When The Rise of Skywalker was released in 2019, it was billed as being the final installment of the Skywalker Saga, the pillar of Star Wars storytelling for over four decades. And while it remains true that it’s the final episodic film, it wasn’t the last chapter to be released from the saga. That distinction belongs to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The highly-anticipated Disney+ series has never been billed as being another episode in the nine-film saga, but it’s abundantly clear that it deserves a place among the rest. It’s truly episode 3.5, a story that deepens our understanding of the larger story and its characters and that has become essential viewing for any re-watch of the saga as a whole.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journey from despair to hope
At the heart of the series that bears his name is Obi-Wan Kenobi, and this is the story of him moving from a broken man overcome with guilt because of his failures in Revenge of the Sith to the calm Jedi Master with a resolved purpose by the time of A New Hope. It’s the story of how “Obi-Wan once thought as [Luke] did” regarding Anakin Skywalker. It’s the story of how Obi-Wan moves from not being marked by “sadness or pain [but] peace and purpose.” Before the series started, Ewan McGregor described Kenobi’s state of mind in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, saying, “We find Obi-Wan at the beginning of our story rather broken, and faithless, and beaten, somewhat given up.” That is demonstrated right from the start of the series. The first lines of the show are spoken by the Grand Inquisitor, having come to Tatooine hunting a Jedi. “In actuality,” he explains, “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.” In other words, a Jedi’s compassion cannot be hidden.
That’s why Nari, a Jedi on the run on the planet, reveals his location to save the life of another individual. Yet when Nari finds the great Obi-Wan Kenobi, a former member of the Jedi High Council and as respected as anyone in the Order, Kenobi refuses to help – leading to Nari’s death. Even more shocking is when Bail Organa makes a desperate plea for help, asking Obi-Wan to rescue Leia, who has been kidnapped. “She’s as important as [Luke] is,” Bail reminds Kenobi, but the Jedi refuses to get involved. That’s because, as Bail points out before long, it’s not purpose that is keeping Obi-Wan on the planet. It’s fear. It’s failure. And having failed Anakin, he is terrified of failing again.
Which, in a way, he does. Attempting to flee with Leia after deciding to get involved and rescue her, Leia winds up back in the hands of the Inquisitors and Obi-Wan suffers a devastating defeat at the hands of Darth Vader. But through it all, Obi-Wan is also presented with reason for hope. That is personified most in Leia Organa, which is fitting since she represents the brightest beacon of hope in the entire saga. But it’s also represented in Tala, and the other members of the Path like Roken. They too deal with failure and brokenness. But as Tala tells him, “Some things you can’t forget. But you can fight to make them better.” She does that to the very end, giving her life in an attempt to allow the others to escape. In turn, Obi-Wan recovers faith in himself – for he never truly lost faith in the Force, but only in himself – and infiltrates the Fortress Inquisitorious to rescue Leia. He fights to defend others, something he was unwilling to do previously. And he ultimately decides to sacrifice himself to save the others, deciding to face Vader alone. He understands that the survival of this next generation, including Leia, is more important than his own survival.
So he fights Vader, again, and finds himself buried under rocks. His past failures come rushing back at him, but it’s the thoughts of Leia and Luke that cause him to press on. He puts on a stunning display with the Force and with his lightsaber, and he winds up showing that Vader is still but the learner. When he glimpses Anakin again through Vader’s broken mask, however, Kenobi breaks into tears and apologizes, in what is truly one of the most emotional scenes in the entire saga. By the end of the series, we see Obi-Wan able to smile and laugh again, telling Bail and Leia that he will be ready to help should they ever require it again. He heads off to a new home on Tatooine, where he reunites at long last with his old master, Qui-Gon Jinn.
