In Appreciation For Obi-Wan Kenobi's Exceptionally Talented One-Off Guest Stars

This post contains major spoilers for the third episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Three episodes in and "Obi-Wan Kenobi" — unlike its eponymous character — is showing no signs of slowing down. Last week's two-part premiere impressed viewers with its surprisingly nuanced, emotionally compelling reintroduction of the defeated and much more rugged Jedi in exile on Tatooine. The secretive story, directed by Deborah Chow and written by Joby Harold, Hossein Amini, Stuart Beattie, delivered a blisteringly fun (if familiar) character dynamic between Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan and a young Princess Leia (played by Vivien Lyra Blair), fun cameos, and a cliffhanger ending that teased this week's long-awaited rematch between Hayden Christensen's Darth Vader and his former mentor.

But amid all the larger plot developments and Easter eggs and shocking reveals that may or may not mess with the overall continuity, I've found myself appreciating one deceptively minor, but noticeably recurring constant at the halfway point of this debut season. The sprawling cast of characters that Obi-Wan and Leia have encountered throughout this series have helped this planet-hopping adventure feel as lived-in and immersive as possible, adding a crucial element of world-building that any "Star Wars" story needs. But much of the heavy-lifting in this department has fallen to a strong stable of recognizable guest stars who have brought several layers to relatively small but significant roles in every episode so far.

From Benny Safdie to Kumail Nanjiani to Indira Varma, these potentially one-off guest stars have provided a shot in the arm in each of their respective storylines so far.

Fallen Jedi

Accomplished filmmaker ("Good Time," "Uncut Gems"), talented actor ("Good Time," "Pieces of a Woman," "Licorice Pizza"), and now ... Jedi knight? Benny Safdie might not have seemed like the most obvious or natural fit for the space opera theatrics that "Star Wars" is known for, but the American multi-hyphenate quickly proved the wisdom behind his inspired casting with his rather small — but no less meaningful — role in the premiere episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

When we catch up with the grizzled Jedi in hiding, the script presents Obi-Wan with multiple opportunities to help innocents surrounding him ... all of whom he denies, revealing the depths to which our former hero has fallen in the decade since the events of "Revenge of the Sith." First, he passively observes a fellow worker in the meatpacking assembly line denied of his fair wages. The Obi-Wan of old, the one who hilariously convinced a death stick dealer to turn his life around, wouldn't have hesitated to right such blatant wrongs. Instead, he merely shrinks from their callous overseer and maintains his quiet and unassuming existence.

He is again faced with a chance for redemption with Nari, a surviving Jedi who coincidentally seeks asylum from the Empire on the same desert planet as Obi-Wan himself. We already witnessed how the Jedi's overwhelming desire to help others at all costs came back to bite him, when the menacing Inquisitors invade a local watering hole and threaten the owner until Nari reveals himself through the use of the Force. Now, his heartrending plea for Obi-Wan to help him — eerily similar to what a grown-up Princess Leia would later request of Obi-Wan in a few decades –  falls on deaf ears as the more experienced Jedi turns down his younger peer.

Here, Safdie makes the absolute most of his limited screen time. His heartfelt conviction to help others is plain to see on his broad, "aw, shucks" face, putting himself at risk to save others. When he escapes from his pursuers and corners Obi-Wan in a secluded location, his almost naïve reaction to the famous Jedi's refusal to help is enough to break one's heart, even before his tragic fate is ultimately revealed. Like any good guest star, Safdie's performance deftly suggests a deeper backstory that we'll never see and provides a memorable appearance that haunts both us and our hero alike.

A Jedi and a con-man walk into a cantina...

When "The Big Sick" and "Eternals" star Kumail Nanjiani was first announced to join the cast of "Obi-Wan Kenobi," more than a few fans hoped that he would break new ground as a South Asian Jedi. What we got instead in the second episode of the series was a pretty ingenious twist on that idea. When Obi-Wan's search for the kidnapped Leia leads him to the crime-ridden planet of Daiyu, a street kid offers some gossip of a local underground Jedi who is doing his good work for others under the very nose of the occupying Empire forces. We meet this mysterious figure, named Haja Estree, as he effortlessly uses the Force to convince a runaway mother and her Force-sensitive son that he can help them find same passage off-world — for a hefty fee, of course.

While some viewers may have found Nanjiani's more overtly comedic take on this character at odds with the grimier cyberpunk aesthetics of the second episode, the actor's specific choices here function as the perfect way to fully realize this con man thief with a hidden heart of gold. In reality, this isn't too far off from what Harrison Ford accomplishes with his similar rogue archetype, Han Solo. Both play bumbling and sometimes outright goofy criminals who find themselves entirely in over their own heads at times, balanced out by their plucky sense of what's right and wrong. What Nanjiani manages to do with Haja, however, is find his own distinct process that plays to his unique strengths as a performer.

Playing a con man who's technically doing the right thing (smuggling innocents out from under a fascist regime is good!) but for selfish reasons (extorting them for everything they have under false pretenses is bad!) is an incredibly tricky tightrope to walk, but Nanjiani manages to be both repulsive to Obi-Wan's oh-so-enlightened sensibilities and entirely convincing when his heel-turn moment compels him to ward off the advancing Inquisitor Reva (Moses Ingram) and buy his new friends some much-needed time. While his newfound attempt to walk the straight and narrow inadvertently leads Reva to Obi-Wan's location, this only makes his arc even more believable. 

While Haja could easily reappear once more down the line, Nanjiani's work in this one episode was more than effective in bringing this oddball character to life.

A hidden ally

Perhaps the biggest inherent problem with prequels stems from the fact that the main character's fate is almost always a fait accompli. We know that Obi-Wan will ultimately die on the Death Star, sacrificing himself to give Luke Skywalker and his friends time to escape the clutches of the dreaded Darth Vader. In light of that fact, Obi-Wan (and young Leia, for that matter) can't exactly face mortal peril in this series beyond a sense of temporary tension. To get around this obstacle, it's far more important to use these threats to add emotional layers to characters we're already well familiar with.

Enter Indira Varma's Tala and her unique backstory. When Obi-Wan and Leia seem to have run out of luck, having trusted their fate to an innocent-looking driver who gives them a ride to the nearest port on the planet Mapuzo (but secretly sells them out), the arrival of Stormtrooper reinforcements seems to spell the end for our heroes. At the last moment, their Imperial handler shoots the soldiers dead and whisks our protagonists away to safety. Though we've seen good guys impersonate Empire officers many times before, this would seem to be one of our first live-action examples of an actual adherent of the Empire turning against them and working to undermine their goals from within.

All this inner conflict and eventual clarity is brought into sharp relief by Varma's carefully measured facial expressions and body language alone. More than serving as a convenient plot device, Tala's unexpected help works to restore Obi-Wan's rapidly dwindling trust in others while showing her own innate bravery to, as Obi-Wan puts it, "risk everything." Utterly selfless examples of doing good even when it costs everything have been hard to come by in "Obi-Wan Kenobi" thus far, now that the Jedi have been all but wiped out. When Tala explains why she does what she does, alluding to "mistakes" she made in joining up with the Empire in the first place, her haunted eyes tell us everything that needs to be said.

Throughout the course of his journey, Obi-Wan keeps coming across kindred spirits — some of whom he let down, others who have risked it all to help him. As the series progresses, here's hoping the creative team keeps finding new guest stars to embody these roles and guide Obi-Wan back to the Jedi path.