At the time of their release, the Star Wars prequels were dragged through the mud by critics and audiences alike. Reasons behind such disdain are far from unjustifiable. Lucas’ return to the franchise at the end of the 20th century was a creative mishap for a multitude of reasons; all of which are much too detailed to get into at this moment in time. Though good ideas did bob to the surface on occasion, the execution of these was far from admirable.
Time can do two things to a story. People can either learn to despise something more as the years progress, or the opposite can occur. The latter of these two possibilities looks to be the case when it comes to Episodes I through III of the Skywalker saga. Concepts, worlds and aesthetics have seemingly had more of a lasting impression on fans’ minds than their screenplays did, it would seem.
Perhaps the fact that Disney spent the last handful of years producing their own botched trilogy helped influence this change of heart. Why complain about the Phantom Menace when Rise of Skywalker gives everyone a fresher target to direct their irritation toward? .
People’s wavering feelings toward the prequel era make now a better time than any to profiteer from such shifting attitudes. Of all the characters to return to from this era, the safest option to begin such a venture with is surely that of Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. McGregor, after all, has often been considered to be the most consistent aspect belonging to the prequel trilogy. Even before attitudes shifted from negative to positive, one of the things fans seemed to agree on without descending into tirades of insults was the quality of McGregor’s performance.
Obi-Wan isn’t just another Episode III-IV bridge, as was the case with Rogue One, but more of a direct re-introduction to a character from the prequel era. Like a lost soul hiding in the Tatooine desert, Obi-Wan Kenobi looks to be an attempt to create something successful amidst the settled rubble of a fallen trilogy. The prequels may well have been mocked and considered a disaster at the time of their release, yet such viewpoints are never absolute. At a time in which audiences appear open to revisiting this era, Disney are more determined than ever to build upon the vessel of these features. This is Disney’s first attempt at such an endeavour, and provided all goes as planned, will be far from its last.
A Desolate Man
Considering this is intended to be a limited series, the structure of Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to be that of a six-hour movie. In this respect, part I behaves more like the first act of a feature film, more so than anything else. We’re introduced to Kenobi’s post-Order 66 life. It’s the life of a man battered and bruised by the traumas we saw him endure at the tail end of Revenge of the Sith.
Now operating under the name Ben, Obi-Wan is slumming it in the caves of Tattooin, keeping a close eye on his former apprentice’s son, Luke Skywalker, all while trying to avoid the Jedi-hunting Inquisitors whilst working a low-paid job in a meat factory. Kenobi’s pretty beat up at this stage in his life, and who can blame the poor chap. Going from Jedi master to a homeless butcher after assuming he murdered his life-long pupil isn’t exactly the sort of circumstance which promotes positive mental health. With his luck well and truly spent, Kenobi is done with being a hero. His priorities right now are keeping quiet and avoiding detection from an galactic Empire after his head.
All of this introduces us to a more vulnerable and unique side to Kenobi’s character; one we haven’t seen depicted in live action up until this point. We’re quite accustomed to this character functioning as a wise mentor or heroic action hero. The Kenobi from the original trilogy is a larger than life figure, one whose job is to guide our protagonist and provide exposition for the wider story existing amidst Lucas’ fictional landscape. His position in the prequel trilogy, on the otherhand, is that of a noble protagonist; one who often takes on the role of a detective or parental figure. Seeing a version of Kenobi who’s frightened, burned out, fed up, defeated and cowering in the shadows allows us to peak behind the curtain and into his soul. This is the character at his lowest and most vulnerable; a former hero who has removed himself from the story he was once the forefront of.
Kenobi is helpless and fearful for a majority of part I. That’s who he is at this stage in his life. It’s who he’s been for a good decade at the stage in which this episode begins. Of course, this can’t be the case for the entirety of this mini-series. It’s all good and well encountering a more dishevelled and damaged interpretation of a cultural icon, but we can’t have him skulking around caves for the next four weeks. Fed up Obi-Wan chopping meat in an alien wasteland doesn’t quite dish up the right amount of thrill for a six-part mini-series. Which is why much of this episode functions as a call to adventure, a means of motivating Kenobi to take action and break free from the hermit life he’s been living for the past decade.
Much like any traditional opening act to a film, Part I dedicates a great deal of time spurring Kenobi to take action and engage with the wider escapade on the horizon. Scene after scene goes to great lengths, prodding and poking our hero at every opportunity. Kenobi sure does put up a fight, but that sure as heck ain’t gonna stop the script from making him relent. Throughout the episode, he encounters a fleeing Jedi who begs for help, watches from the shadows while a gang of Inquisitors bully innocent citizens, and even sees the hanging corpse of the very Jedi who pleaded for his assistance earlier on in the story. It isn’t until Luke’s sister, Leia is kidnapped by a clan of goons that he finally responds to the call and ventures into the story’s second act.
This is pretty much the core purpose of Part I. Its’ introducing us to a world we’re familiar with, albeit from a slightly more grim and vulnerable position. Once Kenobi’s psychological and environmental normality are established, the script gets to work, inspiring our protagonist into taking on the role of a noble hero once again.
As an opening episode, Part I of this mini-series sets itself a goal and gets to work achieving said goal. This is an attempt to revive a beloved character from a slightly less beloved era of Star Wars’ history. Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of Obi-Wan Kenobi is beloved despite the overall opinion that fans hold toward the three films he’d featured in. Obi-Wan Kenobi opens with a more bloodied and bruised version of this character, a character who it needs to whip into shape before sending him on a mission to save Leia from an Empirical trap.
It’s a solid opener, and while it doesn’t quite work as a complete story in isolation, as an inaugural segment to a six-part mini-series, this is the safest and most efficient way to open such a story. This is the opening act to a story that intends to expand and widen the scope of what it is over the proceeding weeks. Obi-Wan may have grown out of his hero role in the ten years since the world he belong to fell at the hands of the Empire, yet Part I works hard to whip him back into shape for the episodes lying ahead.
Seeing a version of Kenobi that’s as vulnerable and defeated as he is here certainly offers up a more unique perspective of the character from what we’re used to. It’s strange and unsettling in a manner that’s also fascinating. It also gives McGregor an opportunity to flex his acting chops, playing the character in a way he hasn’t been able to in past features.
None of which is to say this is a perfect story. The scenes on Alderaan don’t feel quite as strong as the ones set on Tatooine. The interactions between Leia and Bail Organa feel forced, while the ‘action’ sequences don’t come across in the way they are intended. Despite the dramatic music, the sequence in which Leia is hunted through the woodlands plays more like a skit from a sketch show than anything resembling perilous. None of this is bad enough to damage the episode as a whole, yet it does drag it down a few notches.
Aside from the forced and tonally wobbly Alderaan scenes, Part I does a good job of reintroducing us to a character we haven’t seen in live action since 2005. It manages this in a manner that manages to feel both fresh and familiar.