Thursday 23 June 2022

Series Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi

Return to the sands of Tatooine in this six-part Star Wars series about Ewan McGregor's wizened Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Set midway between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, this series sees Kenobi in his hermit era – moping around in a crummy desert cave, working on a grotty factory conveyor belt to make ends meet and watching from afar as the Lars family look after a ten-year-old Luke Skywalker.

Meanwhile, piecing together breadcrumbs and set on vengeance, is Moses Ingram's Imperial inquisitor, Reva. One of Vader's hardened Jedi hunters, Reva lures Kenobi out of hiding by kidnapping Princess Leia from her adoptive father Bail Organa (a returning Jimmy Smits). 

From there, we embark on a planet-hopping adventure across the galaxy, as Kenobi and Leia evade the clutches of the Empire, the inquisitors and a fearsome Vader himself. Along the way, Kenobi crosses paths with a string of Rebel sympathisers, such as Idira Varma's Tala, Kumail Nanjiani's Haja and O'Shea Jackson Jnr's Roken.

I think my main gripe with this show, and Lucasfilm's newfangled approach to Star Wars in general, is that this world and these characters don't belong on TV. Characters like Obi-Wan, Princess Leia and Darth Vader, bonafide icons of blockbuster cinema, feel bigger and more important than this. To see them scaled down and squashed into a streaming service feels sad at best and heresy – a fatal misunderstanding of all that made them special in the first place – at worst. 

The third episode falls victim to this. After eluding the Empire on scummy underworld planet Daiyu, Kenobi and little Leia find themselves adrift on ramshackle mining world Mapuzo, being shepherded through an underground railroad-esque system of tunnels by Rebel sympathiser, Tala (Indira Varma).

Soon enough, Darth Vader himself (voiced by James Earl Jones, with Hayden Christensen in the suit) suits up to hunt his old master. Their much-anticipated confrontation is a lukewarm letdown, to say the least – a meek and flat hack-and-slash amidst a dusty old mine. It lacks the cinematic gravitas of the films, with limp choreography and an absence of interesting camerawork, editing etcetera etcetera. 

The two duel again in the final episode, once again in a drab and uninspired setting with next to no identity or discernible features. Neither duel contained anything remotely memorable or exciting, not just because we know neither duellist is going to die, but the backdrop, the choreography, the editing and the actual craftsmanship of both sequences was subpar at best. 

The rematches of the century, they were not.

The filmmaking is lacking across the board, to be honest; it's a TV show with subpar TV show camerawork, subpar TV show visuals and TV show pacing. The grandiosity and the imagination that catapulted Star Wars to the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist in the 70s, 80s and 00s has been stripped away, replaced by Disney's patented 'plug and play' sameness. 

We've seen over the last decade or two that TV can just as compelling and just as cinematic as blockbuster cinema; look no further than the Battle of the Bastards in Game of Thrones or the most recent season of Stranger Things. To see Star Wars – the property that paved the way for populist genre moviemaking in the last half-century – look this cheap, bland and flat is just sad.

I haven't really touched on any of the acting talent yet; that's largely because, aside from McGregor, there's not an awful lot to shout about. 

Ingram is a cool addition to the canon, as a Jedi padawan who survived Order 66 and has sets about infiltrating the Empire to exact revenge on Darth Vader, but that revelation (which is hardly a twist if you've been paying attention), comes a little late to feel meaningful. Her arc ends with a Tatooine coda that fizzles out. 

Hayden Christensen's much-anticipated return is cool too, I guess – we don't get to see a lot of him, save for a couple of perfunctory flashbacks to pre-Clone Wars.

At the end of the day, Obi-Wan Kenobi should have been a movie – sitting inside this five-hour slog is a really tight, lean two-hour film that focuses on Kenobi, Reva and Vader, and dispenses with the superfluous stuff in its orbit.

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