Thoughts on the Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

Hello there! The Disney+ limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi wrapped up this week with Part VI, a spectacular finale that wrapped up various story arcs to satisfying effect. I consider myself a casual Star Wars fan, but I’ve always been a huge fan of the Obi-Wan Kenobi character, particularly the Ewan McGregor version, so this was a series I’d been looking forward to for a long time. Here I’m going to go on a bit of a ramble about what I thought of the show – what I liked, and what I think could have been done better. Don’t ask me for much of a structure, I’m just going to see where my excitable mind wanders to…

-SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ALL EPISODES OF OBI-WAN KENOBI


You’re My Only Hope!

At the start of the series, we catch up with Obi-Wan post-Revenge of the Sith; after Order 66, the fall of the Jedi, and the traumatic battle against his friend Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan is living in secret on Tatooine, where he watches over a young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely). As you might expect, Obi-Wan isn’t in a great place mentally. His days are repetitive and lonely, working at a nearby creature excavation site and sleeping in a secluded cave. Meanwhile, Sith Inquisitors are seen on the planet in their continuing search for Obi-Wan and other Jedi. We see Obi-Wan’s mindset laid out when another Jedi asks for help, and Obi-Wan refuses – as in his mind, the battle has already been lost. These early episodes are quite slow-paced, but I honestly didn’t mind that, as it allows us insight into the character of Obi-Wan – and I’ve always been someone who loves a character piece.

Moreso than other Star Wars Disney+ shows, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels like a film split into parts (hence the Limited Series moniker). This makes sense, as originally it was going to be a film, before the mixed response to Solo: A Star Wars Story appeared to put Disney off the spin-off films. When you look at the way the episodes play out in this series, there’s a clear cinematic arc that ramps up. Part I shows us a downtrodden Obi-Wan; Part II forces him into action to rescue Leia; Part III has him meet Darth Vader and badly lose; Parts IV and V show him rediscover his power as he saves Leia and the Resistance fighters; and Part VI brings the headline rematch against Darth Vader. The emotional journey climaxes in Obi-Wan realising he isn’t accountable for the abhorrent acts Anakin has done. That’s the responsibility of Anakin himself, and it’s wonderful to see Obi-Wan set himself free of the guilt he felt about his friend.

It’s emphasised by seeing the start of his healthy friendship with a young Leia (played by a brilliant Vivien Lyra Blair), and that retrospectively adds more depth to their interactions in A New Hope. In this series, it’s Leia being kidnapped from Alderaan that drags Obi-Wan back into action, in order to recover her from the Empire. The kidnapping in question is orchestrated by an Inquisitor named Reva (Moses Ingram), who is the most prominent new character in the show. In Part II, she reveals to Obi-Wan that Anakin survived the battle on Mustafar and is now Darth Vader, which is a shocking revelation for Obi-Wan.

New character Reva is an intriguing mirror to Obi-Wan

Of course, this series was billed as a rematch between Obi-Wan and Anakin, which was a tantalising prospect. But Reva’s arc is a nice foil to it, as we find out she was a Youngling at the Temple when Anakin massacred the children there in Revenge of the Sith. Her motivation to join the Inquisitors is to get close to Darth Vader and eventually kill him – we see her try this and fail in Part V, and eventually go after young Luke in Part VI, before realising she can’t become the same monster that Anakin did. The catharsis Reva gets from this is an effective foil to Obi-Wan and his own aforementioned catharsis in that final episode.


The High Ground

Actually, I’m really looking forward to re-watching this show, perhaps all in one sitting (time permitting!). I think a lot of the criticisms week-to-week about character arcs and motivations (especially for Reva) disappear now we’ve seen the finished series story. It feels like a film with three acts, where Obi-Wan gradually rediscovers his own sense of self. The criticisms about it disrupting the continuity fall away, too, and the final episode actually lends new weight to the original trilogy. For example, Obi-Wan calls Vader “Darth” for the first time at the end of their battle in Part VI, which marks him accepting the erasure of Anakin and explains why he calls him “Darth” in A New Hope. This line, like many of the other emotional revelations, plays out with a close-up of Obi-Wan – and these intimate shots are a demonstration of the A-game Ewan McGregor brings to this show, effectively showing the hurt Obi-Wan feels without any words at all. His apology in Part VI after seeing behind the helmet is tear-jerking…

The duels between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader are as emotional as they are physical

There’s a little feeling at the back of my head that I would’ve preferred Obi-Wan Kenobi being a movie, but I think it’s more important to focus on the show we did get and the positives of it. Mainly, it’s in the production and effects departments where I dwell on this – don’t get me wrong, it’s a very pretty show on the whole and there’re some amazing moments, but I noticed the presence of the StageCraft Volume technology here more than I ever did in The Mandalorian. Maybe it’s just because I’m now aware that the digital projection screen is there (which allows the cast to see the surroundings rather than a green screen), but the limitations of it space-wise were prominent in certain action sequences that should have felt larger in scale.

