“You seem kind of old and beat up.” – One character’s assessment of Obi-Wan Kenobi when they first meet.
In advance of the new six-part series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the fine folks at Disney+ recommended we watch or rewatch the following “Star Wars” titles:
• “The Phantom Menace”
• “Attack of the Clones”
• “The Clone Wars Movie”
• “The Clone Wars” Season 2, Episodes 12-16
• “The Clone Wars” Season 4, Episodes 15-18
• “The Clone Wars” Season 5, Episodes 14-16
• “Revenge of the Sith”
Even if you’ve loved “Star Wars” since you had a Kenner Millennium Falcon playset, that seems a lot like homework, doesn’t it? So … help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Help me understand where you’ve been and what I need to know before watching this series!
Based on the first two episodes that have dropped: Yes, it would be great if you reacquainted yourself with those movies and episodes, but even if you have just a regular working knowledge of the great Obi-Wan Kenobi and his place in the “Star Wars” canon, this is a rousing adventure with a star-power performance by Ewan McGregor.
The premiere episode of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” actually does a nice job of setting the stage with a four-minute prologue of key flashbacks from previous chapters before we pick up this new story, which is set at the midpoint between the events of “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” Darth Vader’s Sith Inquisitors (with their clear Nazi parallels), led by the evil Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend), are hunting down any Jedi who survived Order 66, which identified all Jedi as traitors to the Galactic Republic. The Grand Inquisitor cautions the cunning and reckless and ambitious Inquisitor known as Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram) to get over her obsession with tracking down Obi-Wan Kenobi, and she ostensibly agrees – but we can see from the glint in her eye that she’s not about to do so. In fact, she has a plan, quite the nefarious plan, to lure Obi-Wan out of hiding.
Meanwhile, McGregor’s “Ben” is in self-imposed retirement and living off the grid on the sparsely inhabited and desertlike planet Tatooine, disheveled with long hair and beard that makes him look like a 1970s rock star after a rough night, and working for a pittance at a meat-packing station.
At night, Ben is haunted by nightmares from his past; by day, he keeps watch (from a distance) over 10-year-old Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely), who is living on a farm with his step-uncle, Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton), and step-aunt, Beru Whitesun Lars (Bonnie Piesse). When a fellow Jedi on the run comes to Obi-Wan in the middle of the night, seeking his help, Obi-Wan advises him to forget the past and try to live a normal life. “The fight is done,” he says. “We lost.” This period is akin to Michael Jordan’s baseball hiatus – we know Obi-Wan has been through a lot, and we darn sure know there’s a LOT more to come, but for now, things are quiet. Almost too quiet.
Of course, we’re not going to get an entire series about Obi-Wan’s hiatus – and the action kicks in when bounty hunters kidnap little Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Obi-Wan reluctantly heeds the call to dust off the lightsaber, spring back into action and try to rescue her.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” picks up momentum in the second episode, when we follow Obi-Wan as he departs the bleakness of Tatooine for the neon-drenched, “Blade Runner”-esque planet of Daiyu, where Stormtroopers patrol the noirish streets. Obi-Wan’s efforts to locate Leia bring him into contact with a comic-relief con man named Haja Estree (Kumail Nanjiani, in hilarious form) and lead to some well-choreographed hand-to-hand combat sequences with a “John Wick” vibe. (Even with his lightsaber sheathed, Obi-Wan has some brutally effective moves!)
Some 17 years after McGregor was last seen as Obi-Wan, he brings more depth, more of a world-weary wisdom, to the role. It’s commanding work. The supporting cast, particularly Friend and Ingram, is excellent. Production design and costumes are magnificent, and the special effects are solid if not spectacular. As is the case with many a “Star Wars” title, the dialogue sometimes borders on the corny, but director Deborah Chow (“The Mandalorian”) has a keen sense of pacing and a distinct visual style that holds our interest even in the quieter moments.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” is off to a roaring start.