*****STAR DESTROYER-SIZED SPOILERS!!******
Though I am currently attending the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim as I type (details in a forthcoming post), I’m compelled to jot down a review of one of the major events at this convention; DisneyPlus’ premiere of the new six-part miniseries simply titled, “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Starring actor (and co-producer) Ewan McGregor, reprising his role of Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels, the miniseries is being directed by “The Mandalorian” veteran Deborah Chow, who is also coproducing (one thing few series seem to have a shortage of these days–producers).
Taking place ten years since the fall of the Old Republic (as seen in 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith”), Obi-Wan Kenobi is still hiding out on the desert world of Tatooine, avoiding the Empire’s “Inquisitors”; a group of dark-side force-wielders who sweep the galaxy looking for any Jedi who survived the infamous “Order 66.” Any surviving Jedi pose a threat to the rule of Emperor Palpatine. This is where the miniseries begins…
“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Parts 1 and 2.
Exiled Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi (McGregor) is bitter, defeated and cynical; he is not the same man we saw in the previous trilogy. Like the best tradition of Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, Kenobi lives as a “man with no name”, or rather the single name of “Ben”–a simple laborer who now works anonymously with a group of Tatooine butchers who take an anti-grav train out to the remote dunes to debone a literal mountain of meat off a dead Krayt dragon.
Kenobi always steals a small portion of meat for his eopie–a beast of burden which acts as both personal transportation and sole friend. In this new inconspicuous existence, he does his best to hide any trace of his Jedi past, as any mention of it might bring him to the attention of the Inquisitors.
Note: The Krayt dragons were first mentioned in the 1976 novelization of “Star Wars,” ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster for George Lucas. 1977’s “Star Wars” (aka “A New Hope”) features a scene where Kenobi scares off a group of attacking Tusken Raiders by mimicking the call of a Krayt dragon (that call has since changed multiple times over various “special editions” of the film). The Krayt dragons were first represented in that original movie as an elongated, bleached-boned skeleton which C3PO comes across during his desert trek (a prop left over from a Disney comedy called “One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing”). We finally see living Krayt dragons in The Mandalorian Chapter 9: “The Marshall”.
In a scene right out of any western, a group of several Jedi-hunting Imperial Inquisitors arrive in a saloon on Tatooine. The First Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) begins grilling the bartender for information about a rumored Jedi allegedly spotted in his establishment. The Inquisitor’s impetuous Third Sister Inquisitor, Reva (Moses Ingram) grows impatient with her boss’s more methodical tactics for learning the truth. Preferring a more direct approach, she hurls a knife towards an innocent patron–a knife stopped in midair by an anonymous, force-wielding patron (Bennie Safdie), whom we later learn is “Nari,” one of the younglings who managed to escape the Jedi Purge on Coruscant ten years ago. Using force powers, the teenaged Jedi-in-exile manages to escape…for now.
Note: While maintaining an old western saloon scene feel to it, the scene also accomplishes a nice bait-and-switch, as we assume the rumored surviving Jedi knight was Obi-Wan Kenobi, not some anonymous bar patron. The scenes on Tatooine, with their almost-“Mandalorian” vibe, are the most compelling of these first two parts.
We later see Obi-Wan Kenobi on a ridge, with a pair of macro-binoculars, overlooking a familiar domicile in the flat Tatooine landscape. We see a middle-aged Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), a middle-aged Aunt Beru (Bonnie Piesse), and a ten-year old Luke (Grant Feely), avoiding his relatives’ calls for him while perched atop the garage dome, pretending to fly a spaceship. As Beru later observes in the original 1977 movie, “He has too much of his father in him.” Kenobi eyes the boy with both hope and fear for his future. Later, when no one is around, he sneaks into the home and leaves Luke the gift of a toy Skyhopper he bought off of a shady Jawa.
Note: The Skyhopper toy is the same one we see older Luke idly playing with during the garage scene in “A New Hope.”
Later, we see Owen confronting Kenobi in town. He tells the former Jedi to leave them alone. When Kenobi asks if Luke is okay, Owen cynically replies, “You don’t care if he’s okay. You only care if he’s showing.” Kenobi insists that “the boy must be trained,” to which Owen pointedly retorts, “Like you trained his father?” Ouch!