The journey of Ben Kenobi in this series, from brokenness to hope, is a powerful story. It’s what helps set this series apart from so many others, as this is extremely character-driven. There are plenty of exciting beats, yes, but it’s at its core a story about Obi-Wan. There are many similar beats to The Last Jedi, the best film in the Disney Star Wars era, which shows Luke Skywalker growing beyond his fear and failures to embrace his heroic Jedi ways once more. The same happens with Kenobi here, and it’s a testament to Lucasfilm’s storytelling that they are able to take the two greatest and most iconic Jedi in the entire saga and tell a truly compelling story about how they move beyond their failures to embrace their future. This is Star Wars at its finest. The heroes don’t always get everything right. They aren’t always perfect. They aren’t endlessly hopeful and optimistic. Yet what makes them truly heroes isn’t that they never fail, but that they get back up and move forward. It’s not that they forget the past, but that they fight to make the future better.
Darth Vader is utilized perfectly
But, of course, it’s not just Obi-Wan who is central to this story. It’s also his fallen apprentice, Darth Vader. “The debate around whether we should [bring him into this series] or not carried on for quite some time,” Kathy Kennedy told EW before the series released. It’s clear it was the right decision. Not only does Vader fit into the story very naturally – of course he’d be a part of a series that centers around Kenobi processing all of this – but he’s also utilized perfectly.
That’s nothing new for Star Wars, especially in recent years, where Vader has been used tremendously in comics and Rebels and Rogue One, but this is the best of all of them. We’ve seen Vader be terrifying before, but never more than in this series – his arrival on Mapuzo in Part III, for instance, is utterly horrifying. We’ve seen Vader be powerful before, but never more than in this series – both of his duels with Kenobi and his ‘duel’ with Reva underscore this. But we also have never seen a better blend of Vader and Anakin into the same character. This is still Anakin, down to all his faults, and that’s how Kenobi is able to exploit him to allow the rebels to escape. He knows Anakin. And yet the Anakin he knew is also gone, consumed by Darth Vader. It’s why Obi-Wan can tell Luke that Vader murdered his father, but it’s also why Luke knows Anakin is still there. This series makes Anakin’s redemption so much more powerful, because we’re truly able to see how even in the suit and under the mask this is still Anakin.
Leia and Luke
It’s just not Kenobi who is going to be able to save him; that task will fall to the Skywalker twins. Part of why this series is an essential chapter in the Skywalker saga is because not only does it deal with Anakin and Obi-Wan, but with Luke and Leia as well. Leia is one of the central characters in the series, and the performance by Vivien Lyra Blair is nothing short of incredible. Ewan McGregor carries the show with as much aplomb as we knew coming in, with a perfect blend of his version of the character and Alec Guinness. It’s so heartwarming and amazing to have Hayden Christensen back. But we knew all of that coming in. What we didn’t know was that this ten-year old girl would be every bit as good. She captures the spirit and feel of Carrie Fisher perfectly, and is the show’s breakout star.
But the story is also true to her character, as she’s the representation of hope. She helps Obi-Wan heal, and I absolutely love the development that Kenobi was looking after both of Anakin’s children in this period, not just Luke. But Luke is here too, and we get to see the differences in how Luke and Leia are raised. Leia is royalty on Alderaan, raised to rebel. Luke is a farmer on Tatooine, raised to blend in. But what they both have in common is adoptive parents who love them as their own. A highlight of this series was seeing the Organa family all together, and seeing the love that Bail and Breha have for their daughter. But another highlight was seeing the care that Owen and Beru Lars have for Luke. As Reva tries to get to the boy, she remarks that Owen loves Luke like his own son. “He is my own,” Owen replies defiantly. The show acknowledges their true parents – the scene of Obi-Wan describing to Leia how she reminds him of her parents is incredible – but it also highlights that “some things are stronger than blood.”
Not just the old, but the new too
What we’ve discussed so far are the familiar characters, but we have barely mentioned the new additions. There are a few new characters in particular who stand out. The most obvious is Reva, played by Moses Ingram, who has a really great arc in this series. She’s motivated by finding Kenobi and is responsible for setting the events of this series in motion, but she’s actually wanting to get revenge on Vader. He murdered her fellow younglings in the Jedi Temple and stabbed her, and she’s hunting him and looking for her chance to get back at him. She fails, being stabbed again and left for dead, but she then discovers Luke’s whereabouts. She thinks killing him will get revenge, but stops when she realizes killing him will turn her into Vader, the very thing she swore to destroy. I think it’s a bold yet brilliant choice to have Obi-Wan actually arrive too late to stop Reva, but have her stop of her own volition. And in the aftermath, Kenobi’s empathy and compassion is evident – something that was missing earlier in the series.
