Obi-Wan Kenobi answers the question of what Obi-Wan doing for the 19 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, and the answer really isn’t that interesting. In fact it kind of undercuts the whole point of him being in hiding. I mean, sure, you could assert what a real and genuine threat the Empire was to Obi-Wan, after the prequel trilogy, by having him stay in hiding for the betterment of himself and young Luke Skywalker… Or Obi-Wan could go on a whacky space adventure to fight the Empire and face absolutely no consequences for coming out of hiding so noisily or abruptly.
Alright, I’ll reel it back a bit. Stupid as it is for Obi-Wan to do silly space stuff in this era of his life, it is fun. Sometimes it’s fun. But not even for half of the time. About a quarter of the time it’s fun. The rest is stupid.
What good I have to say about this show comes from Ewan McGregor. He’s a good actor and once again does what little good he can with a terrible script. There’s some neat action scenes with some stormtroopers in the fourth and fifth episodes. And sometimes the low budget makes the show unintentionally funny. Like this one scene where the bad guy, a lady called Reeva, does some parkour across rooftops but it’s really awkward, slow and clunky. And then there’s another time where Obi-Wan is stopped by some laser beams blocking the road that he could just walk around in any direction, but chooses to go to the effort of shutting them off anyway. Actually, in that same scene, Obi-Wan kills like six or seven stormtroopers in a fight but then THREE more turn up after he’s already beaten the others effortlessly and he’s just like, okay I surrender. You win. I guess they couldn’t find any more extras to play background stormtroopers, or didn’t have enough stormtrooper costumes to outfit them?
But the rest of the show is just kind of terrible. It follows Obi-Wan trying to rescue ten-year-old Princess Leia from a Jedi hunter called Reeva, who’s used Leia as bait to lure Obi-Wan out of hiding. The problem is Reeva isn’t a good villain. She’s not intimidating at all through either her dialogue or performance. I feel bad saying it, because the actress was made subject to abuse following the release of the show, but I do think she was miscast. There’s just nothing about her that makes me think wow she’s very villainy. And when she has her inevitable redemption arc, nothing about that makes me say wow that was well earned.
Darth Vader also turns up and he’s just an edgier and slightly over-written version of himself. It feels like the writers were trying too hard with him to make him feel as frightening as everyone remembers him being, but in doing so somehow make him less scary. And it’s in subtle ways you won’t notice at first, but will gradually pick up on as you find yourself thinking something is off about Vader but I don’t know what.
It’s the dialogue. Let’s compare how Vader talks in the original movies and then in this show:
In the Empire Strikes back, Vader threatens an underling with death by saying “do not fail me again Admiral“. Later in the movie the Admiral fails again and says he’s going to apologise to Vader. Next time we see the Admiral, he’s choking on the floor and Vader says “apology accepted, Admiral.”
In the Obi-Wan show, Vader says to Reeva “fail me, and you will not live to regret it“. Then when Reva fails him he chokes her flying in the air and yells across the room “you were warned what defeat would bring!”
In Empire Strikes Back, what made him scary were the implications of what he could do. He didn’t need to explain himself or what failure meant. His men knew. And what added to it, when he does kill the Admiral, is how effortlessly he does so while being so collected. In the Obi-Wan show he’s too overwritten. He has to explain exactly what he means, leaving nothing up to the imagination. And he has to make a big show out of punishing Reeva by yelling and throwing her up in the air. There’s absolutely no subtlety and it just reeks of the writers trying way, way too hard.
Admittedly, amongst the rest of the writing in this show, Vader having slightly off dialogue is hardly the worst thing in the world. I mean, a whole episode of the show is just copy and pasted from A New Hope. In Episode 4 of the show, Obi-Wan infiltrates a high-security imperial base (definitely not the Death Star) to save Princess Leia after she’s been interrogated (definitely not on the detention level), and when they narrowly escape it is revealed they were let go after a tracking device was planted on them by the Empire (definitely not so they can be traced to a hidden rebel base).
I was reminded of Spaceballs a couple of times. I remembered how in Return of the Jedi, Vader sensed Luke had a sister and just imagined him sensing that Obi-Wan was hiding his son from him in this show. I then got an image of Dark Helmet spitting out his coffee inside his helmet. At that point I realised the Star Wars timeline, as well as any set of rules for what the force can and can’t do have to be disregarded. Because if they’re not, and you think about any of this seriously, it devloves from just being a bad product and into being a joke. Not just the show, but Star Wars as a whole.
And it’s not like anything good pays off the crap we sit through. All of Obi-Wan’s best fights are against stormtroopers. When he fights Darth Vader it’s just lame. They fight twice, in two equally nondescript ways locations with choreography ranging from eh to passable. I’d rather be watching Alec Guinness and David Prowse out of costume rehearsing their fight in A New Hope.
Ultimatlely I think there are two crucial things wrong with the Obi-Wan show:
- It shouldn’t have happened. Star Wars is a universe to which an uncountable number of loving fans, geeks and nerds have contributed lore and stories too, spanning in-universe millennia… And every time we get any new Star Wars media it’s set within the same 30 year time period, revisiting the same characters and locations on repeat. Either because they’re playing it safe or trying to exploit fan service, the lack of any new direction has made this franchise utterly creatively bankrupt. Even the first truly fresh Star Wars content in a long time, The Mandalorian, fell into having the main character visiting a bunch of extended universe characters in it’s second season.
- It’s too commercialised. In this era of streaming services, things are different. Before, when we had to watch shows on TV, content had to be consistently good enough to keep us watching through ad breaks. But there are no ads on streaming services (although Netflix might be about to change that). You pay money and the content is there. So if one or two episodes of a show (or a whole season, in this case) are crap, it doesn’t matter because people will still watch the majority of it. I mean they’ve paid to do so with their subscription, so there’s no reason for them not to even if it’s crap. And that’s what Obi-Wan feels like. It’s an advertisement for Dinsey+; an incentive for people to subscribe and remain subscribed rather than a bang-for-your-buck thank you for giving them cash. But what else do you expect in today’s world? Especially from Disney.
So would I recommend Obi-Wan Kenobi to anyone who hasn’t already seen it? Hell no. It feels very cynical and, frankly, exploitative of its audience’s goodwill. And even if you disagree with that fact, it’s also just not very good by itself. It looks cheap, feels cheap and wastes a lot of potential given the fact it bought back Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christiansen. It’s poorly written. It has two good action sequences in a six episode action adventure show, neither of which involve Darth Vader, to whom Obi-Wan’s emotional stakes are tied. It’s just crap.