Note: Owen isn’t entirely wrong, either. Kenobi creepily lurks around the Lars homestead, seeking to groom Luke for a future role as a Jedi; increasingly problematic, since Luke is past the age when young Jedi begin training. Ironic that the burned-out Kenobi wishes to prepare Luke for a role that he has abandoned himself (earlier in the story, Kenobi tells fugitive Jedi Nari to bury his lightsaber and leave it all behind). Owen wants to give young Luke a clean slate–something Kenobi seems to want as well…or does he? Also of note, the burying of the lightsabers seems ritually significant, since we see Rey burying Luke and Leia’s lightsabers at the end of “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Soon, the squad of Imperial Inquisitors show up in the town square. The fugitive Jedi Nari has been found and publicly executed for all to see (a death made worse for the fact that Kenobi could’ve helped him, but didn’t). Taking point is Reva, who wants the bring Kenobi in, not smaller game like Nari. Kenobi is present, but unable to run away without drawing undue attention to himself.
Note: In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what to make of Third Sister Reva at first, as her rivalry with the Grand Inquisitor seemed an unnecessary side story to the greater point of hunting the Jedi, but in the second hour, she grew on me as a character. I also appreciate how she illuminates the cracks within the monolithic Imperial facade–evil eventually feeds on itself.
Soon, acting on a force-hunch, Reva corners Owen Lars. The simple farmer shows uncommon bravery as he stares down Reva without blinking. She asks if he has a family, he replies that his family are not her concern. She presses, and asks if he’s hiding any Jedi. He replies, perhaps with genuine conviction on his part, that the Jedi are “vermin,” and that vermin are not welcome in his home. Sensing something more, Reva jumps the gun and threatens him with her crimson lightsaber. He doesn’t flinch. Owen’s life is spared by the intervention of the Grand Inquisitor, who believes Reva’s reckless interrogation of Owen to be a waste of time. The Inquisitors depart, and a genuinely relieved Kenobi thanks Owen. Owen curtly and honestly replies, “I didn’t do it for you.”
Note: Great dimension is given to the character of Uncle Owen in the first hour of this miniseries, and the lengths he goes to protect young Luke make his death in “A New Hope” all the more gut-wrenching; especially since that death came down from the man he once considered a stepbrother. Here’s hoping we see more scenes with the Lars’ family soon, particularly Aunt Beru; another character screaming for greater development. For a more insightful look at (or listen to) the Lars’ family, check out National Public Radio’s Star Wars Radio Play, from 1981 (via YouTube). There are added bits and dialogue that enhance their characters as well.
The first hour also focuses on the upbringing of “the other” Skywalker twin; Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), the adopted daughter of Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and his wife Breha (Simone Kessell). Ten-year old Leia is aware she’s adopted, and that gives her a feeling of estrangement from the greater Organa family–something her cruel cousins exploit whenever they can at family gatherings. Feeling stymied in the life of a young royal, Leia often tests her mother’s patience by running off on her own in the nearby woods of the planet Alderaan with her pocket-sized drone companion, Lola (can we say merchandising opportunity…?). On one such run in the woods, the willful Leia is captured by a gang of bounty hunters-turned kidnappers, led by Vect Nehru (former Red Hot Chili Pepper, Flea), operating on the secret orders of Inquisitor Reva, who hopes Kenobi’s connection to the Organa family during the Clone Wars will flush the Jedi out of hiding.
Note: The interpretation of young Leia as a sometimes bratty child takes some getting used to, but in conversations with my wife (a fellow Star Wars fan with greater knowledge of the Extended Universe than myself), it kinda fits–she was tempered into the role of the young Senator we see in “A New Hope,” not born for it. My biggest nit was how a small child (even small for age ten) is able to outrun multiple kidnappers for as long as she does; her tiny legs couldn’t take long enough strides to outrun several determined adult bounty hunters (!). There is even a moment when she is cornered, and one of the kidnappers actually stops pursuing her for a moment, as well. Such clumsy chase choreography stretches credibility; even for a fantasy in a galaxy far, far away.
Back on Tatooine, laborer “Ben” Kenobi comes back home to his cave, where he feeds his eopie, just before hearing a faint contact signal coming from a chest of personal items. The signal is from his long-dormant holo-communicator. He activates it, and the ghostly hologram of Bail Organa appears. Organa begs the former Jedi to come out of exile and help find his kidnapped daughter, who is believed to be held on the sleazy, underworld planet of Daiyu. Kenobi, who’s known Leia since the moment of her birth (“Revenge of the Sith”), resists Organa’s request, humbly offering that he’s no longer the man Organa once knew. Bail Organa insists, and Kenobi takes his eopie out to a patch of desert, where he excavates his long-buried lightsaber. After some self-doubt, a reluctant Obi-Wan Kenobi boards a transport for Daiyu…
Note: This marks the first of two times that Obi-Wan Kenobi has been forced to leave his exile on Tatooine to mount a rescue of Princess Leia. The second would come ten years later during the events of “A New Hope.” Some might call this a retcon, but there’s nothing in the original 1977 film to suggest that he couldn’t have previously rescued Leia ten years earlier, either.
