'Obi-Wan Kenobi' review: New 'Star Wars' series right the wrongs of the prequels
The time of the Jedi is over as Obi-Wan Kenobi launches on Disney+ from 27 May, bringing the largest brand in the mouse house home to roost.
Hailed as a conquering hero and shrouded in mystique like any Star Wars entry, this limited series must rise like a phoenix from the ashes.
Overshadowed by a set of prequels which were not well received upon release, Obi-Wan has a point to prove to those who are one with the force. A fact this creative team have clearly taken to heart, as these opening episodes are exceptional.
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With a writing team which includes Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean), Andrew Stanton (WALL E), Joby Harold (John Wick 3: Parabellum), and Hossein Amini (Drive) audiences can rest easy. Obi-Wan Kenobi is hands down, the most polished piece of expanded Star Wars lore since The Mandalorian.
In the first five minutes those prequels become both essential exposition and a promise of pastures new, as lines are drawn and Star Wars starts fresh. After some lightsaber rattling, some sumptuous production design and a ten-year time jump, audiences land on Tatooine. Ushering in swathes of sand, sweeping vistas and an Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) who is now no more than memory.
What follows are a series of clever character introductions, some slow burn set pieces and more than a modicum of tension. Possibly the most impressive of these being Inquisitor Reva (Moses Ingram), Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) and the surprise appearance of a classic character.
Each one guaranteed to captivate audiences in their own way, as they personify the power struggle at the heart of this story.
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As for the title role, Ewan McGregor slips back into his Jedi robes with subtlety and no small degree of expectation, delivering an Obi-Wan of advancing years. Plagued by flashbacks of Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and hiding from an Empire who would see him dead, he has an influence which stretches far beyond his bolthole on Tatooine — a desolate place that has long been a central focus for the series.
Beyond the dune sea and intangible outer ring enclaves, audiences are also treated to off world escapades on Daiju. A planet populated by neon drenched cityscapes, where hucksters and street hustlers ply their trade in oversaturated high-rise tenements. It is here that this limited series lifts plot twists from John Wick 3: Parabellum and, more tenuously, Luc Besson’s Leon.
With a call to arms which brings Obi-Wan out of the shadows, this second part brings momentum in spades. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, who recently worked alongside Edgar Wright for Last Night in Soho, switches from a sun-soaked colour palette to something more Blade Runner by design. Not only influencing mood, but injecting some crucial elements of Star Wars: Rogue One into the mix.
Much of what makes Obi-Wan Kenobi so good comes down to its storytelling, which never relies too heavily upon one component part. Unlike Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett, which leaned into the legacy of its title character without fleshing out other elements, Obi-Wan Kenobi offers a story of substance in which he is merely a single cog.
The Mandalorian was the last limited series to make an impression of this magnitude, made more impressive since it carried no audience expectations along with it. For that reason, it should come as no surprise that Deborah Chow, director on The Mandalorian, also helms this latest iteration on Disney+. It seems to be a series with the ability to make good on the potential of those much maligned prequels.
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However, beyond the feverish expectation of a fanbase who consider themselves aligned with the alliance, it is also important to acknowledge that Obi-Wan Kenobi works on its own. Although the combined legacy of animated efforts plays a large part alongside anything live action, this is also just a solidly entertaining stand alone series.
On every conceivable level it works and feels fully formed, rather than being a property populated by characters without purpose. There are precocious performances from Princess Leia’s in waiting, nefarious villains with moral centres and conflicted heroes haunted by past transgressions. This is not a slice of Star Wars dominated by stunning production design, flawless visual effects and moody confrontations.
In this universe the stakes feel tangible, the characters consistently take responsibility for their actions, but more importantly audiences will care. In a funny sort of way, this is everything the final three feature films should have been. Obi-Wan Kenobi is driven by story not dictated to by demographics or box office bums of seats.
The time of the Jedi is just beginning and it starts now.
The first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are streaming on Disney+ now. New episodes will be released weekly on Wednesdays.
Watch: The cast of Obi-Wan Kenobi talk to Yahoo