Obi-Wan Kenobi Restores Star Wars’ Strength but Its Weakness Still Remains

A phenomenal movie exists within a substandard show

Obi Wan Uses the force
Ewan McGregor brings his character back.

In 2017 George Lucas told a building packed full of adults that Star Wars is made for 12-year-olds. Despite Lucas’ subtle condescending distinction that he’s telling the crowd they’re infantile, the room cluelessly cheered George on. My affinity for Star Wars is unhealthy. A grown man spending most of the quarantine watching two children’s cartoon shows (Clone Wars and Rebels) to discover depth in the Star Wars universe, as opposed to watching or reading anything else, is immature from my point of view. George called me a kid, and I laughed at the crowd, unaware I was also laughing at myself.

What used to be a special once-every-decade event is gone. The Disney Empire has squeezed every bit of blue milk they can from Lucas’ property, leaving a sour taste in his mouth. However, George knew the plan. Sell Star Wars to someone else and let them deal with the angry mob of fans.

Now in the ring with the lions, Kathleen Kennedy tries to tame them within the first year of Star Wars‘ marketing machine by inserting several subtle jabs at Lucas’ recent films. “Real sets, practical effects, nothing’s changed really,” remarks Mark Hamill in a Force Awakens behind-the-scenes video played at Comicon 2015. A few months last J.J. Abrams jests in a Vanity Fair article about scattering Jar Jar Binks’ bones in the desert of Jaku.

To rectify the negativity George Lucas may have had toward the Magic Kingdom, Disney made the Star Wars celebration 2017 a festival to celebrate the prequels. The event featured the appearance of Mr. Lucas along with Hayden Christensen, Ian McDiarmid, and Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best. In a moment of therapeutic press, the cast was welcomed with thunderous applause. 

If the embrace of the prequels has taught toxic fandom anything, it’s that time heals. What’s hated one day is appreciated as the years pass on. For all its flaws, which are many, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the nuanced Star Wars property I have been hoping for since The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, like most of Star Wars, it takes a long time to get to the good stuff.

Youngling Problems

Young Leia gives a smirk
Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) acts sarcastic towards old Ben

Most of Obi-Wan is spent attempting to rescue 10-year-old Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair). Taking place a decade after Revenge of The Sith, Obi-Wan is a broken man, living with the failure of Anakin Skywalker’s downfall. The boy Obi-Wan helped raise and loved like a brother became the Galaxy’s Heinrich Himmler. During his seclusion, Ben is summoned by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) to save his captured daughter. Hesitant at first, Ben agrees to take on the mission, thus the quest for Ben to reconnect with the Force begins. 

Once the first episode ends, Kenobi struggles to stay engaging. Like everything in Star Wars, the audience spends much of their time watching rescue missions where our heroes sneak into an enemy base, get caught, and blast their way out. Rescue missions have been Star Wars’ M.O. since Star Wars (1977), to Clone WarsRebelsThe Mandalorian, and The Bad Batch. If this sounds like lazy writing, it’s because it is. What’s even more alarming is Disney’s reliance on child characters.

If Star Wars is made for 12-year-olds, then Disney doesn’t hide their market reach towards them. From Grogu to The Bad Batch’s Echo, and 10-year-old Leia, there’s a consistency in having cute younglings for the kids to grasp onto. However, children never seemed to make Star Wars better. We all love Baby Yoda (Grogu). Not every show requires a variation of him. 

Although Vivien Lyra Blair’s performance is delightful as the steadfast young princess, her screen time could be significantly trimmed. The issue of a captured Leia could be resolved in the second episode, yet it drags itself on throughout the show, costing a chunk of the runtime on cute kid’s quips placed between Darth Vader mass murdering children.

The Expendables

Obi's allies stand in a room
Haja (Kumail Nanjiani) and Roken (O’Shea Jackson Jr) aid a rebellion.

Director Deborah Chow has stated she was afraid the show would be too dark for Disney. Perhaps she’s right since Leia undercuts much of the drama with the help of the poorly established side characters. Kumail Nanijani’s Haja Estree turns from swindler to Rebel faster than the Millennium Falcon. One minute he’s ripping off a family for transport out of a hostile planet; the next, he’s putting his life on the line for reasons I still don’t get. Equally as dull are Roken (O’Shea Jackson Jr) and Hala (Indira Varma) Both are trying to help save refugees from the Empire. That’s pretty much all I know about them. If you’ve seen any television show or movie where someone says, “we have to get these people to safety,” that’s their entire purpose for being in the show.