If Mos Eisley spaceport was a “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, then Daiyu is an entire planet filled with both. Fresh off the transport, Kenobi is accosted by a young drug dealer (Clara Mathilde McGregor) who offers to sell the “old man” some psychotropics, which he compassionately refuses, saying he’s looking for his daughter. The young dealer gives “Ben” a free sample, hoping he might return. She tells him after a few hits, he might forget that he even has a daughter. Kenobi soon meets a streetwise young urchin who directs him to a “real Jedi”, who might be able to help–for a price, of course.
Note: The drug dealer scene is noteworthy for several reasons. The young dealer is played by actor Ewan McGregor’s real-life daughter, Clara Mathilde McGregor. This is also the second time we see Kenobi offered drugs (the first being 2002’s “Attack of the Clones”), which may be another inside joke, since Ewan McGregor broke into mainstream fame playing a young heroin addict in 1996’s dark comedy “Trainspotting”, shortly before being cast as “padawan” Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars prequel, “The Phantom Menace” (1999).
Soon we met former exiled “Jedi,” Haja (Kumail Nanjiani) who runs a small business using concealed magnets and other trickery to con people; a perfect analog of modern-day psychics, astrologers, palm-readers, and other soothsayers whose primary trade caters to the narcissistic, the gullible, and most sadly, the desperate. When Kenobi spots him taking money from a client, he’s disappointed, to say the least. Confronting Haja, the squirrelly conman admits he uses tricks, and sheepishly tries to justify his behavior. The fraudulent Jedi turns out to be not such a dead end after all, as he gives Kenobi solid leads on the location of Leia’s would-be kidnappers.
Note: Comedian-actor Kumail Nanjiani makes a nice addition to the Star Wars universe, as I’ve enjoyed his standup routines over the years. His character “Haja” is superficially similar to the fraudulent force-sensitive character of “Halla” in the 1978 Star Wars novel “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye,” who was described as an older woman, if I remember correctly. Coincidence, perhaps…
As stormtroopers work with Inquisitors in questioning locals about possible Jedi sightings, Kenobi manages to slip in and find the storeroom where Princess Leia is being kept. The child is terrified that Kenobi might be one of her abductors, since his currently disheveled appearance isn’t in keeping with the Jedi her father knew. When he performs some deft martial arts against her kidnappers, she reluctantly agrees to go with this “old” man. On the way out, Kenobi explodes the ‘free sample’ given to him earlier by the drug dealer, which immediately vaporizes, leaving the bumbling kidnappers high as a kite on its hallucinogenic properties. Demanding that Kenobi show her some kind of magic trick as proof is force abilities, Kenobi resists, insisting it would draw too much attention to him and destroy their chances of escape, though he later uses the force to slow her fall from a building ledge, which finally convinces her. He also buys Leia some fresh clothing in order to help her blend in.
Note: Probably the first time hallucinogenic drugs have ever been used in an escape attempt in Star Wars. I also couldn’t help but notice that the green tunic young Leia buys is almost identical to the green camouflage tunic the adult Leia wears when she lands on Endor in “Return of the Jedi”.
Later in the streets, Haja makes a heroic gesture when he acts as diversion for Kenobi and Leia, allowing them to escape from nearby Inquisitors and stormtroopers. It appears the fraud has a good, if somewhat greedy heart, after all.
When the Grand Inquisitor learns that young Leia has escaped, his wrath is turned to lead kidnapper Vect Nehru, whom he threatens with whirling red lightsaber blades, before slaughtering Nehru off-camera. The Inquisitor is further incensed after learning that the kidnapping of Leia, a high-profile Senator’s daughter, was the idea of Reva, who’s operating well beyond the bounds of his patience.
After Reva corners Kenobi and Leia in a docking bay, the rivalry between the Grand Inquisitor and Reva reaches a boiling point when he steps in to take the credit of capturing Kenobi for himself. When Reva objects, he angrily dresses her down over her reckless plan to draw Kenobi out by kidnapping a powerful Senator’s daughter. He then dismisses Reva’s lowly upbringing, reminding her that she came from the gutter to join the elite ranks of the Inquisitors. Unexpectedly, Reva then impales him with her crimson lightsaber–leaving the once-formidable Lead Inquisitor as dead as roast Bantha meat. He drops to the floor, and a bloodthirsty, vengeful Reva looks down at his fallen corpse and quips, “Who’s in the gutter now?”
