Review | ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ shows love for the prequels while filling in the gaps before ‘A New Hope’


Disney+ Media Kit

Ewan McGregor plays Obi-Wan Kenobi in Lucasfilm’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

By Brandon Raglow, Staff Writer

When the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy was released, it was widely criticized by critics and fans alike. And to be fair, that’s not necessarily unwarranted. The prequels fail on many levels with clunky dialogue, awkward CGI and some poor acting and directing choices. 

Despite this, perhaps the most universally beloved aspect of the prequels is Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) himself. Even before knowing much of the history of the character, Alec Guinness brought the image of a wise, desert hermit to life vividly. In spite of the tall task of following that up, McGregor revived Obi-Wan as a young Jedi in his prime, while expertly capturing many of Guinness’s mannerisms. While Guinness’s performance is iconic, for many, myself included, Ewan McGregor is Obi-Wan. 

In recent years, fan perception of the prequels has started to turn around, and now many, myself included, see them as very flawed masterpieces. It seems Disney and Lucasfilm have noticed this trend and played into it in the run up to the release of “Obi-Wan Kenobi”. From the press tour showcasing the pairing of McGregor and prequels costar Hayden Christensen, this newfound appreciation is on full display in the first few minutes of Kenobi. 

When you press play on the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Disney Plus page, before playing the first episode, a recap of the entirety of the sequel trilogy plays, showcasing Anakin and Obi-Wan’s relationship. Perhaps it is unnecessary, since most people watching this show have probably seen the prequels, but the wash of nostalgia and the showcase of some of the high points of that trilogy gives viewers an easy in to this period of time in the “Star Wars” universe.

Unfortunately, once the show really starts, we see a flashback to a group of Padawans training in the Jedi temple in the last days of the Clone Wars. Their training is interrupted by clone troopers bursting in to attack them. Obviously the subject matter of Order 66 was going to come up, but with the recent shooting in Uvalde, it is very unfortunate timing. 

While it’s not yet apparent how this flashback will connect back to the main story, it’s still hard not to wonder if perhaps a last minute cut was in order. The flashback wraps up quickly and the show moves forward ten years. 

After the title card, the audience is introduced to the inquisitors. Fans of the video game “Jedi: Fallen Order and the show “Star Wars: Rebels will recognize these Jedi hunters and their distinctive ringed lightsabers, but they are new to live-action. The Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) has an appropriate air of calm gravitas, showcased in a monologue — that’s only a little cheesy — about hunting Jedi. Reva, the Third Sister (Moses Ingram) is passionate and rageful, but looked down on by the other inquisitors, and has some obsession with Obi-Wan that isn’t explored yet.

It is only now that we see Obi-Wan, who now goes by Ben, as he does at the start of “A New Hope”. Obi-Wan has become a broken figure by the start of the series, riddled with guilt over his failure to save Anakin and hiding on Tatooine with the stated purpose of watching over Luke.

The first episode takes its time, repeating Obi-Wan’s daily routine, working on a line harvesting meat from a massive sand creature, taking the speeder home (say what you want about Tatooine, but their public transportation system is great) and watching over Luke. 

McGregor does a good job of showing us an Obi-Wan that has truly been broken, and we see that, despite his stated purpose of hiding on Tatooine for Luke, it’s really his fear and guilt that keeps him there and prevents him from stepping up to help those in need.

In the run up to the series, the trailers showed Obi-Wan embroiled in some plot, but what that was exactly was not discussed. Episode one shows us pretty quickly. A little while in, we cut over to Alderaan, as we follow the young princess Leia dealing with the sort of things we’d expect from a young Leia, like being annoyed with the day-to-day of palace life on Alderaan. 

Despite a few awkward action scenes, Deborah Chow, who will be directing each episode of “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” does a good job keeping a consistent tone that feels like “Star Wars” throughout. 

 The first moments of episode two are when we really get to see Obi-Wan stepping back into his role as a Jedi —  and McGregor returns to the character we know. There’s a wonderful character beat where Obi-Wan surveys a sleazy building to figure out how to sneak in, and he assumes the classic hand-on-beard Obi-Wan thinking pose.

There’s also some fun moments specifically for established “Star Wars” fans. Temuera Morrison steps back into the clone armor for the first time since “Revenge of the Sith” — though this armor is now fully practical, unlike the CGI armor used in the prequels. 

We also get a moment of Obi-Wan and Leia talking, in which Obi-Wan says she reminds him of someone he once knew who was stubborn and a leader. It’s not clear who he’s referring to. The obvious choice would be Padme, since that’s her mother, but based on a list Disney put out of material to watch before this show, I think he might have been referring to Duchess Satine Kryze from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” an old flame from Obi-Wan’s past. 

The music is fine. That’s really all I can say about it. John Williams perfectly immersed us in the world of “Star Wars” with his score, and the legacy of that music is here to stay. While Williams comes back to give us Obi-Wan’s theme, something he failed to do in the original and prequel trilogies, Natalie Holt, who previously scored another Disney Plus original in “Loki,” takes the mantle as composer for this show. 

Holt has the distinction of being the first woman to score a live action “Star Wars” project, and she does well. While none of the themes particularly stood out to me, the music always feels true to the universe. Seeing that Obi-Wan follows much closer to the “Star Wars” tradition than projects like “The Mandalorian,” it’s a little sad that Holt didn’t have the room to play with the sound that Ludwig Goransson had when creating the instantly iconic score for that show. 

Returning figures like Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) step back into their respective roles really well, especially Edgerton, who gets the chance to flesh out a character who only has a few lines in either trilogy he appears in. 

The supporting actors generally do a good job. Vivien Lyra Blair feels perfect as a little princess Leia. Snarky, smart and capable for her young age, Blair captures the spirit of Carrie Fisher’s classic anti-damsel-in-distress. Flea was a strange surprise but was fun to see. Kumail Nanjiani does well with his small part, though sometimes his humor style doesn’t quite jive with the “Star Wars” universe, and feels a little out of place.

Overall, these episodes take their time, which I really appreciated. But I also appreciated that we got both of these at once, since they might have otherwise felt a little light on their own. Of course there are a lot of lingering questions, but the series is off to a solid start, and has a lot of room to play from here. 

But I want to include some of the questions I have as a marker to see what is and isn’t addressed as the series goes on. Spoilers for both episodes will follow. 

How can the Grand Inquisitor die, since he appears as a major part of “Star Wars: Rebels,” which takes place after this show? What is the Third Sister’s connection to Obi-Wan? When will Obi-Wan use his lightsaber? Lightsabers are cool. Do we know who that clone was on Daiyu? Will we see more clones? Maybe Cody??? And finally, “Star Wars” isn’t “Star Wars” without Glup Shitto —  if you don’t know what that is, look it up — who will be Glup Shitto in this series?