I’m not wild about that fact that Reva is now off in the galaxy somewhere, knowing about Luke and Leia and presumably knowing that they are the children of Anakin. I thought it was handled very well in this series overall, and I thought that her arc was quite compelling, but I’m just a bit cautious about where her story might go from here. I do think it would be cool to see her align with the Path and help Jedi, but we’ll have to see.
Speaking of the Path, though, that was the introduction to the other major new characters in this show. The Path is an underground network of people who help get Force sensitives to safety, and Tala, Roken, and Haja are among them. Tala, played by Indira Varma, is a former Imperial officer who is now helping this mini-rebellion in secret. She’s a fantastic new character who helps Kenobi regain his faith. Roken, played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., is a leader of the group whose fight is just beginning. Haja pretends to be a Jedi, but is representative of Obi-Wan’s returning ability to trust. Seeing them, and many more, risking their lives (and in Tala’s case, giving her life) to help others is an inspiration to Obi-Wan, and to the viewer. They haven’t been perfect, but that isn’t keeping them from trying to be better.
And I think that’s a fair assessment of this show. It’s not perfect, but it’s still really good. I do think that we saw some of the limitations of the Volume in this series far more than in the other Star Wars shows, and given the movie-like importance and quality of storytelling I wish it would have received movie-like resources to produce. Some of the visual effects were sub-par, particularly when considering this is a franchise that has always been at the cutting edge of things, and some of it felt limited by the Volume. That would be my main issue with it.
But that doesn’t stop me from loving it wholeheartedly. This is easily my favorite Star Wars live-action series, and it’s among my favorite Star Wars stories, period – particularly the final episode! Deborah Chow continues to show that she deserves to be making Star Wars content for a long time to come. This is a character-driven story, and it’s all the better for it. Fantastic character beats, combined with stellar performances by its stars and thrilling action sequences, make it worthwhile in its own right, while the way it adds depth to so many other Star Wars projects makes it fit in perfectly with the saga overall.
Because of all of this – in other words, because of how good I think it was – I actually am not in favor of a second season. It might happen, and I’m sure I’d enjoy it, but it feels like they told the story they set out to, did a great job, and set it up for A New Hope. That film is the sequel to this, and I don’t think another season is needed. But we shall see.
Regardless of where we go from here, it’s amazing that we got this story, that we got to see Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christiansen and Ian McDiarmid and Liam Neeson and Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse and Jimmy Smits all again, plus an amazing new theme from John Williams. It’s a love letter to Star Wars fans, particularly of the prequel trilogy. And that, in itself, feels like a big enough victory. Those films were the subject of much criticism when they were released, and McGregor and Christensen have both been open in the publicity for this series in saying how difficult it was. But Star Wars has always been made for kids, and now the kids who grew up with the prequels are old enough to have a voice online, and the prequels have in turn received a much more favorable reception in recent years. There was a time where this series wouldn’t have been nearly as celebrated and beloved, but time heals those wounds. That will be cyclical for Star Wars, so long as fans keep forgetting who these things are really made for.
In other words, the prequels experienced a dark time, but this is the evidence of a new era rising. And that’s fitting, because this is a story about the dark times of the Empire, but running throughout it is the theme of hope. So long as there is faith in the Force, there is hope. Obi-Wan tells Leia that the Force is like turning on the light when you’re scared of the dark, and it’s brilliant. Even in the darkness, there is light shining forth, if only one can see it.
Obi-Wan Kenobi, the character and the series, is a reminder and reflection on that very theme. It’s the best live-action Star Wars we’ve seen in years.
For much more of my thoughts on this series and its themes, check out my reviews of each episode: