Review by Brian Lowry, CNN
What was Obi-Wan Kenobi up to during those years when he was watching over Luke Skywalker after the Republic’s fall in “Revenge of the Sith?”
The answer comes in “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” a six-episode Disney+ series whose first two chapters stirringly deliver what fans should desire from a show as eagerly anticipated as any theatrical blockbuster.
It’s worth recalling a stand-alone movie was actually the original plan for this series, which features Ewan McGregor reprising his role from the prequel trilogy, before the box-office underperformance of “Solo” prompted Lucasfilm to go in a different direction.
On the plus side, the episodic format allows for a somewhat more leisurely pace in exploring the characters and laying out the story, which — after a somewhat unnecessary recap — picks up a decade after the defeat of the Jedi, finding McGregor not quite looking halfway to becoming Alec Guinness, but close enough.
Although there’s an extensive time gap between movies, some of this period was covered in the excellent animated series “Star Wars Rebels,” which introduced to the screen Inquisitors, lightsaber-wielding villains tasked with hunting down those Jedi who survived the purge orchestrated by the Emperor. As the trailer explains, the Inquisitors’ secret weapon is the nature of the Jedi themselves, as the Inquisitors seek to lure their prey into the open by testing their innate goodness.
While the Inquisitors have tracked lesser Jedi across the galaxy, one in particular, Reva (Moses Ingram), appears obsessed with locating Kenobi, who is living an existence of desert drudgery while hiding in plain view. He watches the young Luke from a respectable distance, which is still too close to suit the boy’s Uncle Owen (Joel Edgerton), who well remembers how he ended up with the lad in his care.
Directed by “The Mandalorian” veteran Deborah Chow, these episodes most significantly concoct a more-than-plausible explanation, which shouldn’t be spoiled, for bringing Kenobi out of his cave and into jeopardy. That scenario also creates plenty of opportunities for callbacks that, in a theatrical setting, would have fans whooping and hollering.
Those other flourishes aside, McGregor — 17 years removed from “Revenge of the Sith” — proves an enormous asset, perfectly capturing the legendary Jedi at this stage, still wounded by having lost Anakin Skywalker to the dark side and wearily left in a holding pattern that offers room for some hope but, under current circumstances, not a whole lot.
Frankly, watching “Obi-Wan Kenobi” merely reinforces a sense that Disney/Lucasfilm probably left money on the table by pursuing this streaming route, given what an attraction this combination of elements — including the much-hyped return of Hayden Christensen — would have been in a theatrical format. Movie theaters might be celebrating “Top Gun: Maverick’s” landing this weekend, but a film this deeply enmeshed in “Star Wars” mythology, 45 years after its introduction, would have been a can’t-miss commodity.
Those considerations aside, the Disney+ series presents subscribers what feels like a wonderful distraction, no Jedi mind tricks required. While there are still four installments to come, based on the liftoff, the Force is still very much with “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” which may possess a bit less spring in its step but has lost none of its allure to those who have long followed him.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” premieres May 27 on Disney+.
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