This review contains spoilers for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series premiere. If you haven’t watched the episode, turn away now!
Time hasn’t been kind to Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the decade since the events of Revenge of the Sith, Ewan McGregor’s Jedi Master has been broken, chewed up, and spat out by the sands of Tatooine. He’s working a mundane life, clocking in and out of a factory and watching lowly workers get ground down under the heel of their boss.
On paper, then, bridging the gap between the prequels and the original trilogy feels like an uninteresting endeavour. It gives me great pleasure to say the Obi-Wan Kenobi premiere on Disney Plus is anything but: a languidly-paced, lavishly-constructed opening chapter to an epic that has all the makings of something very, very special indeed.
In a shock to the system, however, we don’t start with Obi-Wan on the dunes. We begin with Order 66, the Emperor’s genocidal plans neatly setting the context for a galaxy without Jedi. Fast-forward 10 years and the Inquisitors, the Empire’s Jedi-hunting crack unit, drop into a bar on Tatooine on the hunt for a fugitive. It’s there that a star is born.
While Sung Kang’s Fifth Brother performs admirably, it is Moses Ingram’s Reva that steals the show. A hissing, rage-filled force of nature, Reva is instantly crystalized as a threat for Obi-Wan, and is a far cry from the episode’s one true disappointment: the goofy-looking, scenery-chewing husk of the Grand Inquisitor, played by Rupert Friend.
From there, Obi-Wan is content to live out his days, overseeing a certain Luke Skywalker and, crucially, not interfering. It’s a real hammer blow to see the Jedi fail, but he does it here over and over. He fails to intervene as a factory worker is only paid half of his wages, and fails even further by not coming to the aid of a fugitive Jedi – who eventually ends up on the wrong side of the Inquisitors.
As Ewan McGregor’s brow furrows further and the presence of Anakin – who isn’t in this episode, with the show having just the right amount of restraint – creeps into Obi-Wan’s nightmares, it paints a sombre picture of a lost man, wandering without purpose. It doesn’t stay that way for long, of course, but McGregor takes every opportunity to flash Obi-Wan’s internal pain all over his face – and it’s among one of Star Wars’ great performances already.
The episode then veers off-planet and heads to Alderaan. A 10-year-old Leia’s appearance is a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Actor Vivien Lyra Blair carries plenty of Carrie Fisher’s spirit and – accompanied by droid Lola – finds herself getting up to mischief, even delivering one of the episode’s best moments with a withering putdown of her snooty ‘cousin’ from an arriving delegation.
You could be forgiven for thinking it’s with Leia where the cracks start to emerge. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s slower pacing feels more in tune with a singular vision, and any wandering eye could prove fatal to the show’s intentions. Despite Alderaan’s prequel-era aesthetic raising a few shivers, that’s not the case. By the time Leia is kidnapped by a gang of mercenaries backed by Reva, the two plot threads intermingle without too much trouble.
Then, the inevitable happens. Bail Organa – boy, is it good to see Jimmy Smits – heads to Tatooine in one last plea to help save his daughter. For a show that’s felt purposefully rough and ready so far, Bail heading straight to Obi-Wan so quickly is a little too clean but, when it delivers a moment such as the old gunslinger Obi-Wan digging up his lightsaber and getting back on the saddle, it’s hard to complain too much.
It helps, too, that each slow step in Obi-Wan’s reawakening is ably aided by director Deborah Chow. It’s no stretch to suggest that every shot in the premiere is either visually interesting or bolsters the story or dialogue in some way. Having trudged through the so-so Book of Boba Fett and a Marvel Cinematic Universe that tries to hide its considerable budget on the small screen with tired composition, it’s reassuring to know that Chow is a constant presence, skilfully weaving her magic into every scene. You get the impression that under Chow and the likes of Mandalorian director Bryce Dallas Howard, Star Wars will continue to shine for many years to come.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s premiere is a stunning opening to a chapter that few would have been interested in all those years ago when Ewan McGregor punctuated the big screen with ‘Hello Theres’ and declarations of the higher ground. This is a mature, beautifully realized slice of Star Wars that should be the blueprint for all stories of this ilk – such as 2023’s Ahsoka – to come in a galaxy far, far away. With Deborah Chow and Ewan McGregor, the series is in more than safe hands and, with Leia in tow, there’s an added wrinkle to keep everyone hooked by the time John Williams’ soaring score kicks in as the credits roll.
For more on Obi-Wan Kenobi, check out our interviews with Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen on their favorite memories filming the show and how their characters’ relationship has changed, as well as Christensen on why he didn’t speak to George Lucas before returning as Darth Vader and Moses Ingram on playing the galaxy’s newest villain, Reva.
For everything else coming soon from the galaxy far, far away, see our guide to all the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows.
4.5 out of 5
Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 1 review: “A mature, beautifully realized slice of Star Wars”
A near-perfect opening to a lost chapter in Obi-Wan’s history. Ewan McGregor dazzles as the broken Jedi Master, while Deborah Chow’s masterful direction ensures every scene – from Tatooine to Alderaan – hits the mark.