Obi-Wan Kenobi Review: An Unnecessary Star Wars Prequel Story Manages To Feel Incredibly Vital And Thrilling

The biggest hurdle that "Obi-Wan Kenobi" has to overcome is justifying its own existence. "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" led us to the end of the master and apprentice relationship between Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his headstrong apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Lost in his feelings — where fear led to anger, anger led to hate, and hate led to suffering — Skywalker was seduced by the dark side of the Force and would go on to become Darth Vader. It had long been assumed that Kenobi and Anakin were estranged until their fateful duel aboard the Death Star in "Star Wars: A New Hope." What "Obi-Wan Kenobi" presupposes is, maybe they weren't?

"Obi-Wan Kenobi" is a retcon through and through. The trick is making it feel necessary when everything about this story feels like it's providing a meal that no one ordered. Thankfully, director Deborah Chow ("The Mandalorian") and writers Joby Harold ("Army of the Dead"), Hossein Amini ("47 Ronin"), and Stuart Beattie ("Collateral") have made the series feel incredibly vital, not only by giving us a surprising plot that could prove to be divisive among fans, but also infusing it with exciting elements of the "Star Wars" universe that had yet to be seen in live-action form. The result, at least within the first two episodes that are available now on Disney+, is a thrilling new adventure that adds enticing emotional layers to the Jedi Master's story.

You're my only hope

Right off the bat, it's almost impossible to explain the plot of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" without giving away a huge spoiler. This hasn't even been hinted at in the marketing materials, and it's quite a shocking development in the "Star Wars" universe. Suffice it to say that in this series, what Obi-Wan is faced with is probably the only thing that could take him away from keeping an eye on a young Luke Skywalker on Tatooine. Though the necessity of Kenobi's involvement in this plot isn't given the best logical explanation, it's the fascinating path that the story sets Kenobi on that makes the series feel crucial to "Star Wars" mythology. But more importantly, it's an essential development for Kenobi as a character. 

What many "Star Wars" fans have been curious about, and perhaps even frustrated with, is the fact that "A New Hope" has more than implied that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker hadn't encountered each other after "Revenge of the Sith." Skywalker, as the mostly machine Darth Vader, taunts Kenobi by saying, "We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master." However, Vader does say "meet again," so there's room for them to have met another time since their duel on Mustafar in "Revenge of the Sith." In fact, it almost makes more sense for Kenobi to have encountered Skywalker before "A New Hope," because otherwise why wouldn't the Jedi Master be shocked to see what his old apprentice had become. It's in presenting Kenobi as this tragic figure with trauma to spare that the series truly shines.

When we catch up with Obi-Wan in this series, he's resigned himself to living an isolated existence on Tatooine. Kenobi spends his days working in the equivalent of a desert meat factory, cutting up chunks of massive, dead creatures in the middle of the sand dunes. He takes the same shuttle speeder to and from his mundane job, and rides the same lanky creature home at the end of the day. But Kenobi is also keeping an eye on young Luke Skywalker, who is already showing weariness when it comes to working on the family farm with his Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton, in a supporting performance that stands above the rest of the side characters), a man who wants nothing to do with Obi-Wan's Jedi ways, especially when it comes to the prospect of training Luke in the ways of the Force.

Hello there!

Ewan McGregor has aged perfectly, both in life and for this series. Always the handsome lad, McGregor now has a ruggedness about him that feeds into Kenobi's isolated and downtrodden nature. The Jedi has given up, thinking that the ancient order failed, making way for the Empire to rule the galaxy. He's not even tapped into the Force anymore, mostly due to the danger of being discovered. But perhaps his disconnection from the Force is also a result of his disillusionment with the Jedi order. Either way, when the time comes for him to engage in action, he does so with crafty hand-to-hand combat and even blasters (so uncivilized!) when it's called for. But it'll take more than a few well-placed punches and a blaster by his side to deal with the Inquisitors, villainous enforcers who are roaming the galaxy trying to snuff out any Jedi who survived Emperor Palpatine's Order 66.

If there are any cracks in "Obi-Wan Kenobi," it begins with the Inquisitors. We have Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor, Moses Ingram as Reva, the Third Sister, and Sung Kang as the Fifth Brother, all wielding double-bladed red lightsabers. Though the Grand Inquisitor is leading the hunt for Jedi across the galaxy, Reva is hungry to track down Kenobi. Why? That's not entirely clear, but she knows the Jedi is out there, and she's hellbent on getting him to come out of hiding. It's these performances that feel a little disappointing. 

First of all, Ingram feels like she's trying too hard to be villainous, and her lines don't feel nearly as threatening as they should. Meanwhile, if you're familiar with the Grand Inquisitor's role in the animated side of "Star Wars," then you'll find yourself daydreaming about how incredible it would have been if Jason Isaacs reprised his role in live-action to give this character the dramatic chops and the vicious teeth that make the villain so compelling. That's not to say Friend is bad in the role, providing a solid, theatrically villainous foil, but when you know that you could have enjoyed a juicy ribeye, a delicious Salisbury steak just doesn't taste as good. Meanwhile, Sung Kang is covered under so much make-up and wardrobe, not to mention a seemingly manipulated voice, that it's hard for his performance to resonate at all. It makes me wish he could have taken the place of Reva, but without all the bells and whistles of the make-up effects department.

It's still Star Wars to me

That being said, the series still feels like "Star Wars." If you're sick of looking at all that sand on Tatooine again, don't worry, because there are plenty of new locations to behold. A certain location gives a rather iconic "Star Wars" locale its due diligence while another takes us to a seedy, neon-soaked cityscape reminiscent of "Blade Runner." The virtual stagecraft technology that was born out of "The Mandalorian" is doing show-stopping work here. It was already mostly seamless there, but it's on another level for "Obi-Wan Kenobi." Plus, you can't complain about the incredible music, from John Williams' sweeping new theme for Obi-Wan to the rest of the fantastic score provided by Natalie Holt.

But of course, the star of the series is Ewan McGregor, who can say more with a simple glance than pretty much anyone else in the show's cast can with a full page of dialogue. I say that with all due respect, but when you see the look on McGregor's face as Obi-Wan Kenobi learns that Anakin Skywalker is still alive, it's a moment that will give you goosebumps. You'll suddenly forgive most of the flaws that might be present in the first two episodes, if only for the sheer morbid curiosity of how this will play out in the remaining four chapters of the series. For all intents and purposes, the series begins feeling like a "Star Wars" version of "John Wick," which makes sense since Joby Harold worked on "John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum" before coming into a galaxy far, far away. Even if the action isn't on par with the hit Keanu Reeves sequel, it's hard to not be interested in a show like this.

The first two episodes of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" are available now, and the rest are arriving in the coming weeks.