Obi-Wan Kenobi is yet another cog in the Disney Star Wars machine that has all the appearance of low-hanging fruit. Like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rogue One, and The Book of Boba Fett, this look into the life of sand hermit Ben Kenobi resorts to the kind of wiki-ready storytelling that “Um, actually,” nerds salivate over as they become master archivists instead of storytelling appreciators. From its very foundation, Obi-Wan Kenobi promises to tell you how the ice cream was made instead of just giving you delicious ice cream.
Naturally, Obi-Wan Kenobi has a near-invincible weapon at its front: Ewan McGregor. Even during the worst moments of the prequel trilogy, McGregor shone through as one radiant bright spot. His dedication to the role and earnest delivery anchored what were pretty bad movies. Now, he is given a series with the polish and gravitas that will make Star Wars fans very happy. He’s a phenomenal actor and he’s being given the spotlight. Though his work is in service to the most perfunctory of plots, it’s hard to deny just how good he can be with any given reaction shot. If nothing else, this limited series/segmented movie is damn lucky to have him at the forefront.
But, Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn’t just have McGregor to thank when it comes to casting. Far more interesting are the Inquisitors, acolytes of Darth Vader who are hunting the galaxy for the last remaining Jedi. Among them is Third Sister Reva, an ambitious and scheming huntress who will do anything to capture Obi-Wan herself. Played by Moses Ingram, it is exciting to see a Black woman allowed to play an outright villainous character in a piece of popular fiction. Representation in media means letting diverse actors play disreputable and even despicable characters as well as aspirational ones, and Ingram is delivering a solid bit of old-school evil when she’s on the screen. While it’s obvious that Darth Vader will become Obi-Wan’s main antagonistic goal, it was more thrilling to see a new character rise to the occasion.
And that’s what drags Obi-Wan Kenobi down into the depths of boringly predictable: it’s just more of the things and characters you know. Princess Leia plays an integral role in the story, so we get to have a precocious ten-year-old bebopping around and we’re expected to care simply because she’s familiar to us. Nothing in the show will actually make a compelling argument for why we need to see Leia at this time in her life. Her motivations are lazy and inconsequential to the character we already know. Nothing that happens to her here is going to feel earned. Unlike something like Better Call Saul, the gap-filling will only feel like gap-filling instead of a true creative reason to utilize the character.
Not to mention that Obi-Wan Kenobi is already falling victim to that most annoying of modern blockbuster trends: meme-inspired moments. We’ve heard Obi-Wan say a familiar line from his first appearance in the original Star Wars, and you can bet other popular meme moments will rear their head. If you don’t think a “high ground” reference is on the way, you aren’t thinking like a Disney executive with story power. The show even feels like it needs to give some deeper meaning to a toy Luke Skywalker played with for a few seconds in one scene of the first film. It’s the kind of memberberries idea that permeates the whole reason for the show’s existence.
Plenty of people are going to like Obi-Wan Kenobi because it is acting as something of a redemptive act for McGregor’s time in the prequels. Now there is an entire generation who sees those movies as their Star Wars, and this is a project that appears to take this character and his world as seriously as they have over the years. There will possibly even be those who look at this as something of a true prequel in contrast to Lucas’s trilogy. It all just reeks of staid dreck. The Star Wars franchise seems truly scared of forging new ground, and nothing in Obi-Wan Kenobi seems interested in taking any real risks. This is a fan-service guarantee that is designed to rope in Disney+ subscribers and it will surely succeed at that. Everything else is just wiki fodder disguised as an actual tale. At least Ewan is having his moment.