In my review of the first couple of episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mid-quel filler series killing time between the original and prequel trilogies of Star Wars, I called the whole of Star Wars storytelling “all flavor, no substance”. Obi-Wan Kenobi, despite a stellar cast and many exceptional production elements such as Natalie Holt’s score, does not fix that issue. It, too, falls into the cotton candy machine that has become Star Wars, squandering so much potential it was painful by the end to see all the wasted opportunities fall by the wayside. Of all the New New Star Wars stuff, this might be the single most disappointing thing, because Obi-Wan opened SO many interesting doors and then refused to walk through ANY of them. Let’s break it down.
The stakes don’t matter
This was a problem I pointed out in the beginning, and over six hours of storytelling, Obi-Wan did not figure out how to give this story any oomph. The climax comes down to a bunch of people we know will all be alive in Star Wars being imperiled, but there is no urgency or importance to any of it because again, we know all these characters are alive in ten years. Oh, Reva is attacking Owen and Beru? Well they don’t die yet, so who cares? Same for Leia being in danger, and Obi-Wan and Darth Vader’s big lightsaber duel. That, at least, benefits from good choreography, and though series director Deborah Chow struggles with filming action throughout the show, and there are a couple wonky shots here, too, she knows what to do with a great actor on camera, doing great acting. Obi-Wan accepting that Anakin is gone and all that’s left is Vader is a SPECTACULAR moment. Which leads us to…
Reva was not important
Moses Ingram is an excellent actor and she doesn’t deserve any of the bullsh-t being hurled at her for daring to be Black in Star Wars, but Reva, her character, was not well written or developed. The IDEA of Reva is solid—a youngling who survived Anakin’s death squad during Revenge of the Sith only to become one of the Empire’s Inquisitors, hunting and killing escaped Jedi and Force-sensitive people. At first, we think she wants Obi-Wan for revenge, but no, she wants a shot at Vader and Obi-Wan is her bait.
This is stupid for a lot of reasons but let’s just start with: SHE HAS SEEN VADER. She knows what he is capable of, she literally saw him murder children. A more interesting Reva is one who is hollowed out by grief and trauma and actually IS mad at Obi-Wan because she knows she can’t take on Vader, so she projects that anger onto Anakin’s friend and master. Just let her be mad at Obi-Wan, it’s enough. Instead, she’s playing games with two of the most prominent characters in Star Wars, so there is absolutely no chance Reva is going to do anything significant enough to shake up the narrative path. But a Reva bent on wrecking any and all of Obi-Wan’s sh-t is a Reva who could mix it up with new characters within the series, characters she can impact in interesting and important ways because there is no 1977 expectation placed on them. Speaking of…
The show should have been about the refugees
I understand the impulse to focus on kid Leia and let us see a little bit of how she grew up and turned into the beloved character of the original trilogy. But man, this is a classic example of “everything is Skywalkers and Skywalkers are everything” sucking the spontaneity and interest out of Star Wars. Since we know Leia is destined to survive, there is no dramatic tension around anything she does. But all those refugees? The desperate parents of Force-sensitive children trying to get their kids to safety? The few Jedi who survived Order 66? Anything could happen to those people!
By the finale episode, it becomes abundantly clear Obi-Wan’s mission should not have been rescuing Leia, it should have been him breaking cover to help those Force-sensitive people fleeing the Empire’s reach. Immediately, the stakes are clear and high, because we DON’T know these people, they could be in real danger. This solves the stakes problem, creates opportunities for Reva to become a truly menacing threat, and gives us a chance to see the galaxy beyond Skywalkers. This is the biggest missed opportunity of them all, but this is the same issue that has been plaguing Star Wars for a decade now. They’ve got to move beyond Skywalkers, and so far, have refused to do so even when presented with narratively better options than telling another Skywalker story. And finally…
Star Wars has a Darth Vader problem
They’re over-reliant on him as a villain, yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I am referencing is the cognitive dissonance between how Vader is treated in Star Wars—a weirdo disrespected to his face for believing in a fringe religion—to how he is presented in literally every other piece of Star Wars media—a badass bad guy feared far and wide. At some point, Jedi, the Force, lightsabers, all of it has to fade from popular consciousness, enough that Darth Vader loses some of his intimidation factor because everyone thinks he believes in a fairytale. Yet Star Wars refuses to take Vader down a few pegs, though again, Obi-Wan is the perfect vehicle. His obsession with finding Obi-Wan, with tracking down escaped Jedi, could be presented as a waste of time, as everyone else assumes they’re all dead by now, and we could see Vader’s fellow Imperials losing respect for and awe of him as he chases rumors across the galaxy.
But though Obi-Wan is set ten years after the Empire’s rise, there are still Force users and lightsabers everywhere. It feels like by now, those things should be rare enough that while people haven’t forgotten them, they are shocked to see anything connected to Jedi or the Force. Yes, there’s still ten years to go before Star Wars, when the Force is talked about like a kooky belief system no one uses anymore, but Obi-Wan is—or should have been—the perfect place to show that transition from legit religion with a famous order of warrior monks to mere rumor of what used to be.
Everyone is making jokes about how Obi-Wan goes from Ewan McGregor to white-haired Alec Guinness in just ten years, but really, we should be talking about how it’s not just the Jedi that fall from grace, it’s the Force itself. A story about Obi-Wan (re)embracing his power to help Force-sensitive refugees is a great place to explore that and start building out the world Luke and Leia inherit, where Jedi are fairytales and no one believes in the Force. Instead, we’re stuck staring at the same wall Star Wars has been staring at since the prequel trilogy—everything connects to the Skywalkers, in the end, even to the dramatic detriment of the storytelling. But hey, at least Ewan McGregor remains great as Obi-Wan. His performance is pretty much all Obi-Wan Kenobi has going for it.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is streaming all episodes now on Disney+.