted over with a glossy CG sheen. For the most part, they feel plausible and realistic, despite being populated by space wizards and muppets. Much of this comes down to the small details. Things like the nasty-looking cave stew Obi-Wan makes for himself as pure sustenance or the pan-handling Stormtrooper on the neon-lit planet Daiyu, where most of the second episode takes place. There’s a particularly great scene in episode two where characters race through a street market, and it’s the perfect chance to just stop and look at the weird food and strange creatures that populate this galaxy.

Little of this is new, of course. At its best, this emphasis on beloved characters and a carefully honed universe is what makes Star Wars work. But they’re also elements that have been missing from some of the more recent adventures, like the Book of Boba Fett, which have felt less purposeful and directed. There are still some elements that don’t make a lot of sense here, like a young Jedi who has somehow survived a decade in hiding despite being very bad at hiding and the mystery of why Leia never brought up her childhood adventures with Obi-Wan in the original trilogy. But from what I’ve seen so far, Obi-Wan is a refreshingly old-school Star Wars story.

Keeping that up across six episodes will be a challenge, though. If there’s one thing that’s become common in the age of streaming, it’s stories stretched thin in an attempt to satiate a seemingly unending appetite for content. There are plenty of series already on Disney Plus, from both Marvel and Star Wars, that probably would’ve been better off as a trimmed-down movie instead. After 90 minutes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, I’m invested — but there’s plenty of time for that to change with four episodes still to go.

The first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are streaming on Disney Plus now. New episodes will be released on Fridays.