Obi-Wan Kenobi review time, here we go.
(I also wrote this on Letterboxd. Please follow me on Letterboxd! I have cool lists!)
I have very mixed feelings about Obi-Wan, and there’s so much about it that doesn’t work, that irks me, that I’m not sure I can give a full thesis behind why I didn’t love it.
I didn’t love it; I barely even liked it, as a whole. That’s crazy! This is me we’re talking about, the person who loved Book of Boba Fett, and nobody in hell loved that show besides me.
There were points in Obi-Wan when I was legitimately wondering, is this what people felt about when they watched The Last Jedi? Are my fan biases seeping into my feelings too much that I can’t clearly see the qualities of the work as a standalone thing? But then I realized that it was exactly the opposite; my undying love for Star Wars was the only thing keeping me enjoying the show in the first place. And even with that, the disappointment led me to delay finishing the series for a whole month to get through those last couple episodes.
Does this show have good reviews? Are people feeling really mixed on it like me? I have no idea, because I intentionally avoided critical stuff, and even as I write this I have no idea what even my Letterboxd friends think of it. So, isolated from the rest of the internet’s feelings, I guess I’ll give my thoughts and make a scattered Obi-Wan Kenobi review.
Gosh, where to start?
Obi-Wan Kenobi Review: Start!
I guess first off, Ewan McGregor rocks. As the kids say, he slaps, he is the G.O.A.T., and he is totally lit like Apex Legends or whatever. That is what the kids say, right?
McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan is fantastic, a league above almost every other actor he’s paired against and one of the main things that lifts the series up into decent territory. Even with the ludicrous story unfolding before him, McGregor is able to pull deep emotions into every scene. I hope he gets an Emmy, except that we’re in Prestige TV era now and the Emmys are way too competitive these days.
Hayden Christensen also does an incredibly good job for all the limitations behind his performance. He’s a dude in a suit for ninety percent of the series, and his in-person appearances are all very weird, but very striking. He’s a vision in the distance, he’s a curiously not-CGI-de-aged young Anakin in flashbacks, and he’s in heavy burn makeup with only half his face exposed. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, he’s just wonderful. Darth Vader was the role he was born to play, and yet the role he will likely never get to do again.
Wait, you’re telling me he gets to do it again in the Ashoka series? OK, nevermind. I’m more excited for that series solely because of that information.
Other performances are mostly whatever. The Third Sister is a decent villain, but it’s hard to get a read on her sometimes, and I’m not sure if her actor was quite directed correctly to account for that whole inner conflict stuff that emerges in the last couple episodes. All the actors who do heavy makeup roles are pretty cool, but that’s typical for Star Wars. Returning actors like Joel Edgerton and Jimmy Smits are fine, but definitely not committed like McGregor and Christensen. At least they brought back all the prequel actors! I love me some consistency.
Sadly, the kids actors, mostly Leia’s but also Luke’s for his limited screentime, are pretty dire. I hate most child actor performances, and these didn’t do anything for me at all. Neither of them look anything like Carrie Fisher or Mark Hamill, but they also don’t act like them either; they just act like generic spunky kids. I won’t be too harsh, because it’s not the kids’ faults, but I must say I was not thrilled to learn that Leia would become a primary character.
Actually, not just for the child actor, either. I felt very deflated when Leia appeared because the terrible truth was revealed; Obi-Wan Kenobi was actually just a Star Wars Episode 3.5 ensemble story, not the heavily character-focused story almost entirely set on Tatooine that I had desperately hoped for.
Like, what is the point of this entire series? Nothing in the status quo changes except Obi-Wan’s resolution to finally start being a Jedi again. Nobody important dies, nobody learns anything vital, and none of the emotional throughlines really carry into the original Star Wars movie. We barely even get to see how the galaxy has changed under the Empire in ten years since Episode III. It’s an entirely unnecessary filler chapter! Yeah, it was always going to be a filler chapter; it had to be. But being an extremely plot-focused filler chapter cheapens the whole experience.
Obi-Wan and Darth Vader fight! Twice! And it barely even matters because the story is so haphazardly set up that even causing this to happen feels like the greatest contrivance to ever occur. And that’s because it is! The only way to have these two characters meet and for both of them to be alive and well in the end is to throw in so many strange story beats that weaken the story. I really dislike that they meet and fight, honestly, although mostly in a thematic sense for the franchise rather than for the series itself.
Same thing with Obi-Wan and Leia; I get that they wanted to give Leia a good spotlight, but Leia having lived for days or maybe weeks with a Jedi and been in a bunch of huge battles and then never, ever bringing it up at any other point is so weird. You’d think she’d be on the Death Star with Luke and Han and they’d mention Obi-Wan and she’d go, “Oh shit, he’s here too? Dude, that’s like my total childhood father figure who honestly may or may not be my real biological father if we’re getting too deep into fan theory territory here. I wanna see him again!”
