The Pitch: If it’s been a while since you sat down with “the prequels,” as most Star Wars fans might call them, don’t worry: Obi-Wan Kenobi begins with a lengthy reminder of what happened a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, when a once-young Jedi Knight (Ewan McGregor) tried and failed to keep his dear apprentice from descending into evil.
The rise of Darth Vader is the essential throughline of Star Wars Episodes I-III, films that also track the fall of the once-peaceful Galactic Republic and massacre of the Jedi who helped maintain that aforementioned peace. But what of that Jedi who believed in his friend, and suffered the crushing disappointment that ensued? Well, that’s just what the new Disney+ series seeks to answer, and the end result proves remarkably promising, at least based on the first two episodes.
Kind of a Strange Old Hermit: Like so many prequel stories, it’s hard to even be sure what a spoiler is when discussing Obi-Wan, but this can be said: Episode III literally ends with Obi-Wan beginning his exile on Tatooine, ready to stand watch over the infant son of his presumed-dead friend as the kid grows up, and Obi-Wan Kenobi picks up 10 years afterward, with Obi-Wan remaining dedicated to his mission, and what he sees as his penance.
However, lest you fear that you’re in for six episodes of watching Ewan McGregor squint at the desert, that proves not be the case. What makes the first two episodes so successful is how thoughtful they are about catching the viewer up with Obi-Wan’s life as a hermit in the Tatooine desert (dude literally lives in a cave, all hail a hermit who really commits to the lifestyle) before quickly throwing him out of his comfort zone and back into action.
In comparison to The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan has a great deal more focus narratively (which is a blessing, given that it’s only six episodes and very declarative about being a limited series), with a compelling immediate hook. Without revealing too much, it seems safe to say that while the trailers heavily emphasize Obi-Wan embracing his role as guardian over Luke, it’s the other Skywalker twin who becomes the focus of the the show relatively quickly, and Vivien Lyra Blair (Bird Box) immediately steals hearts as 10-year-old Leia Organa.
A Name I Haven’t Heard In a Long Time… Before the plot kicks into gear towards the end of the first episode, Obi-Wan hews relatively closely to what you might expect from the series, delivering a largely dialogue-free portrait of how the former Jedi master occupies his days, as he waits for Luke to grow up.
It works, though, because a huge part of what makes the show so compelling is McGregor himself. While always drifting back and forth between great character actor and full-throttle movie star, one undeniable aspect of his work is how well he can calibrate his charisma to meet the expectations of a scene, and this proves to be a huge factor in his depiction of the character, who we meet as essentially a broken man, one who hasn’t stopped torturing himself for 10 years over mistakes that cannot seemingly be forgiven.