TODAY IS THE DAY!
The first two episodes of the long-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi series premiered on Disney+ hours after first being screened at Star Wars Celebration, and for many fans (including myself) this is the most anticipated Star Wars project in quite a while. And I have to say that so far it’s not only lived up to the expectations, but exceeded them. These episodes are perfect.
There’s enough to talk about that I’ve broken this up into two different reviews, and this one will focus on Part 1. If you want to check out my thoughts on Part 2, head here!
Let’s dive into the review of Obi-Wan Kenobi Part 1 – and be warned that full spoilers are ahead!
After an epic introduction recapping the events of the prequel trilogy, we open on the Jedi Temple, where Jedi Master Minas Velti is training a group of younglings when clone troopers attack. We see Order 66 happen, and after a valiant fight Velti is killed. The younglings flee, while all around them we see Jedi fighting – and falling to – clones. The show then cuts to Tatooine ten years later, where the Inquisitors (the Grand Inquisitor, the Third Sister, and the Fifth Brother) show up hunting a Jedi. They lure him out of hiding by nearly killing a civilian, and the Jedi (named Nari) escapes after the Grand Inquisitor challenges Reva on her uncontrolled anger and her insatiable quest for Kenobi above all else.
We then see Obi-Wan, working in obscurity slicing meat. He lives in quiet solitude, having nightmares about what happened, his life’s only interruption by a Jawa named Teeka who comes to sell him some parts – including a toy for Luke Skywalker. Obi-Wan watches Luke from afar and drops the toy off on the doorstep at night. As Obi-Wan travels back to his cave, Nari finds him asking for help. Obi-Wan refuses, first saying his name is just Ben, and then as Nari persists telling him that they lost and the Jedi are gone. But the Inquisitors aren’t going away, and Reva confronts the locals in town demanding to know where the Jedi is, and she threatens Owen Lars’s life if they don’t reveal him. The Fifth Brother stops her from killing Owen, and Obi-Wan thanks Owen later for not turning him in.
Meanwhile, on Alderaan, Leia Organa dreams of adventure while she dodges her royal duties, much to the frustration of her mother, Breha Organa. Together with Bail, the family welcomes Breha’s relatives for a visit (and C-3PO makes an appearance at the party too). Leia and her cousin don’t get along, which leads to a sweet conversation between Bail and Leia later. Leia heads off to the forest once again to dream, but is pursued by kidnappers who eventually catch up to her, despite her attempts to get away. This causes Bail and Breha to send a message to Obi-Wan pleading for his help, but he refuses.
The next day, he sees Nari hanging in the town, having been killed. And when Obi-Wan goes to his cave, an unexpected visitor awaits: Bail Organa, come once more to ask for Kenobi’s help. Bail sees through Obi-Wan and knows it really isn’t about needing to protect Luke that he said no, but his failure and fears. So Obi-Wan heads to the desert, where he digs up a box containing his lightsaber and Anakin’s. With the weapon of a Jedi once again hanging on his belt, Obi-Wan boards a transport heading for Daiyu, where Leia was taken.
The kidnappers, however, are revealed to be working for Reva. She has studied in the archives and found a link between Obi-Wan and Bail, so she knows that by taking Bail’s daughter, they will lure Kenobi out of hiding. And she’s right.
Where to even begin? This is the perfect introduction to this series, and I really appreciate Deborah Chow’s eye for pacing. She allows the characters and events enough time to really be developed without letting them go on long enough to become laborsome. We need to see where Obi-Wan is at when we meet him, because he’s so far removed from the Jedi Master we’re used to. It is illustrated subtly in many different ways, but I don’t think it’s an accident that the very first words we hear spoken in the “present day” of this series are by the Grand Inquisitor, come to Tatooine hunting a Jedi. After making sure the local bartender knows who they are, the Grand Inquisitor says:
“In actuality I would say the Jedi hunt themselves. Do you know the key to hunting Jedi, friend? It is patience. Jedi cannot help what they are. Their compassion leaves a trail. For example, in our line of work rumors run rampant. Here’s one I hear just recently. It involves a Jedi, hiding, right here, in your lovely saloon. Let’s say ours is a wanderer. Maybe he’s looking for people like him. Comes across this establishment, nice place. Then he sees you. A man in need. Perhaps the locals are stealing from you. Threatening you. So what is the Jedi to do? Help you, and risk exposure? Or move on? Now if he were smart he’d keep moving, but the Jedi code is like an itch. He cannot help it. So he steps in and saves your saloon. You offer him a place to hide, fresh water, shade from the suns, but the stories they begin and they travel quickly. His compassion has been his undoing.”
That is the foundation for what we see unfold throughout the entire rest of the episode and for understanding where Obi-Wan is. He’s conflicted, hiding, having lost hope long ago. In the very opening scenes of the episode, before we’ve even seen Kenobi, Nari reveals himself in front of the Inquisitors to save the bartender’s life. Cut to our first scene with Obi-Wan, and right in front of him the boss is ripping off and mistreating one of his workers – and Obi-Wan does nothing. He seemingly wants to, but doesn’t. Ok, fine, but it wasn’t the same situation, as the guy’s life wasn’t in danger – but then Nari comes to Obi-Wan and the Jedi Master still refuses to help. Nari winds up dead because of it. This previously unknown Jedi, whom Reva doesn’t even want to hunt because he doesn’t matter, comes to find the great Jedi Master and hero Obi-Wan Kenobi… and finds no help. “What happened to you?” Nari asks Obi-Wan, and that’s the question we should be asking too. Even though we know the answer – Nari, you have no idea what’s happened to him – it’s still shocking.