A Disturbance in Production Value

Ship wrecked
Darth Vader force pulls a gigantic cartoon ship.

Now embracing the prequels, Disney is welcoming the CGI they bashed in 2015’s Comicon to a noticeable degree. Although gorgeous at times, Kenobi can look downright dirt cheap. When Vader pulls down a ship attempting to escape, everything looks real but the ship. Whatever Vader was mind grabbing, it looked like a video game, which would make sense since the SW TV shows are made in the Unreal Engine.

For those unfamiliar with Unreal, it’s a program made to create a large portion of modern-day video games. Due to the small scale of the television screen, the filmmakers can pull off effects never before possible on the big screen. If projected in a theater, however, the artificiality of the CGI would be immediately noticeable. Whatever attention to detail The Mandolorian uses with Unreal is utilized sparingly in Kenobi, which appears more rushed than polished at times. 

The makeup department doesn’t fare much better. Rupert Friend’s Grand Inquisitor looks like he bought his paint from a Spirit Halloween store. To make the GI’s makeup stand out more is the horrendous editing. Bits of cheesy white dips are used during flashbacks making the show look more Sci-Fi Channel than Disney Plus. If embracing the prequels, Disney has gone full circle in looking fake like them. To place the icing on the cake of poor quality, the music is most unimpressive. 

Now having entered retirement, 90 year old John Williams can only give Kenobi its theme. The rest is a generic television score made partially on a synthesizer by Natalie Holt. There are bits of music from Ms. Holt that are brilliant, and they seem to be some of the few songs she gets to put her heart in. The rest are dreadful generic pieces that suck the drama out of many key moments of the series. Perhaps some of the terrible music isn’t her fault, as the Disney overlords are demanding an immediate deadline from its creators.

Bacta the Future

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi spar together during the Republic era
Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi spar together during the Republic era

I’d hear the same question from people when it came to Kenobi “how much can they tell?” If you’ve seen the Clone Wars, then you’d know the answer to that question is “a lot.” Hesitant to watch The Clone Wars because of it being a kids cartoon, the 2020 COVID lockdown gave me the opportunity to view an entire children’s series based around a couple movies I didn’t really like. Having seen the show (along with Rebels), I appreciated the prequels more. Where I once saw Anakin Skywalker as a whiny brat, The Clone Wars showed his ego did pay off, rendering Anakin a confident leader whose courage won him countless victories in the CW. 

Anakin’s hubris assisted his Padawan Ahsoka during a time in which all the Jedi condemned her, except for him. Being in a forbidden relationship with Senator Amidala, Anakin had nobody to reach out to him but Obi-Wan. In fact, Obi-Wan was once in love himself. His lover was Mandalor’s pacifist leader, Satine Kryze. In the Clone Wars, Anakin and Obi-Wan share a genuine friendship missing from the prequels. Why weren’t these stories told?

If Obi-Wan has spent the first ten years of his life stuck in a desert, wouldn’t that give him a lot of time to reflect? Why is it the show about Boba Fett that flashes between time and not this one? I could see the show spending less time escorting Leia, and more focusing on Obi-Wan’s relationship to Anakin. Maybe even tie in Ahsoka’s show in a flashback. Why not have Temura Morrison play the Clones (including Rex) instead of a homeless Clone Trooper begging for credits? With so much opportunity to pluck into Dave Filoni’s work, none is explored.

Wow Them in the End

Obi-Wan with tears in his eyes
Real emotion in Star Wars?

In Spike Jones’ Adaptation, Robert McKee (Brian Cox) tells Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) that it doesn’t matter if his screenplay isn’t so great. The goal is to “wow them in the end.” For all my complaints about this show it wins in flying colors during its finale. By Episode 5 I was ready to write Kenobi off. Plot threads were left wide open, and whatever payoffs being promised seemed highly unlikely. But once Ben says his goodbyes to the expendables and Leia the show completely switches gears.

Hyperdrive Through the Spoilers

Vader stands, back turned, looking out a window during hyperdrive
Take a speedy ride past the spoilers

Kenobi’s ads have been leading up to a duel. One with Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier levels of hype. No way in hell did I think it would deliver. Boy, was I wrong. Where emotions were superseded with flippy jumps and C.G.I. lava in Revenge of The Sith, Kenobi’s rematch is blistering with the emotion I haven’t seen in a lightsaber duel since Vader vs Luke in Empire.

