Thursday, June 23, 2022

TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+)


Obi-Wan Kenobi isn't good.

It is great!

I would venture to say that it is Star Wars Episode III.5.

The story picks up about 10 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith.  The Empire has dominated everything with the Sith Inquistors hunting down any Jedi or Force Sensitives throughout the galaxy.  Obi-Wan (Ewan McGreggor) is living an annonymous, workaday life under the pseudonym "Ben."  He keeps a distant eye on the young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely), but he is constantly pushed away by Luke's protective uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton).  Obi-Wan is a sad, broken man.  Haunted by his failures, he keeps to himself and has not exercised his connection to the Force in many years.  However, all of that changes when a young Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair) is kidnapped on Alderaan and her adopted father Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) asks Obi-Wan to go and find her.  But he doesn't know that this a trap by the Inquistor Reva (Moses Ingram) to capture the hidden Jedi Master and present him to Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen/James Earl Jones).

It is amazing to me how much absolute hatred this show has received by some parts online.  It has its flaws, but it feels like there were people who were already pre-disposed to come at this show with hatred (for more on this, see my previous post).

With that in mind and in the interest of fairness, I thought I should start with the show's negatives.

The biggest one are those of plotting and staging.  I know that Obi-Wan was originally supposed to be a theatrical movie, but instead has been translated into a six-episode mini-series.  As a result, the plot does not move along as tightly as it would if this was a 2-hour movie.  This means that there are more added set pieces to the story that could be more streamlined.

The bigger problem is the staging.  The failure here feels less like one from a writing standpoint but one of executing the filming.  There is a scene where Obi-Wan shoots the controls of a laser barrier to turn it off when the wide shot clearly shows he could have easily walked around.  Another is when Vader is using his force powers through a fire.  When more fire is added, he seems to be unable to do anything and once again, no seems to try and GO AROUND the obstacle.  Or there is a scene where one of our heroes kills an imperial officer in a room filled with other imperial soldiers and NO ON NOTICES.  But for me the worst was when Obi-Wan wore a large trenchcoat and hid Leia underneath.  It looked so ridiculous that it would not be out of place in a Little Rascals or Austin Powers movie.

But all of these are forgiveable beacuse they get so much right about this show.

First of all, McGregor is utterly fantastic.  He takes you on Obi-Wan's complete emotional journey.  I have to admit, I was filled with all kinds of nostalgic feelings when I saw him on screen for the first time, but when the nostalgia wears off, McGregor gives you an incredibly compelling character.

A lot of people complained that this show gave Obi-Wan the Last Jedi treatment, meaning he was portrayed much like the divisive portrayl of Luke in the Sequels.  But there are a few important differences.  One of the reasons why the Luke portrayl was so controversial was because it felt like the character was robbed of his heroic status and he never really reclaimed it.  With Obi-Wan, the main character's despair and cynicism are well-earned in the context of Revenge of the Sith.  It is very frustrating to watch Obi-Wan turn his back on those in need in the first episode.  But the show is about how this fallen hero rises up again, something that The Last Jedi missed the mark at doing because it was trying to raise up the new hero.

Going back to McGregor's performance, I found it rivetting.  The last few minutes of the 2nd episode his power as an actor by projecting such intense emotion with incredible control.  His reaction to the revelation he receives in this scene hit me like a ton of bricks.  He becomes a whirlwind of fear and guilt while maintaining a heroic stillness.  It is truly a great performance.

The rest of the cast is fine, though few reach McGregor's level.  Smits does a fantastic job with the little time that he has, as does Edgerton who puts a real grizzled edge to his Owen that we had not seen in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith.  I'm someone who always liked Christensen as an actor and he seems totally commited to the part that fills his scenes with a layered emotion.  He has lost some of his boyishness, which made one of the flashback scenes a bit awkward.  But I was enjoying myself too much to let it bother me.

Ingram's Reva and Blair's Leia have have the most amount of screen time besides Obi-Wan.  A lot of people said that the show was a "bait-and-switch" like Kevin Smith's Masters of the Universe: Revelations.  In the case of the latter, the show was advertised as a He-Man show, but it was really all about Teela.  People online were saying that this was the case with here, calling it the Reva/Leia Show.  

However, this is clearly not the case.  Reva is given a very intersting back story that unfolds over the course of the series.  But in the first few episodes, she is clearly the violent antagonist who is willing to do whatever kind of evil to achieve her goals.  Ingram does a fine job with the material that she's given.  She is condescending and angry, which very much fits her character.

Some have been a bit unkind about Blair's performance, but I almost always give child actors a pass.  Star Wars fans were horribly unkind to Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace in a way that was out of line.  Blair does a decent job as the young Leia.  She is precocious to the Nth degree, but her chemistry with McGreggor really is the heart of the show.  Like Mando protecting Grogu, Obi-Wan and Leia create the bond that makes the emotional through-line of the series.

The other emotional arc is the one between Obi-Wan and Anakin.  They have three encounters in the show (one of them in flashback).  Each one is incredibly different and layered with different emotions.  I am a sucker for a good lightsaber fight and these were better than anything in the Sequels.  And that is probably because there was a lot more emotional weight beneath them.  But beyond that, the final confrontation has one of the best lines of the series.  As Vader and Kenobi stare eye-to-eye the truth of Anakin's fall is made plain in a way that makes complete emotional sense.

There are also a number of incredibly exciting action set pieces in the show.  One of my favorites uses light and darkness in an very exciting way as Obi-Wan has to rescue somone.  He cuts out the lights and there is a visceral thrill as his lightsabe ignites in the darkness.  It is kind of the inverse of the moment that Vader ignites his saber in Rogue One.

One of my favorite elements of the show was Obi-Wan's relationship to Qui-Gon Jinn.  At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Yoda told Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon would guide him.  But as the show begins, Obi-Wan has yet to hear from him.  Throughout the show, Obi-Wan calls out to him for help and guidance.  I could not help to be moved by this as this is the closest thing I have seen in Star Wars to a character at prayer.  In doing so, Obi-Wan provides a wonderful and insightful reflection on the spiritual life that is suprisingly profound.

Of the post-George Lucas Star Wars stories, this may be one of my favorites.  And unlike most of the Disney offerings, I know that I am going to watch Obi-Wan again and again.

1 comment:

  1. Young Leia was actually one of my favorite parts. Absolutely committed to causing problems on purpose.