Back to Star Wars, a white hot IP that’s currently helping Disney to the top of the streaming market, but at a cost of cannibalising expensively-purchased product previously expected to be the bedrock of a billion dollar cinematic franchise. Rogue One suggested that a series of one-off Star Wars movies would play, but the surprise failure of Solo stopped that idea in its tracks. That was until streaming provided a new opportunity for expanded universe series like The Mandalorian, and now Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After wrestling with Boba Fett and his bookywook over a long six weeks, I decided to go in the other direction here and wait until Obi-Wan Kenobi’s six episode run was complete and then review the whole shebang in one single shot at the Death Star. Which proved to be the right call, since Obi-Wan Kenobi turns out to play like the previously planned movie, sliced into segments that feel more like chunky cinematic set pieces than the more undemanding streaming style. This is less of a spin-off than a bridging prequel between the second and first trilogy, set after Darth Vader becomes himself (!?) and his secret kids are hidden, and eventually leading up to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s vigil over Luke Skywalker in Tatooine. This Disney series imagines a previously unmentioned stramash involving most of these core characters. Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) finds out that the young Princess Leia has been kidnapped, but ‘it’s a trap’ to draw him out into the open, organised by Darth Vader. With some flashbacks to the prequel trilogy, this is a chess-match off sorts between Kenobi and Vader, and that makes it fairly central to what old school Star Wars is about, with an adventurous, momentous feel that’s largely been posted missing in the franchise of late.
So which the story tap-dances like a back-up in the Max Rebo band by necessity, the highs are considerable; there’s a touching scene between Obi Wan and Leia as they pull a Paper Moon con trick on a vehicle full of stormtroopers. It’s one which carries an emotional pay-off as Obi Wan appears to confuse Leia with her own mother, but the consequent action also sees Kenobi being a pretty tough and ruthless guy with a blaster. Less vital is the idea of Kenobi stealing sausages, which he hides inside his clothing and smuggles back to his cave to consume. Some writers’ meeting, and the writers here range from Drive’s Hossein Amini and Finding Nemo’s Andrew Stanton, must have decided that Kenobi’s ability to steal sausages was the one thing they firmly wanted to establish about him, since we see him on the rake for bangers no less than three times. Meanwhile the Empire seem to have ramped up their HR department, with plenty of ethnicity, diversity, representation and even glass-wall-breaking female storm-troopers, but they remain as completely incompetent as ever. A late scene in which the Empire are flummoxed by Obi-Wan acting as an obvious decoy should have Darth Vader shaking his head if it wasn’t for him being the bucket-headed decision maker who always gets it wrong tactically. Back to the bacta-tank in disgrace for you, Darth.
‘Kenobi means nothing,’ snorts Vader in a rare moment of insight into the progamme he’s featuring on, but at least it’s not boring like Boba. One character worthy of a spin off would be Haja, played by Kumail Nanjiani, a trickster Jedi who may or may not be in tune with the force. No Sufi would call himself a Sufi, and Haja adds a welcome slice of ambiguity. Rogue One made it look so easy to establish new IP in the Star Wars universe, but it had characters which had room to develop, and unfortunately most of the characters in Obi-Wan are firmly tied to their previous incarnations. What holds it all together is McGregor taking a second crack at a character that came too young to him the first time around. He manages to get the voice right for the first time, but also gives Kenobi an inner life that he’s otherwise lacked since the first film, and his performance just about keeps this bucket of bolts in the air. It might not quite have the droids we’re looking for, but Obi-Wan Kenobi turns out to be a fun time-passer with some obvious flaws that seem to go with this franchise.