The Jedi Master contends with the consequences of his greatest defeat — the downfall and corruption of his one-time friend and apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the dark side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.
WARNING: MAY BE SPOILERS – look, it’s a review. Why would you assume there might not be?
Reviewed by Tim Robins
For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars universe, Obi-wan Kenobi, the titular character of the new six-part TV mini-series, is the Jedi Knight who trained Anakin and Luke Skywalker in the ways of the force – a form of energy that permeates the universe and can be used for good or evil.
The series picks up where Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith left off, with the activation of a pre-programmed biochip in the brains of the Grand Clone army having compelled them to execute all Jedi Knights. In a dramatic opening, we get to see a group of “younglings” fleeing for their lives as adult Jedi, using lightsabers and dance moves, to battle an assault by hordes of droids and troopers.
The story then skips to ten years later and spends time usefully establishing where all the key characters are in the galaxy: Kenobi watching over Luke Skywalker, Leia living with adopted parents the Organas, Darth Vader stewing in his bath of bubbles – and the Jedi on the run from Inquisitors, Jedi who have fallen to the Dark side.
Ewan McGregor reprises his movie role as Kenobi. We meet him in exile on the desert world of Tatooine where he lives by bartering goods with a Jawa, making short forays into town, and working in a meat processing facility that has grown up around the corpse of a gigantic shark-thing. The opening episodes sketch some kind of arc for Kenobi as the character juggles his resignation at the fall of the Jedi with being forced by circumstances to own his abilities and the Jedi cause – whatever that actually is.
Other members of the cast return including the much anticipated Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, so far only seen in a tube of bubbles. Newcomer Vivien Lyra Blair gives a spirited performance as the precocious and tom-boyish Leia Organa, who we see dodging her stately duties to run free in the forest that surrounds her home. Joel Edgerton plays the stoic Owen Lars (Luke Skywalker’s Uncle) and Moses Ingram goes full-throttle baddie as Inquisitor Reva Sevander, who is pursuing a personal vendetta against Kenobi – and won’t let even her fellow Inquisitor brothers and sisters stand in her way.
Ingram is a welcome addition to the cast. Lucas’s long-running saga has, on occasion, struggled to rid itself from the whiff of casual racism, whether it is the first film’s lack of visible African-Americans, the tokenism of its sequels, or the prequels’ tendency to draw on racist stereotypes. You can be sure that this has been addressed under Disney, who have responded strongly to racist commentary on this latest series. However, there is still a sense that the Star Wars universe now revolves around beleaguered white people battling bizarre ‘others’ of startling appearance and grotesque behaviour.
That said, Reva is more than a token character and provides, as women often do, the story’s central mystery. What is the basis of Reva’s hatred for Kenobi? Was she among the Younglings seen escaping storm troopers in the first episode? Does Reva blame Kenobi for Anakin’s reign of terror? Will she learn the error of her ways and turn away from the dark side of the force? Time and further parts will tell.
I’m not particularly interested in Star Wars simplistic characters and routine scenarios. When the first film came to cinemas, I was too old for the movies, too versed in the cynicism of 1970s’ cinema, and too much a fan of Doctor Who to find Lucas’ goodies vs baddies world view particularly interesting. But, for fans, part of the appeal of the Star Wars saga is its increasingly complex continuity and ever-growing cast of characters, many with wonderfully silly names that are fun just to say out loud. In this respect, the Star Wars saga is a precursor to the game Pokémon.
For me, the main attraction of the prequel movies was their visuals. The films rarely look less than magnificent, particularly the cityscapes. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is probably the closest to capturing the ‘Flash Gordon’ serials Lucas loved as a child. The TV series does its best in this regard – director Deborah Chow makes full use of StageCraft’s amazing Video Wall that can summon up locations at the touch of a button and set performers against backgrounds without the use of green screen.
Unfortunately, some of the sets are rather empty. In one scene, Obi-Wan confronts a charlatan posing as a Jedi in a huge, open room or hanger. This somewhat undermines the clandestine nature of the encounter. I guess sitting in the centre of a room half the size of a football pitch allows you to see your enemies coming.
The paucity of performers in scenes may, of course, be a result of health and safety regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic. I also suspect that the star cast may have sucked the possibility of a greater cast into a fiscal black hole along with any interesting location filming. A forest is just a forest, unless a lot of prop alien plants are added to the setting.
At the moment, Obi-Wan Kenobi has the by-the-numbers feel of the other live-action Star Wars TV series. There are certainly some nice shots, notably an Inquisitor craft arriving in a desert town. But a scene that reworks an interrogation by the ‘Jew Hunter’ in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds falls to live up to the original. But then the TV series, currently airing on Disney+ is, like the Star Wars movies, aimed at kids.
Obi-Wan Kenobi began life as one of the proposed spin-off movies that were cancelled after the lukewarm reception to Han Solo: A Star Wars Story. Of the TV series that has followed, so far, The Mandalorian remains the most accomplished. I hope Obi-Wan Kenobi adds something thrilling to the Star Wars equation but I’m not counting on it.
Dear reader, a review is an opinion, not a statement of fact – other opinions are available, including yours
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Racism’s still close to home in a galaxy far, far away