Obi-Wan and Darth face off in a massive graveyard in a distant field amongst a rock planet. Surrounded by nothing but death, the men ignite their blades, accepting the fate in front of them. Both opponents are shot on a single-side flat profile, similar to the Kurosawa films that inspired George Lucas. When the sabers clash, the strength of the two titans reins their destruction on every pillar, breaking through them like Gods. 

Filled with regret, rage, and hope, Kenobi defeats Vader in a humiliating fashion. With his mask partially cut open, Obi-Wan sees the scarred face of his former friend, and the tears begin to swell. The dialogue, for once in Star Wars, is on point, and what a difference it makes when acting, cinematography, VFX, music, and dialogue all come together.

“I’m sorry, Anakin. I’m sorry, for all of it,” exclaims an emotionally scarred Obi-Wan to his former padawan. “You are not my failure Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” In just a few words, so much is said. Obi-Wan could never be himself, feeling responsible for the Jedi’s downfall. Not just Anakin’s but all of them. He’s sorry he couldn’t help Anakin stay in love and have children while being a Jedi. So many bodies rest by Ben’s feet because he couldn’t fulfill Qui -Gon’s wishes to train the boy. 

Inadvertently Anakin gives Kenobi closure. Anakin’s identity with Vader made his downfall entirely his choice. Kenobi ends the exchange with, “Then my friend is truly dead; goodbye, Darth.” Now we get why Ben didn’t tell Luke the truth about Anakin. I always figured he never had the chance to. How do you tell someone their dad is Darth Vader? Now with some clarity, it indeed was Ben’s point of view regarding the details over Anakin’s death. Vader’s too.

After all my little Leia complaints, I must admit, Ben’s farewell to Leia is beautifully acted. Leia asking Ben, “Will I ever see you again?” struck a chord for me. Those very words were asked by Anakin when leaving his enslaved mother on Tatooine, promising to free her when he returns. The next time he would see her, she’d be dead in his arms. When Leia sees Ben next, he sacrifices his life for Luke at the hands of Vader. Upon the show’s final moments, every loose plot thread is fixed, and the show ends on a cheery, hopeful note that feels far from manufactured.



A meme is born
George Lucas’ call back to rhyming sequels

In The Phantom Menace, Anakin Skywalker destroys (really by accident) the droid starship orbiting Naboo, saving the day for the Gungans. Anakin’s son, years later, blows up the Death Star. In rhyming stanzas from past to present, Kenobi manages to echo the past with strong dramatic resonance. Most of that emotion is buried in the sands of filler episodes yet breaks through the rubble for a fantastic finale. Kenobi can be enjoyed between the first and final episodes. The opening provides a slower cinema-style built on character over action. Rescuing Leia is a clever catalyst that comes close but evades breaking canon through some meticulously chosen dialogue.

If only seeing Parts I and VI of Kenobi, I’d say this is a feature-length picture brought to television. Most of the visual effects are fantastic, some of the music is memorable, and the performances had the heart missing from Lucas’ prequels. Still, some of that awful synthesized score is there, as is the laughable editing. You cannot convince me the Leia chase on Dantooine is appropriately paced or choreographed.

Although I fear for Star Wars’ future being rushed through the door and underwritten, I can enjoy its strengths. Yes, they can be more creative with an entire Galaxy at Disney’s disposal. Disappointingly, Disney settles for the bare minimum level of creative in service of time efficiency to make the bottom dollar. Nevertheless, as Vader tells Luke, “It’s too late for me, son.” I’ve always loved Star Wars, and I always will.

I can balance my frustration (the dark) with my appreciation for what’s done right (the light). Also, I can understand when fans can take things too far. Welcoming Hayden Christensen back gives him room to act. Not a lot since much of it is behind the mask (something else that should be reversed from The Book of Boba Fett). With the minimal screen time he’s given, Christensen does a decent job in the Vader role. Although still a bit wooden, there’s enough gravitas to warrant an idea of how he could have worked in the infamous role if not directed by Lucas.

Furthermore, it provides some peace for the actor himself. A man who’s been lampooned as a lousy performer for years is given a second chance towards the masses that made him quit acting for a long period of time.

In a meta way, Kenobi is saying there is no “not my Star Wars”; they’re all our Star Wars. We must learn how to balance the past with the present and the light with the dark. I don’t need a Season 2 of Kenobi. The story has wrapped Obi-Wan’s arc toward A New Hope. Let less be more, as that’s the modo of a Jedi. Although a warm welcome back, I’m ready to embrace some new characters divorced from the Skywalkers.

Written by Mike Crowley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *