Now that the Disney+ exclusive Obi-Wan Kenobi has come to an end, critics and fans alike are digesting the show as a whole six-episode experience. Some loved it, others hated it, and many people seem to be ambivalent about it.
Let’s recap the series briefly and then dive into the reviews. Obi-Wan Kenobi follows the adventures of its title character and is set ten years after the events of Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan has survived Order 66 and the fall of the Jedi and gone into hiding on Tatooine. He’s haunted by the death of Padme Amidala and his Jedi allies, but one ghost haunts him above all: Anakin Skywalker.
Notably, Anakin isn’t dead–at least, not literally. Despite suffering horrible wounds in his final duel with Obi-Wan on Mustafar, Anakin has survived and been transformed into the cyborg Sith Lord Darth Vader. Of course, audiences know this, but Obi-Wan only finds out after a dangerous Inquisitor named Reva tells him that Anakin yet lives.
Confronting the Past
Throughout the show, Obi-Wan and Reva each navigate loss. Obi-Wan lost his best friend and Padawan, along with all the Jedi he ever knew. Reva lost all her friends, the fellow Padawan younglings, at the hands of the villainous Anakin Skywalker. The two characters are bound together by their shared history with Anakin, though they each want very different outcomes in their battles with Darth Vader.
The series sees Obi-Wan gradually find his way again as he escorts the young Princess Lea to safety. She’s already the spunky Rebel that audiences first met in A New Hope, and it’s her optimism and determination that help break Obi-Wan out of his self-imposed exile from the Force. While Kenobi has to embrace lessons he’s already learned before, Reva learns them anew when she loses a brutal duel against Vader and decides to get her revenge by hurting his son, Luke.
Reva travels to Tatooine after discovering that Vader has a son in hiding there, and she’s eager to avenge her friends by dealing out deadly justice. However, she finds she can’t bring herself to harm a child, learning a lesson that breaking the cycle of violence requires more strength than perpetuating it.
Preparing for the Future
Obi-Wan Kenobi also sets up the future of its title character in the final battle against Vader. When Obi-Wan finally cuts through Vader’s mask and sees the scarred face of his friend Anakin, he’s nearly moved to tears. Vader almost sounds like he’s forgiving his master when he tells him, “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker.” Kenobi clearly carried on for the prior ten years thinking he’d ended Anakin’s life, and for a brief moment, it sounds like the two might reconcile.
That’s not meant to be, though–we’ve all seen A New Hope. Vader then grimly intones “I did,” giving an origin to Obi-Wan’s outright lie to Luke in the first Star Wars film. In their first meeting, Obi-Wan tells Luke that “Darth Vader” was a student of his who betrayed the Jedi and murdered Anakin, instead of simply being another name for Luke’s father.
Finally, the series ends with a shot of Obi-Wan finally encountering the Force ghost of his former master, Qui-Gon Jinn, who perished in a duel with Darth Maul over twenty years earlier. Jinn tells his former apprentice that he was with him the whole time, but Obi-Wan was only now ready to see. It’s not hard to see how this version of the character could go on to become the old dessert hermit Luke met in A New Hope.
In a word, Obi-Wan Kenobi is messy. The series suffers from whiplash in terms of presentation and performance. Some scenes are breathtaking and resonate as some of the best-looking Star Wars we’ve seen in years. Others are bland and flat, and the effects look worse than you’d expect for a series with this pedigree.
Some fans have noted that the uneven quality of the series could be a result of how it was filmed. The crew likely had limited options in terms of filming locations, given the lockdowns and mandates in effect when they were making the show. It’s hard to fault them for this, and director Deborah Chow clearly knows her way around a camera. When the show looks good, it looks incredible.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that Obi-Wan also features some of the most awkward action sequencesyet in a Star Wars title. At one point, a group of thugs struggles to capture ten-year-old Princess Leia, becoming blocked by a tree limb at one point. These scenes look amateurish in a way that you wouldn’t expect from a Star Wars property.
Critics have been divided on the show as a whole. While some say that it found its stride in its latter half, others have commented that it seemed more breezy and fun in its earlier episodes. Many critics also noted that the show should have probably been a movie–it runs a bit long for the kind of story it has to tell.
It’s possible that Lucasfilm is hesitant to send another Star Wars project to the big screen after the virulent, mean-spirited responses to The Last Jedi, Solo, and The Rise of Skywalker. Disney+ projects like The Mandalorian have been much more warmly welcomed by fans, and Lucasfilm might have taken this as evidence that it should forego future movies in favor of six-episode limited events on its streaming platform. I, for one, hope this isn’t the case for all future Star Wars projects–some things can just be a 90-minute story, and that’s okay!
Critics and fans alike largely agree that Ewan McGregor returning as the title character is perhaps the best part of this show. His performance in the prequel trilogy is one of the few redeeming qualities of those films, and it’s great to see him back on the screen–even if it’s just in a side-story, sequel-to-a-prequel with no real stakes.
It wouldn’t be a Star Wars show or movie without a highly divided response from fans. As the old saying goes, no one hates Star Wars as passionately as Star Wars fans. The series received strong reviews from many fans, and it was able to pull on the goodwill of fans of the original trilogy and the prequels alike. Many twenty-something fans who grew up with the prequels were simply excited to see Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen return to the roles. Outside of some racist online backlash to Moses Ingram’s casting as Reva, most of the discussion among fans has centered on whether the show was necessary.
In a strict sense, no entertainment is necessary, but the point stands. Kenobi takes place between two of the biggest movies ever released and retreads extremely well-trodden ground for Star Wars. The TV show Rebels has explored the Age of the Empire, as has the excellent video game Jedi: Fallen Order. The animated series The Bad Batch also takes place in this time period.
When creators choose to tell a story that takes place between two existing tales, it becomes difficult for them to inject real stakes. Audiences know that Obi-Wan, Vader, Leia, and Luke will all survive these events. Star Wars stories that take place in the narrow 50-year window of the nine numbered films have to bend over backward to conform to decades of Lucasfilm storytelling.
Still Fun Despite the Flaws
At the end of the day, though, fans largely agree that the show is a fun chance to see McGregor back in action as Obi-Wan. While nothing of consequence could ever happen across the six-episode miniseries because of the canonical timeline, it’s still an entertaining show that offers some interesting context for this era of Star Wars history. The central actors turn in passionate, impressive performances that inject pathos and humanity into the proceedings and help ground the otherwise-outlandish Star Wars universe.
However, the series also shows that the seams are splitting in this overstuffed era of storytelling. At its core, Star Wars is about hopeful protagonists exploring a boundless galaxy and facing impossible odds. It’s a franchise about friendship, family, and the mysterious Force that binds us all together. Recent Star Wars stories have gone in for continual nostalgia bait rather than exploring new stories, banking on decades of goodwill from existing fans.
It’s not hard to imagine Disney using its essentially infinite budget to tell boundless stories from every corner of the Star Wars galaxy. The franchise spans thousands of years of history in a massive galaxy that features everything from space wizards to time travel–and yet, most of the stories we’ve seen so far have centered around one bloodline. Could we please break out of the Skywalkers’ orbit and see some new stories? Rumor has it that the upcoming series The Acolyte will take place in the High Republic era, which is set 200 years before The Phantom Menace. With any luck, this will offer the franchise a chance to get away from the long shadow of the Skywalkers.