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‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

by KEITH GARLINGTON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | July 8, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
Luke, he’s not your father: Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) is a humble moisture farmer from the desert planet Tatooine and the stepbrother of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker in the “Star Wars” spinoff “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Since it was first announced that Ewan McGregor would be reprising his role of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, I immediately began measuring the possibilities. For clarity, I'm a bonafide "Star Wars" fan. I grew up on the original trilogy, actually enjoyed the sequel trilogy, and liked the prequel trilogy before it became cool to do so. So having McGregor back in one of the franchise's most pivotal roles was exciting. News of Hayden Christensen's return only made this "Obi-Wan Kenobi" -- the Disney+ six-part limited series -- more intriguing, especially for die-hands and canon junkies who consume every morsel of Star Wars content available.

Directed by Deborah Chow, the series fits in the mostly unexplored space on the Star Wars timeline between "Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith" (McGregor's last appearance) and 1977's "Episode IV: A New Hope" (which featured Alec Guinness as Old Man Ben). It's set ten years after "Episode III" with McGregor's Obi-Wan hiding out on the desert planet of Tatooine. There he goes about his mundane daily ritual, blending in with the locals while keeping a watchful eye from afar on 10-year-old Luke Skywalker, the son of his old friend and Padawan Anakin (aka Darth Vader). Luke lives on a moisture farm where he is being raised by Owen Lars and his wife Beru (a returning Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse).

When not cutting meat for his brutish boss, Obi-Wan hangs out in his remote cave where he wrangles with a hilarious Jawa huckster and tries to reconnect with the force ghost of his old master Qui-Gon Jinn. Otherwise, in order to remain undetected by Vader, Obi-Wan has distanced himself from the Force and anything that remains of the Jedi Order. But that doesn't stop the dogged Vader (played by Christensen, voiced by the great James Earl Jones), who oversees an ominous band of Force-sensitives called Inquisitors to eliminate any remaining Jedi. And once he gets a whiff of Kenobi, the true hunt begins.

These hunters are led by the Grand Inquisitor (a slyly menacing Rupert Friend) who answers directly to Vader. But the film is most interested in an ambitious young Inquisitor named Reva (Moses Ingram). She has a ruthless edge and seems intent on impressing Vader. Is it to ultimately become the Grand Inquisitor herself or are there other motivations at work?

Reva quickly becomes a key character and at times the series seems more dedicated to her than the show's namesake. Unfortunately her story arc never reaches the fullness of its potential. It starts strong and the hint of mystery surrounding Reva really drives the early episodes. But her arc, specifically in the final two episodes, feels rushed and could have used more attention. It's as if chunks of her story are missing which makes it hard to really latch onto her as a character. Meanwhile Ingram's performance begins shaky, but the actress seems to grow more comfortable as she progresses.

Obi-Wan comes out of hiding after he's contacted by Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) whose adopted daughter (and the twin sister of Luke), a young Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair), has been kidnapped. Obi-Wan reluctantly agrees to find her and bring her home. But doing so draws the attention of Reva and Darth Vader himself who has a score to settle with his former Jedi master. This Obi-Wan/Anakin link turns out to be more than just a nostalgic nod. It forms the emotional core of the series and leads to some truly epic moments that are custom-made for the Star Wars faithful.

You could call "Obi-Wan Kenobi" a series of big moments. There are callbacks, revelations, appearances and showdowns that fans will be talking about for years to come. There are moments that many have been imagining for decades and answers to questions that some of us have mulled over since the credits rolled on "Revenge of the Sith." Some of the best moments involve Anakin/Vader -- his psychological conflict, his revenge-seared conscience, and the path of violence he leaves in his wake. It isn't necessarily thorough, but it does leave you thirsting for more (hint, hint LucasFilm).

At the same time, there are some noticeably far-fetched bits. Some are small; others are a little more obvious (such as a haggard Obi-Wan sneaking Leia by countless Imperials in the highly secure Fortress Inquisitorious by simply sticking her under an oversized trench coat). And despite its many highly enjoyable peaks, there are instances where character logic is nearly impossible to reconcile (and I really tried to). Small quibbles overall but noticeable ones.

Performance wise, McGregor is terrific as is the adorable Blair who really embodies young Leia. And I love the Christensen/Jones dual effort in portraying Vader. The new characters are more of a mixed bag. I've mentioned Reva who teases better things than she delivers. The same could be said for the Inquisitors. Kumail Nanjiani is essentially comic relief who never feels in-tune with the tone of the show. And O'Shea Jackson Jr. plays underground resistance leader Roken who we only see work at a single super-serious temperature. One treat is Indira Varma. She's really good playing a double-agent who Obi-Wan and Leia encounter on their journey.

While not perfect, "Obi-Wan Kenobi" is exactly the kind of series many Star Wars fans were hoping for. It fully embraces the old while tossing in some new, and it leaves the door open for more. So far there has been no announcement of a second season, but several characters and story threads are sure to be explored in future Star Wars projects. Could it be in a "Kenobi" season two? Perhaps. After all, money and enthusiasm talk, especially with Disney. And there has been no shortage of enthusiasm surrounding this rock-solid fan-centered first venture.

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