'Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi' TV Review: One Last Fight
(Note: Addendum will be posted on June 22nd following the conclusion of the series)
It's been 17 years since Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen last suited up as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Apprentice-turned Sith Lord Anakin Skywalker in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In the interim, the prequel films have amassed a cult following, even surpassing the original trilogy as some diehard Star Wars fans' favorite era. I, however, am not one of those people. I've always found the prequels to be bland stories with even worse dialogue, saved only by the Lightsaber choreography and John Williams' ever-awe-inspiring score. One aspect that has admittedly grown on me since my first go-around with the films over 10 years ago was the performances of McGregor and Christensen. They poured in about as much emotion as you could expect from lines like "It's over Anakin, I have the high ground." Couple that with the fact that I've always had a soft spot for the ultimate movie villain, Darth Vader, and you could say that my interest was piqued when a show was announced at D23 in 2019 with the original cast returning.
Well, three years later, Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi has taken Disney+ by storm (Parts I and II at the very least). So, will the Deborah Chow-directed limited series do the characters, and both neighboring film trilogies, justice? Well, that's a complicated answer.
Part I sees Kenobi broken by his failure to save Anakin and suffering from severe PTSD, his sleepless nights clouded by Force Visions of his fateful duel against his former apprentice. He struggles to reach out to his master for guidance. We're reminded that heroes can fail and hope can be lost. His robes are torn and faded, he hurts his hand while throwing punches, and worst of all, Kenobi has rejected the Jedi code. He faces consequences for this, and he, as well as the audience, must ask whether or not those sacrifices were justified. McGregor impressively conveys this without many lines and has some truly tear-jerking moments. John Williams returns to write Obi-Wan's theme, which similarly echoes the show's themes of isolation and despair.
Part II brings the Jedi out of his comfort zone in more ways than one, forcing him to go on a mission that requires a skill set seldom used since his days in the Republic. Kenobi is still very much restraining himself, not dissimilar to Luke Skywalker in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, both having cut themselves off from the Force and unwilling to ignite their Lightsabers. The final sequence of the second episode is tense, emotional, and shocking; the whole package.
Now that I've praised both the story itself and Ewan McGregor's performance, I can highlight my biggest issue with the series: the rest of the cast. Rupert Friend, Sung Kang, and Moses Ingram's Inquisitors are all flat. Their line delivery lacks emotion and invokes the feeling of a table read as opposed to a multi-million dollar series. Friend is the least offensive, as he closely matches the Grand Inquisitor's animated counterpart. I'm aware that Star Wars has always had cheesy villains, save for Vader and the Emperor, but this didn't feel intentional. Sung Kang's unforgivably bad performance as the Fifth Brother is primarily comprised of incoherently whispering every line in a menacing tone, and his character is given so little to do that you're left wondering why he was included in the first place. Ingram certainly has potential, and while her portrayal in the first episode left a sour taste, there were certainly glimmers of hope in the second.
Kumail Nanjiani was also a surprising hit. For someone who usually finds him to be one-note, his dynamic, affable, smuggler named Haja gave some much-needed contrast to the cyberpunk planet of Daiyu. The new planet is gorgeously realized with the soft lighting of its neo-Japanese aesthetic by ILM's StageCraft technology.
A quick note on the production value of the show: while the costume and props departments have outdone themselves, the flaws of StageCraft are still visible. The technology is incredible, but when in brightly lit areas, the cracks begin to show. Tatooine feels flat in comparison to the original films, but it's impossible to compare on-location shooting to a sound stage.
The B-plot of the first episode was critical to the overall story but nevertheless left a lot to be desired. While I can't go too deep without getting into spoiler territory, I will say that I found myself twiddling my thumbs, waiting to switch our focus back to Kenobi himself.