Luke also gets chased by a Sith Inquisitor and almost killed. Bored restless farmboy Luke Skywalker was almost killed by an evil lightsaber lady, and yet that seems to have absolutely no bearing on the rest of his life. It’s honestly almost antithetical to his character for this to have happened to him.
There’s so many little plot beats that really aggravated me, too. This is the part where I worry I’m a little fan-biased and nitpicking stuff I normally don’t in other movies, but it was a little much for me. There’s too many deus ex machina moments! The smuggler people show up AT LEAST three separate times to save Obi-Wan and get him out of a jam and shoot up a bunch of stuff. And there’s so many moments where characters’ inexplicable inaction is the only thing that lets the plot progress. The Third Sister doesn’t kill the fake Jedi guy, doesn’t use the Force to hold back or jump onto Obi-Wan’s ship when she easily has the chance. Darth Vader gets a barrel of fire thrown in front of him and he just stands there and lets Obi-Wan escape. Darth Vader doesn’t go down to Jabiim to fight Obi-Wan himself until way late in the game after he’s already just about escaped. The Grand Inquisitor survives but conveniently doesn’t do anything about it?? Obi-Wan defeats Darth Vader but lets him live???? How does Obi-Wan get from that random moon to Tatooine to the Lars homestead in like 5 minutes?????
It’s such a mass of little weird plot stuff, where each individual one doesn’t irk me that much (except the barrel of fire, ugh), but the constant volley of them really got to me. They had to do some REAL big boy plotting to make any of this happen without affecting the status quo in a big way, and I don’t envy them… But also maybe they didn’t need to do most of the plot things they did in the first place?
You can also really start feeling the TV showness of it after a while. I’m preaching to the chorus once again to Letterboxd, but this really, really needed to be a film, because as a miniseries it turns up short in several ways.
For one, a few of the episodes feel unnecessarily padded, and honestly they could have easily done this exact plot in like 3 episodes without even cutting story beats out. That or 30 minute episodes, at the very least.
And for two, the entire thing starts to feel a little cheap in places. They clearly reused Tatooine sets and costumes from Mandalorian and Boba Fett, which is probably the whole reason they did this series ahead of all the other announced ones. That’s a smart move, except that then they leave Tatooine for 5 episodes. So many of the planets feel basically featureless, so many of the sets feel like random alleys or warehouses. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and the CGI is very good for a TV show. But watching it just makes me yearn for the film version of this, where instead of a $100 million 5-hour miniseries, we got a $150 million 2-hour film with great cinematography, impressive art direction, and a much more focused story.
Stephen Daldry probably yearns for it too.
There’s still some good in here, albeit only in a very unfocused way. When the characters aren’t busy running and chasing through an endless series of sets, the parts about the legacy of the Jedi Order, about Obi-Wan and Anakin and the Third Sister dealing with ten years of trauma, actually work. The scene with Darth Vader, beaten and face half-exposed, seething in rage, is positively haunting. The moment when Obi-Wan finally, FINALLY meets his old master as a ghost is pretty nice too… although the story kind of completely forgot about that subplot for most of the story so it felt less earned and more like just a cameo. Still, the Jedi stuff worked well, and that’s definitely why the fifth episode’s flashback duel with Obi-Wan and Anakin felt way more powerful than it had any right to be. As a thought exercise, the “what-if” of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader meeting again ten years later is a very interesting thing to explore. Even if it was totally pointless to either of their overall character arcs.
If they had stuck to a story strictly about Jedi and Sith angst and learning to accept (or failing to accept) those emotions… it’d still not have necessarily been the Obi-Wan story I was hoping for, but it’d have felt so much more like an important event.
Basically, most of my Obi-Wan Kenobi review has consisted of complaining about the unnecessarily complex, convoluted stuff that is of no consequence to the rest of the franchise. In a way, it reminds me of a 90s Dark Horse comic. You know the ones, like Vader’s Quest or River of Chaos, where it’s just some dumb adventure featuring the Star Wars cast, and maybe it features some crazy stuff, but it’s also a comic from the 90s and doesn’t exactly have the weightiest writing known to man. Disposable, enjoyable, and good to include in an omnibus collection later.
Obi-Wan’s like that, except that it’s basically the one shot, the only shot we’ll EVER get for this story. The only time we could ever get a new Obi-Wan story with Ewan McGregor and half the surviving prequel cast, and they blew it on a very unimpressive, very unfocused story.
Will this series improve on a rewatch? I don’t know, but also I hardly ever rewatch TV shows anyway. Watch it for McGregor and Christensen, but don’t get too excited for the other stuff.