Obi-Wan Kenobi S1E1/2: Part I/Part II
You know what I really, really love about the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series? Ewan McGregor
Yes, he might spell that surname wrong, but there’s a joy to seeing him back in the Star Wars universe that, for me, hasn’t yet been matched in the rebooted Disney SW era. Sure, we’ve had back great characters and great actors playing them, but there’s something special about McGregor in this role that makes my little heart happy. The Phantom Menace was the very first film I ever remember seeing in the cinema, and I grew up with him as a central part of the prequel trilogy: seeing him back on my TV, back in this role, back in this world, it feels warm and fuzzy and right in all the best ways media can make you. Star Wars feels like coming home to me, and Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan is the nice pot of soup your gran has on ready for your tea when you get there, you know?
So what I’m saying is that I’ll have a hard time being objective about this new series, I really will. There’s a special place in my heart was Obi-Wan as a character and McGregor in this role, not to mention the chance to explore the backstories of other favourite SW leads (like Luke and Leia) and generally just fart around in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve actually really liked some of the TV stuff that has come from this new era of Star Wars – the Mandalorian in particular – but there’s still a magic to the original run of characters, the ones that populated my childhood, that will eternally give them a bit of a leg-up in terms of my enjoyment of them.
But the question is, of course, how well does this character survive outside the confines of the movie series that he came to prominence in? One of my favourite and one of the most storied relationships in all of the SW canon is the one between Obi-Wan and Anakin (played here by a returning Hayden Christensen), but this Obi-Wan series has to fill itself out without constant interaction between the two. We pick up ten years after the events of the prequel trilogy, with the now Ben Kenobi living in Tatooine and staying undercover to keep an eye on the growing Luke and avoid the attention of the Inquisitors, Jedi hunters searching the galaxy to wipe the last of his kind from the proverbial intergalactic map.
And that’s a pretty bold place to start the series – this first episode is almost downbeat in a way, following Ben as he continues to live out his life on Tatooine, scraping to make ends’ meet, getting scammed by Jawas, trying to buy toys for Luke to make sure he understands the enormity of the world out there waiting for him. It must have been tempting to go for a big, flashy opening, something that showed off Kenobi’s iconic action skills, but he’s left that behind – his force-using days are behind him, his skills blunted and sanded (pun intended) down to nubs. His lightsaber is buried in the middle of the desert – he calls out for his old Master in the night, but he doesn’t come.
His past is distant, the show going out of its way to underline how much he has changed since the last time we saw him – when a fellow Jedi comes to him for help, he all but turns him away, and shortly after, the Jedi is strung up in the town square by the Inquisitors. It’s a strange place to start the show, but I actually really enjoy it. We need a character arc over the course of this series for our leading man, and if he’s still as self-actualized and ultra-competent and a fucking drama queen as he was back in the prequel trilogy days, there wouldn’t be much for him to develop. Putting him in this odd, uncomfortable position of letting people die and suffer to protect himself and Luke really helps underline how far we are from Kansas – or, rather, Coruscant.
The second episode, on the other hand, gives us a bit more of what I think we’ve come to expect from the Star Wars shows – rollicking action, exploration of fun new planets (Dayu, where we spend most of the episode, is basically just your standard noodle-shops-and-neon sci-fi go-to, but it’s still cool to check out somewhere fresh), and a few nods to existing Star Wars media. Obi-Wan is coaxed out of hiding to rescue Leia from a kidnapping, and it doesn’t take more than about fifteen minutes of them sharing the screen for him to return to full Skywalker-wrangling mode as we follow them through the glowing urban backdrop of Dayu. Ewan McGregor was born to be a leading man and this is just yet another reminder of that – he’s funny, he’s got great action chops, he’s got comic timing, and he’s got a sense of history in this franchise that really gives him a solid grounding beyond what we see in just these two episodes. Plus, little Leia is a whole heap of fun – Leia is probably my favourite character across the whole series, and getting to see this insufferable, delightful little girl cause trouble for everyone she comes into contact with is exactly what I needed to brighten my weekend.
Of course, we’re not just dealing with Obi-Wan here. The Inquisitors make up the antagonists for this series, and, more specifically, the Third Sister, played by Moses Ingram (and if you, like me, spent these two episodes trying to work out where you’d seen her before: The Tragedy of Macbeth, babes. She’s MacDuff’s wife). She’s an instantly-compelling villain, with a controlled physicality and fight style, but more importantly, a ruthlessness and focus that renders her immediately formidable. There’s nothing more scary than a disciple with something to prove, and the few hints we’ve had at her background imply we’ve got a lot to work with here.
Overall, this is a really solid start to the series – an interesting one, and not entirely what I expected in terms of how downbeat the opening was, but certainly one I’m intrigued by. Honestly, even if these two episodes had been utter gash, I know I’d be coming back for more, because Ewan McGregor is enough for me to sit through six episodes of any Star Wars series. But luckily, even beyond him, there’s plenty to like here – and I can’t wait to see how this turns out.
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(header image via Disney Plus)