SERIES REVIEW – In Disney+’s latest Star Wars spin-off, the Scottish actor gives one of his best performances as the legendary Jedi in a John Wick-esque action-adventure film with great action sequences.
In one of the very first scenes of the new Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, the characters trudge through the desert, earning a pittance by scraping chunks of flesh off the long-dead carcass of a giant beast. It’s either a complete coincidence, or someone at Disney+ has gone a little overboard with the ironic metaphor of the Star Wars franchise.
Obi-Wan is the “connective tissue” between the two trilogies
Because, to continue the meat metaphor for a moment, Obi-Wan Kenobi is the connective tissue. The two good stories of the old Star Wars hero – how he trained the boy who would later become Darth Vader and how Vader later killed him – were told decades ago. Chronologically, this new series is somewhere in the middle. Kenobi left Anakin Skywalker for dead a decade ago, and we are roughly a decade before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.
The basic premise of the series is strikingly similar to that Star Wars game, with the merciless Inquisitors hunting the hiding, remaining Jedi and our hero, who is doing his moonlighting. As such, the Obi-Wan we meet here is currently hiding as a ‘civilian’ from the Inquisitors hunting the Jedi – as is the main character of Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, Cal Kestis. In Fallen Order, Cal Kestis is a construction worker, and in Obi-Wan Kenobi, the title character is a “meat industry” worker who cuts meat by day, quarrels with the Jawas at night, and dreams only of flashbacks to Episodes I-III. This lead-up is not very exciting and is also a bit depressing: I think we would all have been able to stand it if this chapter of Kenobi’s life had not been so detailed.
Originally intended as a film, then came Mandalorian
But that’s super franchises for you. The post-Lucas spin-off Star Wars exists almost solely to connect dots that shouldn’t have been connected, to the delight of a rapidly ageing fanbase. So it is here. So let’s consider the current series as “Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Fantastically Uninteresting Years”.
The story goes that this series was intended to be a film. And it shows at times. Especially in the rather flat opening episode, the scenes drag on far longer than they should and are otherwise not very exciting – they could have been easily cut out of a film. But after the Mandalorian came out of nowhere and reversed what had seemed a fateful cinematic decline, the project, like the energy, was not lost. It was transformed and ended up on TV.
As slow as it starts, it picks up the pace later on
However, once Obi-Wan Kenobi starts to pick up a bit of momentum, a wonderful thing happens. The series really begins to justify its own existence. Two of the six episodes were released today, so we’re now a third of the way through the series, and so far, it seems to be a kind of intergalactic John Wick. Kenobi is on the run, hunted down by a combination of hired mercenaries and Vader’s forces while trying to protect the young Princess Leia.
And when the series mostly goes in that direction, it’s a recipe that works brilliantly. For ten years, Obi-Wan has ignored his Jedi abilities, and as a result, all of his fight scenes are much more bruising and hard-hitting than the usual Jedi lightsaber “ballet dance”. Ewan McGregor spends most of the first two episodes slapping faces, elbowing people in the face and otherwise fighting like a Far Eastern martial artist – he doesn’t even use his lightsaber. The mystique and Jedi abilities will inevitably return later, of course. Still, for now, it’s really exciting to see this new kind of Kenobi, who is only part Jedi, part weird hybrid of the aforementioned John Wick, Jason Bourne, or Jack Bauer.
In the nearly 20 years since he last played Obi-Wan, McGregor has also found a way to refine his acting and correct his biggest flaw: he can finally act naturally while carrying Alec Guinness’s full weight mannerisms. These often overpowered McGregor’s natural performance in the prequel series, but here he has finally learned to handle it well and let his natural charisma shine through.
Well-drawn supporting characters
It also helps that he has a worthy opponent. Reva, played by Moses Ingram, is an Imperial Inquisitor (aka: Jedi hunter) who has no time for the petty bureaucracy of the Galactic Empire and has no love for his fellow Inquisitors. While his superiors enforce the letter of the law, he doesn’t mess around, instead throwing knives at innocent aliens and threatening to kill entire families. He’s hot-headed and impetuous, but that’s how he achieves his goal and sets him on a straight path to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Also worthy of mention is Kumail Nanjiani, who plays a sort of comic Jedi fraud with a slightly muddy performance. Still, his character does add some light to the often clichéd and humorous tone of the series.
John Wick Kenobi
There is no doubt that the existence of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series is in large part a sign of creative exhaustion and another attempt to thoroughly unravel an age-old franchise – with some Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order thrown in for good measure, along with the original characters and story twists. The first part of the story starts off awkwardly slow and groan-inducing. Still, it then thankfully picks up the pace nicely, thanks to the cleverly directed action sequences, McGregor’s excellent performance and the other interesting characters. We’ll see how the rest of the film pans out, but the overall picture is relatively favourable for now.