Note: As I said earlier, I wasn’t sure what to make of Reva, but I like how her arc developed in Part 2. I’m sure she won’t survive beyond this prequel miniseries, since we don’t see her character again in any future (past?) Star Wars movies taking place after “A New Hope.” At any rate, Moses Ingram does a nice job of fleshing out this angry young woman who’s tired of having to prove herself on a par with the other baddies.
After taunting Kenobi to come out from hiding in the docking bay, she tries to elicit a reaction from him in an attempt to home in on his emotions. She tells Kenobi that Lord Vader will be pleased to learn of his capture. Reva realizes Kenobi didn’t know that Vader survived their fateful encounter at Mustafar in “Revenge of the Sith.” That does the trick–almost. Kenobi is still able to focus on the mission at hand, and “bury his feelings deep inside” by running with Leia into the vessel’s cargo hold and escaping in the nick of time…a frustrated Reva is left to watch as her prey escapes.
Note: Reva attempt to taunt Kenobi out of the cargo bay is similar to how Vader tried to draw Luke out of hiding by reading his thoughts and threatening to turn his “sisssterr” to the dark side in “Return of the Jedi”. One more minor nit comes to mind however following Kenobi’s escape in the cargo hold of the escaping ship–couldn’t Reva just make a call to stop the ship in orbit? I mean, she had the resources of the Empire at her beck and call…
After their escape aboard the freighter, Obi-Wan lets the words of the Inquisitor Reva set in; Anakin Skywalker–his former best friend turned bitter nemesis–is still alive. The final scene of Part 2 sees a ghostly white, horribly mutilated Darth Vader, stripped of his armor, suspended in a rejuvenating bacta tank. We then hear that familiar mechanical breathing as the screen fades to black…
Note: Nice to see actor Hayden Christiansen return to the role for which he was unfairly maligned in the prequel movies. I’ve seen Christiansen do excellent work (2003’s “Shattered Glass” and 2001’s “My Life as a House”), so I appreciate that the “Kenobi” miniseries is making a conscious effort to bridge the previously contentious prequel and original trilogies into a harmonious whole–something attempted in the various cartoon spinoffs, as well.
The End…of Part 2.
Summing It Up.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” has four installments to go before it wraps, and can be viewed exclusively for streaming on DisneyPlus. Based on the first two installments and my own perspective, “Kenobi” is certainly more enjoyable than the muddled mess that was “The Book of Boba Fett,” though not quite on par with the more confident storytelling of “The Mandalorian.” Nevertheless, I’m very curious to see where it goes. Keeping it contained within the parameters of a limited six-part series was a very good idea, since I can’t see much material for a regular series about an old desert hermit living incognito off-the-grid.
Filling in a major gap between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope,” the miniseries scratches some fan-itches, while adding a few new and potentially interesting ancillary characters to keep things from waxing too nostalgic. While the first hour centering on Kenobi living in exile was arguably more compelling, the second hour offers a more action-packed followup, with a final image that delivers the return of Darth Vader–a character whose badass cred was partly restored by his appearance in 2016’s “Rogue One.”
Made with clear love of all Star Wars, this miniseries offers a potential olive branch between the prequel and classic trilogies.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” World Premiere at Star Wars Celebration, 2022.
As I wrote at the top of this column, I’m currently attending the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California this year, and it’s been amazing. The premiere of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” took place here on Thursday evening, and my wife was able to get a ticket into the event. I was already committed to other events within the convention, but I was more than glad that she got to attend for both of us. The full cast was in attendance, including star Ewan McGregor, along with costars Rupert Friend, Moses Ingram, Vivien Lyra Blair, Jimmy Smits and producer/director Deborah Chow.
Also on display at the convention were some of the screen-used costumes seen in “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, and I did get a chance to see these in person, since they were moved to the Dealer Hall of the convention, where I spent most of my time. The costumes were from the “Inquisitors” as well as the hero costume of “Obi-Wan Kenobi”, as worn by Ewan McGregor.
To my readers, I have lots more material on Star Wars Celebration 2022 coming very soon in a future column. If you’re not a regular reader but would like to see more, please follow this column, and you should receive email notifications on new content. With any luck, I should have the full Star Wars Celebration column out in a couple days.
May the force be with you!