Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the show’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the show’s own trailer. However, be aware that potential spoilers may be inferred throughout the review.
For nearly 50 years, Star Wars has been without question the most unifying yet divisive media franchise. Even with endless amounts of fans claiming to love the series, many of them can’t wait to tell you how much they hate certain Star Wars films, TV shows, comics or books. The weight of expectation hangs strongly over every new entry in the franchise, and every fan has their own vivid ideas of what Star Wars must be. The ultimate irony is that when you boil it all down, very few Star Wars properties are the worst thing ever made, and even fewer are actually legitimately perfect. Majority of Star Wars content reach a perfectly acceptable median, so it’s fascinating to see the continued devotion from fans. Incidentally, the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi: Season One (2022) was so hotly anticipated despite being connected to the extremely controversial prequel films, just goes to show how easily the winds can change.
Set roughly 10 years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), the story picks up with Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) living in isolation on Tatooine and going by the name of Ben. The fall of the Jedi has left him feeling defeated and ashamed, resulting in him cutting himself off from using the force or even picking up a lightsaber. However, Ben is still keeping a close eye on a young Luke Skywalker, the child he promised to watch over from afar. Ben is called back into action with the arrival of Reva (Moses Ingram), an imperial inquisitor who is hunting down rogue Jedi for the villainous Darth Vader, who is also Ben’s former student and friend Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). In order to draw Ben out, Reva and her minions kidnap a 10 year old Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), kicking off a series of events leading to Ben’s confrontation with Vader.
With the recent success of The Mandalorian (2019 – Current), Lucasfilm has shown no signs of stopping the Star Wars train. From delivering new stories, to revitalising old ones, the Star Wars brand is being milked for all it’s worth. Therefore, bringing Ewan McGregor back as Obi-Wan Kenobi seemed like a no brainer, as his performance in the Star Wars prequels was the one universally beloved aspect of those otherwise derided films. With this show being set between the prequels and the original trilogy, McGregor’s current age made complete sense, as he is believably approaching the age Alec Guinness was when he originated the role. As far as performance goes, McGregor is still picture perfect as Kenobi, exuding all the wit, wisdom, sentimentality and capability of the character. If McGregor continued in the role for another decade, no one would be complaining.
With that in mind, the show also does fine work with its depiction of the iconic Darth Vader. Given how his minor appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) elevated that otherwise bland film, Vader’s presence isn’t to be taken lightly, nor should it be treated with low effort. Thankfully, his appearance here is given dramatic weight we haven’t seen before, as well as extra layers of terror which are a delight to behold. The best moments of the whole show involve Vader, with some of them even justifying bizarre moments from the original trilogy by adding new thematic nuance. Not all of Vader’s depiction is perfect, as there are some honestly baffling and distracting visual effects (or lack thereof) applied to some flashback sequences.
While these two principle characters are treated nicely, many others are grossly underserved. Chief among them is Reva, who’s actions and motivations are strange to say the least. A large amount of screen time is dedicated to her story, but it all feels confusing and convoluted, resulting in a character who we should feel sympathy for yet we ultimately don’t. Moses Ingram’s performance is perfectly fine and is up to the expected standard of the series, but it’s a shame the material she’s given isn’t showing off the breadth of her talents. This is a classic case of the writing hurting the performance, which is unfortunate considering how charming of a presence Ingram is. We’ve seen her do amazing work in The Queen’s Gambit (2020), so it’s not as if she doesn’t have the ability to shine.
Ingram work isn’t the only element to be affected by poor storytelling, as the plot itself isn’t afforded the opportunity to be all it can be. By tethering the narrative beats so tightly to characters and events from the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, the story can only progress so far. Yes, the story takes place between the big films and its central character is a main player across the whole series, but it wasn’t really necessary to include so many other central characters as part of the supporting cast. Therefore, we feel no tension when Vader and Kenobi do battle, or when 10 year old Princess Leia is in danger because we already know everyone is going to be totally fine. As such, the events of this show feel like they should have monumental effects, but they physically can’t. Even when you delve into the details, this story doesn’t fit with what we know will happen later in the mythology, giving a sense that the writers didn’t actually take the time to review the previous films properly.
Much of this could be forgiven if the show reached a high standard of spectacle, but sadly it doesn’t rise above its frustratingly obvious TV budget. Granted, Lucasfilm and Disney always ensure that a general level of polish and quality is met, yet that hasn’t helped create a sense of awe in the action, cinematography or set design. In their flaccid attempt to create some excitement, boring action beats are shot with uninspired shaky-cam, and barely constructed sets are masked by overly dark lighting. When you think about it, it’s actually confusing as to why they aren’t putting more effort into the visual presentation of what is supposed to be one of their flagship shows.
As it stands Obi-Wan Kenobi: Season One is more of a non-event than anything else. The strong aspects are there and they provide necessary joy, yet the weak are right there alongside to level it out. It’s hard to imagine Obi-Wan Kenobi: Season One will elicit the same kind of shock and awe Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999) or Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) had, but that’s mostly because there’s not much here to get excited or upset about. Who knows, maybe it’ll be healthier for the Star Wars fandom in the long run if we get more entries which are just fine.
Best way to watch it: When you want to fill your work/study time with background noise.