Obi-Wan Kenobi

Courtesy of LucasFilm/Disney+

July 21, 2022

The Force is Strong with New Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

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Over fifteen years since we last saw Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) retreat into the fiery dusk of Tatooine, he has returned to our screens, battered and haunted by the past, in a long-planned and much-anticipated Disney+ miniseries directed by Deborah Chow. Despite some filler episodes and early narrative missteps, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s conclusion makes the whole series worth watching, serving as a powerful footnote for a character whose quietly tragic gravity binds the Skywalker saga together.  

The arc of Obi-Wan Kenobi is not a sweeping, trumpet-ridden grand finale on the heels of the prequels or the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series, although there are a few explosive callbacks to the past. Instead, for the most part, we see a slow, more winding story of a fugitive fighting despair. In some ways, the show begins and ends with solitude. The self-forgiveness that transforms Kenobi is hard-won, the result of light in unexpected places – and the dark momentum that carries Kenobi toward the source of his despair: his fallen student and friend Anakin Skywalker (voiced by James Earl Jones and played by Hayden Christensen).

(The rest of the review will involve spoilers.)

For much of the series, Ewan McGregor masterfully plays a graver, faltering shade of the Obi-Wan that more or less carried the contentious Star Wars prequels. Only glimmers of his characteristic wry humor remain in the corners of his eyes; we finally see the aftermath of Revenge of the Sith and a life full of losing the people that mattered most to him. He is cut off from the Force, haunted by nightmares in his reclusion on Tatooine and forbidden by Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) to train young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).

When Kenobi is called by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) to rescue none other than a precocious young Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) from kidnappers, he is reluctantly drawn into a plot by a Jedi-hunter, Inquisitor Reva (Moses Ingram), to lure him out from his exile. His journey takes him from the criminal underworld of the planet Daiyu to the fortress of the Inquisitors on Nur, foiling the fears of fans that we would be stuck on Tatooine, like other recent projects Mandalorian and Book of Boba Fett. 

Although the show nearly fumbles their newest duo by making Kenobi seem strangely out of his depth, the friendship that develops between little Leia and Kenobi is simple and moving, and a major motivation for the latter’s reconnection to the Force and a sense of purpose. Blair does, unfortunately, suffer from the same dialogue treatment as Phantom Menace’s Jake Lloyd. Because she seems (as Obi-Wan himself acknowledges) way beyond her years, she is more of a thematic entity than a real individual. I do think that Blair does a great job, all things considered, and that Carrie Fisher would have been proud. The poignant swell of John Williams’ “Leia’s Theme” in the final episode also reminded me that I wished the series had involved more musical motifs of the past.

In general, more callbacks to the Clone Wars would have – the Jedi Temple flashback scene was delightful, but I was crossing my fingers for any mention of Mandalorian Duchess Satine Kryze (Obi-Wan’s ill-fated love) or a live action depiction of Clone Wars armor. 

To be sure, many of the best moments in the series were surprises, though welcome ones – the messages of hope left behind by fugitive Force-sensitives, the ruthless encounter between Vader and Kenobi in which the latter is quite literally dragged over hot coals, the self-sacrifice of imperial defector Tala Durith (Indira Varma), Obi-Wan’s proud re-assumption of Jedi robes and subsequent meeting with a ghostly Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson), and of course the powerful final duel between Kenobi and Vader (more on that later).

Reva is also an intriguing new character with great potential, especially when we learn that the source of her calculated rage is her experience as a youngling during the destruction of the Jedi Temple. Despite her obvious power, as a tool of the Grand Inquisitor, Vader and ultimately Kenobi himself – although the ploy recalls, in a striking analogy, Kenobi using Anakin’s own weapon against him – she receives little independent characterization as an antagonist in her own right, ultimately serving to remind us of Vader’s brutality.

The audience backlash against the presence of a Black female character — and a powerful, flawed one at that — is a solemn reminder of the continued racism rampant in the fanbase. This is nothing new, a continuation of online abuse that John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran both faced. While Star Wars writers and executives have also struggled with the tokenization of Black actors like Boyega, whose character Finn was largely sidelined in Rise of Skywalker, Reva at least represents a refreshing step forward from the white (often British) actresses that have dominated the saga. 

But she also shouldn’t have to represent anything, or face these abuses without support, to play a dynamic new Star Wars villain. While I am dubious of multiplying spinoffs, I look forward to encountering Reva again in other Star Wars media, with better writing. Her final scene, in her sobbed rejection of Vader’s path of vengeance, was yet another reflection of the series’ emphasis on the ricocheting aftermath of trauma.

Finally, the last encounter between Vader and Kenobi is one of the most haunting moments in Star Wars history. Their duel is fast, violent, and despite Kenobi’s return to the height of his powers, it has few traces of their dance-like duel in Revenge of the Sith – it is a rematch of strength and skill more akin to the breaking of two stormfronts. The fact that we know that both must walk away for their final and first meeting, almost fifty years ago in A New Hope, does not diminish the emotional drama. Obi-Wan, with a tearful McGregor flourishing in his last hurrah, tells Anakin he is sorry for everything that has happened.

“I am not your failure, Obi-Wan,” a defeated Vader replies, but with his mask cleaved almost in two, James Earl Jones’ resonant voice mingles briefly with Christensen’s. “You did not kill Anakin Skywalker – I did.”So Obi-Wan turns away from his old friend, grieved but accepting. To him, Anakin Skywalker is dead, and despite Obi-Wan’s fault, in a moment of stunning complexity – both a desire for agency, a deep hatred and, perhaps, a deeper empathy – Anakin releases Obi-Wan from the crushing burden of his own failure. Obi-Wan and the audience must trust in new hopes, the young twins lightyears apart, whose stories have always sprung up to meet Anakin’s. But as Obi-Wan retreats once more into the dusk of Tatooine, we are reminded that his story is one emotional gravity well in which the Skywalkers orbit – a story of dignity, purpose and relentless compassion in the face of unimaginable loss.

Charlee Mandy is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].