“Obi-Wan Kenobi”: Not the series you’re looking for

Graphic by Shavonne Chin

When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, then-CEO Bob Iger announced a flood of new “Star Wars” content with discussions of an “Obi-Wan” solo production News film treatment made the rounds as “The Force Awakens” took off in 2015.

But that was a time when “Star Wars” found itself amid an enormous resurgence. Fans rejoiced at the prospect of seeing new adventures. Now, the intellectual property has fallen far from its peak, sinking to a point in which the best offerings are timid and messy TV installments on Disney+. 

Outside of a collection of satisfying moments, the return of a few classic characters and some fun callbacks, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is, unfortunately, no exception.

The new series released its final episode June 22, concluding a chaotic-six-episode run that has made it difficult to think of a proper consensus for the project. 

“Kenobi” finds the titular fan favorite at a low point, scavenging aimlessly on the overtly familiar planet Tatooine. His job is to quietly watch over a young Luke Skywalker and protect himself from a band of bloodthirsty Inquisitors, who make it their mission to hunt down the last remaining Jedi.

Star Wars fans, however fickle and stand-offish they may be, were treated from the first scene of the show, being given another look into the universe’s most infamous event, Order 66. The intensity of the flashback sets the tone for what we originally thought was going to be a drama-filled look into the tragic years Obi-Wan experienced after the Clone Wars. Instead, the show’s first minute and 29 seconds is its de facto peak, never overcoming its energy deficit. 

The show spends most of its opening episode depicting a typical day in the life of an aged Kenobi, reprised by Ewan McGregor. The former Jedi Master’s mundane routine is eventually interrupted by a call for help from Alderaan, and a new adventure to save Luke’s twin sister Princess Leia Organa from a particularly ruthless Inquisitor.

This premise was ultimately the show’s downfall in our eyes. The particularly fast-paced setup of the plotline made it feel worthy of what is normally a two to three-episode arc in any other show. However, as the third episode concluded with Leia falling back into the arms of the Inquisitors, it became tragically clear that this was going to be the direction the show took. At that point, fans were forced to either stay for the ride or jump ship right there. 

The performances all around were solid. McGregor delivered quiet and melancholic work throughout and occasionally erupted with painful energy that recounts all of the misfortune that befell him during the prequel trilogy. Hayden Christensen’s publicized return as Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader was more than welcome, and it is hard to deny how cool it was to see him on screen again.

Though louder than necessary on a few occasions, Moses Ingram properly translated the aggression and anger within Reva Sevander, a member of the team of Inquisitors. The writing began to fail her development near the finale, but she rightfully escaped the racist negativity and hate directed at her by some fans online, and it will be interesting to see if she reprises her role down the road.

However, the primary issue eclipsing the entire series is the aforementioned writing, which largely failed to construct proper development arcs for any of the themes or concepts at the show’s core. For a total runtime of 270 minutes, the series found itself trapped by some truly terrible pacing. 

Signature character beats and surprising developments were rushed and pushed aside as soon as the tension mounted, while the more mundane setups and introductions lingered for far too long. It’s one of the worst kinds of story issues, and none of the individual installments could escape the mess.

The issues continued even further. In each given episode, there were far too many odd gaps in logic, weird mistakes in continuity, obvious faults in the plotting and bizarre creative choices for the camerawork, to name a few. Director Deborah Chow impressed with her work in season one of “The Mandalorian,” but the creative spark within that series didn’t quite resurface here.

Some of the show’s plot beats, especially during the latter half of its run, seemed as if they were developed as an attempt to gaslight the audience. 

At the end of episode four, we were introduced to two rebel fighter pilots as they swoop in to deus ex machina Obi-Wan’s way out of a crucial logjam. When one of the pilots gets shot down, the characters spend the final five minutes of the episode mourning them, leaving me yelling at my screen and questioning whether we had met these characters before. We hadn’t. Mourning the death of a character introduced less than a minute beforehand is not worthy of a three-minute moping session from the titular character, no matter how you cut it.

An episode later, Reva is rightfully humbled in a duel against prime Darth Vader, with his iconic red lightsaber plunging into her torso as a winning blow. While struggling to stay alive, Reva learns that Luke is being kept on Tatooine, unfortunately as a result of uncharacteristic incompetence from Bail Organa, and decides to go. 

However, in the final episode, Reva is seen searching the planet for the young Skywalker with no evidence of the normally-mortal wound she suffered just minutes of screentime earlier. It may have been unintentional, but this way of writing comes across almost as an insult. Through her seemingly easy survival, the team of writers implied that former-youngling Reva is stronger than former-Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, who died nearly instantly from a similar wound at the end of The Phantom Menace.

Ultimately, the most upsetting fact about “Kenobi” is that it all just feels so tired. It’s as if the creative energy at the House of Mouse has been used up, and the high demand for “content” by fans has caused the writers and crew to scramble for a story that is only half-decent enough for streaming. Some moments in the series had the potential to be among the best in the entire saga, but there was always something holding them back from truly taking flight. 

Maybe it’s the budgeting or the tough creative constraints provided by Disney’s highest executives. Regardless, it cannot be understated how disappointing it is for this series to have fallen so far below the hype. The time period of its setting is a rare segment in the “Star Wars” canon for which fans have few reasons to complain. It’s an era before corporate greed and mismanagement took hold over the franchise, and fan resentment made for an exhausting and hostile environment for online discourse. 

It would have been fantastic to experience a much stronger reminder of the saga’s better days and a far more emotional return for two of its most pivotal characters. Again, potential is littered throughout “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” and the crew occasionally got it right. But there is just too much holding this latest “Star Wars” outing back.