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Obi-Wan Kenobi begins with the best Star Wars premiere yet (Part I Recap)

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

In the age of Disney-controlled Star Wars content, the only theatrical films I’ve been able to watch from a galaxy far, far away are those under the Disney banner. That never quelled my excitement, though — I remember sitting for a Thursday night showing of The Force Awakens, hardly able to contain my excitement, in a packed theater where nobody knew what to expect.

Even with incompetent entries like The Rise of Skywalker and missteps like Solo, I have remained a fanboy. I try to see the good in everything, but it certainly helps when a film or series manages to be excellent on its own merit.

That’s what I hoped for Obi-Wan Kenobi, a series that has been in the works for nearly a decade. Over the years, it went through various phases, surviving several phases of development hell and various creative teams that have come and gone. Its final iteration — and I maintain that this is one of the biggest reasons the streaming service was created in the first place — is a six-part Disney+ miniseries that has finally reached our screens.

Ewan McGregor returns to the role of the titular embattled Jedi, living on the desert planet Tatooine ten years after the events of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. With his fellow Jedi all but extinct, Obi-Wan has left that life behind, and is instead dedicated to keeping a ten-year-old Luke Skywalker safe from any harm that may come to Tatooine. The galaxy is still a dangerous place — even more so, with the Empire in control — and it takes a remarkable amount of self-discipline for Obi-Wan not to involve himself in the tribulations of others.

Ten years in exile is a long time to practice such removal, though, and the very first episode of Obi-Wan reminds us of exactly what he’s been up to with a recap right off the bat. Like with most streaming series, there was a “skip recap” button that popped up instantly, and while I felt I didn’t need the recap I decided to watch it anyway. With only the essential information, surely intended for those who’d spent a long time away from Star Wars, it became a pathway back into this world that I love and treasure so much. At the end, Yoda tells Obi-Wan (through clips from Revenge of the Sith) that he can teach Obi-Wan to commune with his deceased Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, which is surely how Obi-Wan spent a lot of his time holed up in a cave on Tatooine. We only get hints of his connection to Qui-Gon in the series’ premiere episode, but I have a feeling it’s leading to something, and I wouldn’t rule out an appearance from Liam Neeson by the time this series has concluded.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

I can’t remember a character with more demand for their return than McGregor’s Kenobi, and to see him on-screen again (in any medium) is a real treat. I wouldn’t necessarily call his Obi-Wan performance incredible, but it can’t be denied that he was consistently one of the best elements of the often-maligned prequel trilogy where he debuted. His presence here is like a warm blanket, a comfort I never knew I needed.

The series doesn’t begin with Obi-Wan, though. Instead, we kick off with a flashback to the event that changed the galaxy forever — Order 66, where the newly self-proclaimed Emperor Palpatine ordered the Clone troopers to murder their Jedi commanders. Jedi Master Minas Velti, in the middle of training a class of younglings, puts up a fight against the Clones, but is eventually overpowered and killed. The younglings decide to flee, and the last we see of them is their attempted escape through the Jedi Temple, which is crowded with a swarm of Clones and a dwindling number of Jedi.

My first thought concerning this cold opening was mild confusion. Seeing an aspect of Order 66 not depicted in Revenge of the Sith is always interesting, but it has so little to do with Obi-Wan himself that it seems almost superfluous. Over the course of the episode, I developed a theory regarding an as-yet-introduced character — I’ll mention it later in the article.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

After the flashback, we’re back to Tatooine, the planet that’s been used to death in recent Star Wars ventures like The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. Its appearance makes the most sense in Obi-Wan Kenobi, as this is an established element in the canon that dates back all the way to A New Hope. In fact, the original film just celebrated its 45th anniversary on Wednesday. Despite this, I must admit it was a relief when Obi-Wan left this planet in favor of another at the end of the episode.

Before catching up with Obi-Wan, now calling himself “Ben,” the Dark Side pays a visit to Tatooine. The Jedi-hunting Inquisitors, most of them former Jedi themselves, arrive in search of a fugitive Force user. They’re led by the Grand Inquisitor (played by Pride and Prejudice’s Rupert Friend), a character introduced in the 2014 series Star Wars: Rebels, where he was voiced by Jason Isaacs. Accompanying him is the Fifth Brother (Fast and Furious’ Sung Kang), also introduced in Rebels, and the Third Sister (The Queen’s Gambit’s Moses Ingram), an entirely new character. Their journey to Tatooine is to follow up on a rumor, which proves to be a fact: there is a Jedi hiding there.

To our surprise, it’s not our titular hero. The fugitive Jedi is Nari, played by screenwriter and director Benny Safdie (Good Time, Uncut Gems) in the first of many unexpected cameos this series has to offer. He reveals himself when he stops a knife, thrown by the Third Sister, from piercing the face of the tavern owner who was sheltering him. Instead of using the Force from underneath the tavern’s table, as would befit a stealthy refugee, he does so openly, thus giving away his position and forgoing all advantage. Despite this, Nari manages to escape the Inquisitors, though his time is soon cut short. We don’t know exactly how he’s eventually caught, but it’s likely related to the bounty the Inquisitors place on his head.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

In this sequence, we get a sense as to who our main antagonist of the series will be. The Third Sister, whose true name is Reva, seems to have history with Obi-Wan, and continually badgers the Grand Inquisitor with pleas to track him down herself. They mostly falls on deaf ears, and Reva is left to her own devices in her as-yet-unexplained quest for Obi-Wan.

