After 17 years, Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen have returned to Star Wars in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+. With one “brother” broken by pain and another arisen, the stage has been set for one of the great face-offs in the galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars has been a saga of peaks and troughs since the turn of the millennium; admittedly, far more of the latter. It’s still a pop culture giant, clearly, but one often undone by weaker entries, uncertainty and, in recent years, the shameless need to appease a furious fandom with finger-pointing cameos.
George Lucas’ prequels were groundbreaking feats of filmmaking in their day, boasting vivid CGI artistry and balletic action like never before. Alas, they still weren’t well-received, probably on account of them not being very good, bar the obvious highlights: Duel of the Fates; “Now this is pod-racing!”; and most of Revenge of the Sith.
However, there’s been a creeping reappraisal of the earlier films. The critics who once lambasted them have been eclipsed by younger generations whose minds were blown in the early aughts. Now, as Star Wars finds its long-term footing again, a fan-favorite has been resurrected: at last, McGregor is back as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Obi-Wan Kenobi episodes 1 & 2 spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned
Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 1: the Empire strikes as the Jedi suffers
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first two episodes have landed on Disney+ today, May 27. You may be considering a rewatch of the prequels in preparation, but don’t worry: there’s a handy recap as you press play, and it’s every bit as thrilling to relive as the next two hours of television.
The opening is fairly shocking: as children learn the ways of The Force at a Jedi academy, stormtroopers pew-pew their teacher and leave the kids with nowhere to go, and nobody to care for them. “What do we do now?” one asks. “We run.”
Given this takes place between Episode III and IV, bleakness was to be expected; we’re far from a new hope. On Tatooine, Obi-Wan is working on a production line, slicing meat and stealing small pieces for himself at the end of his shift, before zooming back to town and retreating to his cave.
Hearing the gentle purr of McGregor’s Obi-Wan is surprisingly affecting; he was always a standout in the prequels, but it’s wonderful to see him again, even in the pits of ennui and grief over the fall of Anakin Skywalker (Christensen).
The Inquisitors are a standout of Obi-Wan Kenobi
The first episode introduces the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend), the Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) and Reva, the Third Sister (Moses Ingram), a powerful group of Jedi hunters for the Galactic Empire. “In actuality, the Jedi hunt themselves,” they explain, noting how the Jedi code is “like an itch” they simply can’t help.
Their presence imbues any scene with dread, knowing their mercy is always razor-edged: they chop off a woman’s hand on a whim and slay a local Jedi (played by Benny Safdie), hanging him by ropes for the whole town to see. Ingram’s Reva is particularly fearsome, not to mention badass; she feels destined to become playable in a video game down the line.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan has no interest in being a Jedi Master. When Safdie’s character pleads for help, Kenobi advises him to bury his lightsaber in the desert and lead a normal life, hours before he’s murdered by the Inquisitors. At night, he has nightmares of the duel on Mustafar, waking up in a cold sweat and calling out for Qui-Gon Jinn.
He wants to keep one promise: looking after young Luke and training him, even if Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton) no longer trusts his judgement in Anakin’s wake. It’s the one moment in the opening episode where you see Obi-Wan smile, watching Luke atop the archway, completely unaware of what’s to come.
Young Princess Leia needs Obi-Wan’s help
However, the episode isn’t entirely focussed on Obi-Wan’s sand-faring misery: it pivots to Alderaan, where a young Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) rebels against her royal responsibilities and plays in the woods, sky-gazing as spacecraft soar above her.
Alderaan itself is a beautiful sight, with Deborah Chow’s direction harking back to Lucas’ visions of towering, ornate cities. That said, there is one line that feels like a cheeky jab to his bloated, political dialogue: “The Senate’s boring, it’s just people in itchy clothes arguing.”
Towards the end, Leia is abducted by bounty hunters (one of whom is played by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) in a chase that can only be likened to Power Rangers; its pacing and choreography is borderline-comedic with zero suspense. After she’s taken, her adopted father (played by Jimmy Smits) reaches out to Obi-Wan to find her, and Kenobi hesitantly accepts the mission, armed with his trusty lightsaber.
Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 2: the search for Leia
If the first episode feels a little bogged down by reintroductions, bland visuals and plotting for the series ahead, episode two is a pacy detour in a Blade Runner-esque, neon-hued city, filled with drug dealers, and conmen masquerading as Jedi with magnets (Kumail Nanjiani makes a welcome appearance with some comic relief).
Everything feels far more playful here: Obi-Wan teases Nanjiani’s criminal, baiting him with lines like, “Goodness, that light is unforgiving”; as he’s cornered by the hunters in his search for Leia, he slams a jar of spice into the ground and quips, “Well, everybody bleeds”; and the power struggle between Reva and the Grand Inquisitor is far more potent, with each villain out-sneering the other in every scene.
Of course, Obi-Wan eventually finds Leia, with Blair in top child-star form as the mature, witty foil to the elder Jedi’s babysitting tact. “You don’t sound like you’re 10,” he spritely tells her, to which she replies: “Thank you.”
Reva, at this point ordered to stand down by the Grand Inquisitor for her constant insubordination, secretly puts a contract out for local bounty hunters on Obi-Wan. Leia catches sight of this, and instantly distrusts Obi-Wan, making a run for it through the city when they need to remain hidden.
It should be noted that Obi-Wan insists throughout the episode that she needs to remain quiet and never loudly refer to him as a Jedi, when he makes a conscious effort to change out of a disguise and wear the most Jedi-looking outfit ever: a brown cloak that doesn’t cover his bearded face at all, nor does it conceal his lightsaber. It’s even worse than the Marvel Cinematic Universe undercover kit of a baseball cap and sunglasses.
This switch does feel a little frustrating in the episode; it’s no fault of Blair’s, but her U-turn on Obi-Wan feels far too childish for a character seemingly mature beyond her years. It also throws them into chaos, with a blaster battle on the rooftops as Reva parkours her way across the city (seriously, she is incredible).
Obi-Wan finally uses the force and discovers Anakin is alive
The last 10 minutes are exhilarating but far more underplayed than you’d expect: as Leia tries to jump to another roof and falls to her death, Obi-Wan uses The Force to save her. However, it’s portrayed as painful, rather than a bombastic, heroic turn like Rey’s clearing of the boulders in The Last Jedi.
Leia and Obi-Wan set off to board a nearby cargo aircraft and escape the planet. At the last moment, Reva tracks them down, and reveals to Obi-Wan that Anakin is still alive, now transformed into Lord Vader.
Seconds before she can grab him, the Grand Inquisitor arrives and orders her to stand down. As Obi-Wan legs it to the plane, she strikes her lightsaber through the Grand Inquisitor, killing him. The pair manage to escape, but Reva warns him that he can’t run forever, nor can he escape Vader.
In the last moments of the episode, Obi-Wan is shaken by the revelation that Anakin survived. Uttering his name, the shot flicks to Anakin in water with his breathing apparatus, rendered unrecognisable after being burned to a crisp on Mustafar. We then cut to black, leaving us with an iconic sound: the breathing.
It’s a rather restrained opening for Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is refreshing. After The Book of Boba Fett seemed hellbent on just showing fans what they wanted to see without substance, this series seems far more concerned with enriching Obi-Wan as a character before an emotional face-off with Vader.
The third episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi will hit Disney+ next Friday, June 3.