Two-and-a-half years in, it’s safe to say Disney’s grand venture into a televised Star Wars universe has been something of a mixed bag. The Mandalorian succeeded against the odds, with Grogu / “Baby Yoda” instantly becoming the galaxy’s most popular new addition in decades. The Book of Boba Fett started out aimless and tedious, before essentially abandoning its premise – and lead character – halfway through and transforming into another season of The Mandalorian. Obi-Wan Kenobi, released on Disney Plus on Friday, offers a slight change of tack: a self-contained story, centring on one of the saga’s most familiar characters. Judging by the first two episodes, it feels like it’s pulled it off.
The six-episode miniseries sees Ewan McGregor reprise the role of the droll, bearded Jedi he inhabited in George Lucas’s prequel trilogy. Ten years have passed since the events of Revenge of the Sith – though what’s a year, really, on a planet with two suns? – and we re-meet Obi-Wan lying low on the planet of Tatooine, watching over a young Luke Skywalker from afar. It’s a miserable and thankless task for Obi-Wan, who is being sought by a trio of inquisitors: former Jedi who work for the Empire as Jedi hunters.
Ultimately, it’s not Luke the series is concerned with, but his sister, Leia, played here by Vivien Lyra Blair. In the series’ first episode, Leia is kidnapped from her home planet of Alderaan and used to draw Obi-Wan out of hiding, under the somewhat spurious leap of reasoning that Obi-Wan was an old war buddy of Leia’s adoptive father (Jimmy Smits, reprising the role of Bail Organa). Of course, Obi-Wan takes the bait.
Obi-Wan’s best plotline in the prequels took the form of a noirish detective pastiche in Attack of the Clones; episode two of Kenobi features a lot more gumshoeing. The self-contained story gives Obi-Wan more purpose than some of Star Wars’ other streaming ventures – even if you suspect this would have worked perfectly well as a film. Naturally, the stakes are somewhat muted given that we’ve seen some of the key players alive and well in A New Hope, but it’s a series that’s more about the chase than the finish.
Mostly, it’s just enjoyable seeing McGregor return to the role, a character originated by Alec Guinness but one that he has made his own. There’s much about Lucas’s maligned prequels that’s been subject to revisionist re-appraisals over the past decade; McGregor’s performance is one of the most widely acknowledged highlights. Here, he adds new dimensions to the character, without losing the old – his dry wit, his unflappable dignity. The Jedi has returned.