But most shocking of all is when Bail and Breha Organa send him an urgent message asking him for help – and not just for any random help but to rescue Leia! And he still refuses! There’s no clearer indication of just how broken, how hopeless, Obi-Wan is than that. Of course, it’s through all of this that he reverses course and decides to come to Leia’s aid. Seeing Nari dead, and seeing Bail showing up pleading once more, is enough. And Bail, very perceptively, knows the real reason why Kenobi isn’t getting involved: he made mistakes, he failed, he lost Anakin. I think of the words of Luke Skywalker in The Rise of Skywalker many years later, explaining his exile to Rey by saying, “It was fear that kept me here.” Maybe that’s what really is driving Obi-Wan too, even more than protecting Luke. Maybe that’s what he’s just hiding behind. But if anything is going to pull him out of that and force him to face his failures, it’s one of Anakin’s kids being in danger. So Obi-Wan digs up his lightsaber (as if we needed yet another indication of how he’d moved on from the Jedi) and heads off to Daiyu (the shot of him subtly revealing his lightsaber on his belt was fantastic and very Indiana Jones-esque).
That adventure really picks up in Part 2, but we’ll save that. This first part was really taking a deep dive on Kenobi, and Ewan McGregor was absolutely perfect. He manages to do the seemingly impossible, playing the same character we know and love while also adding the conflict and brokenness, all within a flawless performance that serves to bridge the gap all the more between him in the prequel trilogy and Alec Guinness in the original trilogy. Getting McGregor back as Kenobi is reason enough to do this series, but we all already knew he’d be incredible.
What we didn’t know was that McGregor’s performance would be rivaled in the first two episodes from the unlikeliest of spots – from Vivien Lyra Blair as Leia Organa. She’s absolutely fantastic and perfectly nailed the character made iconic by Carrie Fisher, withe the recognition that she’s still just ten years old here. Leia’s appearance will be a surprise to most even though it was leaked months ago, but Blair’s performance was a home run from all angles. And one of the real highlights of the episode was everything Alderaan, which is one of the most gorgeous locations in Star Wars and has been dramatically underutilized in storytelling. Bail Organa is back (played by the always great Jimmy Smits), and Breha Organa is a significant player for the first time ever on-screen (played by Simone Kessell). Seeing the Organas together as a family was so great, and I loved how Leia got a poignant moment individually with both her mom and her dad.
In that we see how the two Skywalker kids are growing up with drastically different upbringings. The stark contrast between the deserts of Tatooine and the lush world of Alderaan is unmistakable, as is their relationship with parent figures. One thing I really appreciated about this episode was the chance to explore Owen Lars more as well as Bail and Breha Organa, as it’s clear that all of them have the best interests of their child in mind and want nothing more than to protect him. Of course Owen wouldn’t want Obi-Wan around when he sees what happens to Jedi! And Owen staring down Reva and still not revealing Kenobi’s location, hiding just off-screen, is an indication that this isn’t a bad guy out to keep Luke from his destiny. No, he’s doing his best to protect him, and sees Kenobi as the biggest threat to Luke. Contrast that with the Organas, who view Kenobi as the biggest hope for Leia. And from a certain point of view, they’re both right. That’s what makes it so compelling.
But I absolutely LOVE that in this series Obi-Wan is not just watching over and protecting Luke, but Leia too – meaning that in the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope he’s actually in a very real way watching over both of Anakin’s kids. That’s one of the best developments this show could have made.
Another thing to mention from this episode was that the Inquisitors work really well, but we’re already seeing how Reva is at odds with the others. She’s more impulsive, more ruthless, more impatient – which is saying a lot, considering these are bad guys. She views hunting Nari as beneath her and beneath them, because he’s small prey, and it’s clear that she wants Kenobi and has been hunting for him for years. We don’t yet know why she’s driven by this, but it seems she will stop at nothing as long as she believes he’s still out there – even orchestrating the kidnapping the daughter of an Imperial Senator!
I think that the opening scene of Order 66 will tie in to all of this in the end, as I’m guessing that Reva was one of the younglings training who saw this happen. I’m guessing we’ll see the rest of the story and see why she’s driven by the quest for Kenobi. On that note of Order 66, I must say that it’s particularly heartbreaking to open with that sequence this week, where a group of children are attacked and their teacher killed, after the events in Uvalde, Texas. It’s unsettling. And that’s not the fault of Lucasfilm, as it’s a very fitting opening for this series (and probably even more so by the time it’s all completed), both because I’m expecting it to tie in with Reva’s character but also because it highlights the fall of the Jedi. That’s when they lost. That’s the greatest evil in the Star Wars universe, with even the younglings killed in a senseless attack. It’s not Lucasfilm’s fault that it’s actually the reality in the United States. And it’s not Lucasfilm’s fault that it released now, because odds are if they just pushed it back there’d be another mass shooting that would happen around that time, because these kinds of shootings never stop happening in America. It’s about time – long, long overdue, in fact – for us to actually enact some meaningful change.
Returning to this episode, it was a perfect debut for the series, managing to actually exceed all expectations. Even more than The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett (which were well done), this show really feels like a movie, capturing the look, feel, and emotion of Star Wars in a way that feels like this will instantly become a main staple of the Skywalker saga. This is the story of the Skywalkers, sure, but it’s never been clearer that the story of the Skywalkers is the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi, too. And it’s so great to have him back.
To see my review of Obi-Wan Kenobi Part 2 head here.