Return of the Jedi
(This review contains spoilers)
Since the announcement of new Star Wars content back in 2012, fans have been clamoring for a film based off the legendary Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. After years of development, back and forth, and a mix up in format, we finally have a 6 episode mini-series focused on our favorite Republic-era Jedi. Since the show’s conception, fans have been teased with morsels of information including the return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, a broken and and more weary performance by Ewan McGregor, and the anticipation of an epic rematch between master and apprentice. Expectations for the series has been high thanks to these promises by the creator, and the result of the show is an entertaining journey that doesn’t always live up to the hype. Obi-Wan Kenobi succeeds through a masterful performance by Ewan McGregor that takes us through an interesting character study, but ultimately is limited in a case of what the show truly wants to be.
In the mini-series, Obi-Wan Kenobi is watching over young Luke Skywalker on Tatooine and protecting him from any threats that may come from the Empire. He has limited has use of the Force and is awaiting his time to train the boy. But when he receives a message that Leia Skywalker has been kidnapped by Inquisitors seeking to draw him out, Obi-Wan must embark on a journey to save young Leia that brings him to unexpected places including a face off with his close friend turned enemy, Anakin Skywalker.
One of the difficult aspects of the show is a sense to create tension given that we know the fates of 90% of the characters as soon as we start. While at times it does create some manufactured moments of false peril, Obi-Wan Kenobi attempts a character study into our titular hero that works when its the center of attention. Ewan McGregor easily slips back into a world-weary Kenobi who has given up from the fight and delivers a masterful performance that is portrayed through his two big relationships in the show, Leia and Anakin. With Leia, we get to see a deepening of their relationship and how Obi-Wan starts to regain hope through watching her courage and determination. The bond the two share allow for some of the show’s most tender moments including a powerful conversation between the two in episode 3 where Leia asks about her family and we see the anguish in Obi-Wan’s eyes. Obi-Wan feels broken and defeated, but yet his call to assist Leia while initially out of duty transforms into one of mutual understanding, love, and familiarity that makes this relationship work. While the rescue plot gets a little worn out by the time we reach episode 4 in particular, the emotional bond between the two is quite strong.
On the flip side Obi-Wan’s connection to Anakin/Vader fills him with deep remorse and regret, and we see how his faith in restoring his friend slowly starts to dwindle. From the ending moments of episode 2 when Obi-Wan finds out Anakin is still alive, you feel the impact of that moment and the glimmer of hope that you heartbreakingly know will be broken by the end of the show. I did feel they underutilized Hayden Christensen in this show as he is only in the last two episodes, which would have added a little more weight to the relationship. Having flashbacks from the Clone Wars era could have strengthened the moments when they clash in episode 2 and the finale a bit more, however we also have the movies and Clone Wars show to fill in those gaps so I’m not too surprised. But what I do find disappointing is a lack of emotional insight into Obi-Wan in the wake of finding out his friend is still alive and his first duel with him. I felt the emotional anguish and turmoil he would have felt was glossed over too quickly and would have added another layer and dynamic to the show. We start to get that towards the end, but at that time it feels a little too late. However, by the time we do reach those last two episodes we do see Obi-Wan get rebuilt and their climactic duel does not disappoint.
When the show focuses on these two crucial relationships in Obi-Wan’s life, it absolutely works and is engaging and emotional in all the right ways. However, the show diverges from these relationship leaves it in a place of mistaken identity particularly when it comes to the Inquisitors. The show feels like it wanted to tell a compelling story with Reva in its own separate show but tacked it on to Obi-Wan inappropriately. A solo show about an Inquisitor that joins the empire to take down Darth Vader because he slaughtered her friends during Order 66 would have been an absolutely compelling show in its own right, but instead we get it half baked and underwhelming arc. We don’t really have a reason to care about her up until the penultimate episode, but by then its a little too late to make up the difference. It’s in the segments with Reva that the show feels like its biting off more than it can chew and taking away from Obi-Wan’s core story.
Additionally the show does feel like it could have been a movie as opposed to a mini-series. There’s a lot of unnecessary filler in the middle of the show that could have been done away with it to create a tighter and more focused narrative. While the small side detours do add small bits and pieces to Obi-Wan’s arc, it never truly feels as meaningful as his relationship with Leia and Vader. Constantly having Leia kidnapped and having Obi-Wan come rescue her or hide her felt old by the time the show was wrapping up. Even though the more quieter moments did a lot for the series progression, I wish there was some other way to keep the show fresh or at least remove some of the subplots out to emphasize more with Leia and Vader. Granted as I said before, its hard to do when you where these characters were before and where they ultimately had to end up before A New Hope starts.
But the final two episodes did a lot to save this show from being stale and delivered some of the best Star Wars content in recent years. We finally get to see Vader be the bad-ass that he is and having the flashback scenes with Hayden Christensen does a lot to help connect Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. We also got a lot more insight into the characters that ramped up some tension leading into the finale. Seeing Obi-Wan and Vader fight at their full strength was a blast, especially given the emotional stakes involved in the story. Even though we know both of them makes it out of the series alive, its the emotional dialogue between the two that earns its value. Having James Earl Jones and Hayden Christensen’s voice swap in and out as Obi-Wan pleas for Anakin to return to the light is one of the most heartbreaking scenes of the franchise. We’ve seen Obi-Wan’s hope for Anakin squandered which gives him the closure he needs to move on and complete his arc. It’s a satisfying and gut-wrenching conclusion and highlights how much there is to be mined from this dichotomy.
Ultimately, Obi-Wan Kenobi works more often where it doesn’t thanks to an excellent character study supplemented with insight into existing relationships. It fleshes out the understanding of our characters that weren’t fully explored in the movies and enriches our appreciation for the prequel era. Unfortunately, when the show strays away from this it feels stale and underdeveloped, leaving you feeling that it may have been better intended as a movie with a lot of the fat trimmed off. I personally don’t feel we need a second season as there are many limitations that keep them from exploring more. Whether that it does continue or stays as a limited event, I am ultimately glad I could say “hello there” to one of my favorite Jedi, one more time.