I hope that, in the series’ four remaining episodes, this is how they’ll connect back to the Order 66 cold open. Perhaps one of the escaping younglings is a younger Reva, and soon afterward she was captured by the Emperor and trained as an Inquisitor. It doesn’t explain her history with Obi-Wan, but there are some clues in the second episode that lead to another theory.

We are reintroduced to Obi-Wan shortly afterward as he’s occupying himself with a carving job in an apparent mobile butcher’s shop. Bitter and depressed, he’s leading a lonely life, unable to defend those in need out of fear of drawing attention to himself. It goes against everything a Jedi stands for, but that’s the life he’s chosen for himself and the unfortunate reality of staying out of trouble. He must avoid detection in every way he can, and that means not even assisting in the most minor of conflicts.

He trades with a snarky Jawa named Teeka and periodically checks in on Luke Skywalker (played here by newcomer Grant Feely), and that’s his life outside of work. One detail I thought was well-done is that Obi-Wan is the person who gifts Luke the T-16 Skyhopper model that he still has by the time of A New Hope. Before that can happen, though, Luke’s Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton, reprising his role from the Prequels) brings it back to the Jedi and throws it at his feet, saying he doesn’t want Luke to have anything to do with Obi-Wan. We see more of the gruff Uncle Owen from A New Hope creeping through, in a stark contrast to Edgerton’s kinder and more optimistic performance from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Still, even during a tense encounter with Reva and the Fifth Brother, Owen protects Obi-Wan’s identity. He’s a good man at heart, and his dangerous acceptance of Luke is living proof.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

It turns out that Obi-Wan is only one of our main characters, as we now take a detour to the doomed planet of Alderaan and meet a ten-year-old Princess Leia, played by Bird Box’s Vivien Lyra Blair. While I’ve seen some discourse about her performance, I think Blair commands the screen in a way that many young actors can’t. Part of that is the writing — Leia is a snappy and witty conversationalist, and very smart for her age — but Blair has just the right levels of precociousness and energy to capture a younger Leia. She feels trapped on Alderaan, stuck to an endless tedium of events and royal family gatherings, so much so that she pulls the same decoy trick her mother Padmé did in an attempt to escape one such engagement. That monotony won’t last long, though, as by the episode’s end Leia finds herself kidnapped by bounty hunters and taken off-world.

Even at age ten, Leia is a rebel, and keeping her from running off is no easy task. Managing her are her adoptive father Bail (a returning Jimmy Smits) and mother Breha Organa (Terra Nova’s Simone Kessell), who are preparing Leia for a university education, followed by experience in the Imperial Senate. In the original, pre-Disney Legends continuity, Leia became a senator the year before A New Hope after her father stepped down. Her position is alluded to in A New Hope, but never outright confirmed — and afterward, of course, she dedicates herself fully to the Rebellion.

It’s not just Leia who makes a welcome return. It might seem ridiculous, but I audibly gasped when C-3PO made a brief appearance, translating for some guests at a party. Anthony Daniels is credited as returning in motion capture; still, his commitment to keep returning, even in small parts, is admirable.

Leia’s kidnapping comes at the hands of Vect Nokru, a bounty hunter played by none other than Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He’s no stranger to acting, having appeared in over fifty films and series, but I will admit that his presence here came as a bit of a surprise. He’s just not the type of person you’d think would ever pop up in a Star Wars property, especially one on Disney+, but I suppose the galaxy is full of surprises. His character, Nokru, was hired to kidnap Leia by Reva, who is hoping that it will draw Obi-Wan out of hiding.

She knows her enemies too well. Bail and Breha approach Obi-Wan for help regarding Leia’s disappearance, and though he’s reluctant to do so, his Jedi nature breaks through and he agrees to rescue her. He digs up his lightsaber and boards a transport ship, bound for the lawless world of Daiyu.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

I will concede that much of my love from this episode came from a Star Wars high. Being immersed back in this world, even on the uninteresting wasteland of Tatooine, is a true delight. This is a more familiar area of the Star Wars canon, where characters we know and love are out and about. Combine that with a John Williams theme, excellent direction from Deborah Chow, and the return of some of the best performers from the Prequels, and we have ourselves a brilliant start to what will hopefully be the best of the Disney+ Star Wars bunch.

Ironically enough, Obi-Wan Kenobi has a case of prequel-itis, despite succeeding the Star Wars Prequels. We know where most of these characters are going to end up, and while that removes many of the stakes, it’s not about that — I’m more interested in the journey, and fascinated by the ever-expanding elements of the new canon. This is not specifically a series about Obi-Wan Kenobi; it’s a portrait of the state of the galaxy, ruled by a vicious superpower, where all hope appears to be lost. Our main character is the very signal of hope, even though his optimism is dwindling. We know that there’s hope on the horizon, and deep down, he knows it too.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd

Obi-Wan Kenobi premiered on Disney+ today, May 27. Rowan Wood will cover each episode of the series in a new weekly column.