One particular example is the chase scene early on where Leia is captured by the Inquisitors. It’s set in a forest, but the cast are noticeably having to run at a reduced pace to stay within the confines of the Volume stage and it slightly breaks the illusion of that forest. Scenes such as this would have benefitted hugely from being on-location, with more sense of scale and place – and this likely would have been the case if Obi-Wan Kenobi had have been a movie.

One of the differences from other Disney+ Star Wars shows is how Jedi- and Sith-centric this narrative is, which inevitably leads to those things we all love: lightsabers! The clashes between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in Parts III and VI both have great choreography and superb emotional stakes, but again, the settings are a little bland. Part III is set in a dark and featureless quarry, which isn’t particularly inspiring – though once again, the phenomenal performance from Ewan McGregor saves it. In this fight, where Obi-Wan is encountering Darth Vader for the first time, he shows an haggard, traumatised, and unprepared Obi-Wan who is soundly beaten. Part VI has the climactic match-up where both are at full strength, and is admittedly better-staged; they fight on an atmospheric planet with foreboding spires stretching into the horizon. But we never learn anything concrete about this planet – it’s just a place for these two people to have a fight. It’s pretty, but contextless, and the fight is very grounded. There’s less environmental danger and unpredictability than in their Revenge of the Sith duel.


Old Friends

One area Obi-Wan Kenobi excels, though, is in the stunning choreography for the lightsaber fights, which is prequel-esque (in a good way) and dance-like. That final fight in particular (linked below) is probably the most powerful we’ve seen Obi-Wan, as he wields his lightsaber with speed, agility, and improvisation, whilst showing powerful force moves – and besting Darth Vader, which is no easy feat! Part V is another highlight, where we get Darth Vader shrugging off Reva with satisfying ease – oh, and of course, there’s a wonderful flashback to Anakin and Obi-Wan training around the time of Attack of the Clones. They spar with their lightsabers, and the lessons on show here inform moves in the fights of the present.

Also, seeing Hayden Christensen out-of-suit again is a nostalgic thrill, and I’m glad he was asked back for this series. After all the criticism Christensen got during the prequels, to see him now widely accepted with positivity in the fandom is heartwarming. In addition, he gets to be inside the Vader suit, and when Obi-Wan splits his mask in Part VI, we see his burned, disfigured face and the haunting grin expression inside. There’s some attention to detail here that really elevates this close-up shot; we see the irises go from Jedi blue to Sith yellow, and with the damaged suit, the voice lines are a creepy mix between the iconic James Earl Jones respirator voice and Christensen himself. I always appreciate elements like this, that show the people involved cared about doing this right and with creative stylistic choices.

Speaking of, Part VI had that sense all the way through – that it knew which threads it needed to resolve, and which references it needed to make without going too far into fanservice. We even saw Qui-Gon Jinn return as a Force Ghost in the final scene, a visible indicator of Obi-Wan finding peace in himself. Obi-Wan has a charming farewell scene with Leia, and a joyous first meeting with Luke, where yes, he said it – the iconic greeting of “Hello there!” that we all wanted to hear!

The interactions between Leia and Obi-Wan add a lot of heart to the series

There is the possibility for more Obi-Wan stories out in the deserts and canyons of Tatooine, but I kind of hope Disney leaves it here and doesn’t do a Season 2 of Obi-Wan Kenobi. You can’t really do the Darth Vader or Skywalker children stories any more without them becoming oversaturated, and regardless, this series already wrapped those up so well. Perhaps a cameo appearance or two in other Star Wars series might be okay, but as much as I love this character, this is a satisfying conclusion that could be left as is.


Conclusion

A sense of satisfaction is a fitting not to end this on. Because, for all the valid criticisms of this show, I adore how well it ended and how effectively it resolved all of the narrative threads it had going through it. It’s not easy to end a show on a high, but Obi-Wan Kenobi did just that. Sure, there’s a few plot contrivances and the usual ratio of janky Star Wars dialogue peppered throughout, and the volume technology limited some of the set pieces slightly. But overall, this show hit all the main beats I was hoping for, and left me smiling. We got to see Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan again, in a proper character-focused story – and, yes, he did the things; he did the cool lightsaber stance with his hand out! He said “Hello there!”! He did some cool lightsaber spins! Most of all, though, this felt like an authentic story that wasn’t just designed to be safe, and in that sense, it’s the most I’ve enjoyed Star Wars since The Last Jedi.

Furthermore, I think this was an important story to tell. Going straight from the devastated Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan at the end of Revenge of the Sith to the wise, old-age Alex Guinness Obi-Wan in A New Hope is quite the gap, and this series is a smartly-told bridge between them. So, whilst there’re flaws in this show, I think it has to be regarded as a success overall – and as Obi-Wan saunters into the horizon at the end of Part VI, he’s once again enriched Star Wars with his presence.

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