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‘Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Complete Series’ (4K UHD Blu-ray review)

Disney

 

It’s a ballsy move to tell a story of Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi during his time on Star Wars’ seminal planet of Tatooine.

Tasked with keeping a protective eye over the future hero of the Galaxy, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan is drawn into an off-planet mission and the show straddles a fine line to execute an adventure without running rough-shot over canon.

This story revolves, in part, around Obi-Wan’s former apprentice, and now iconic villain Darth Vader’s obsession with hunting down his former master.

It’s a great hook, and this is where the show both succeeds and fails.

With only six episodes, the series gets off to a strong start catching up with Obi-Wan since last we saw him in Revenge of the Sith, handing off baby Luke to his adoptive parents Owen and Beru Lars on Tatooine.

Played by the charismatic Ewan McGregor of the Prequel Trilogy, the guilt-ridden Kenobi is just getting by. He’s left his Jedi ways behind as not to attract attention and right off the bat this is going to be a show about one finding himself, again. Love it.

It’s Darth Vader’s goons, the Inquisitors, arrival that sets this adventure into motion leading to a spectacular showdown between Kenobi and Darth Vader.

One Inquisitor, Reva, designated the Third Sister, has ambitions of her own and draws out Kenobi by orchestrating the kidnapping of Luke’s twin sister, Leia, not knowing that Leia and Luke are the children of Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader.

Approached by Leia’s adoptive father Bail Organa, Obi-Wan accepts the quest to rescue Leia and we’re off!

One of the hazards of having had seen the original Star Wars countless times, my nerd brain is constantly continuity-checking each detail. For the most part, great care was taken to get it right. Having adopted the name Ben, Obi-Wan’s contentious relationship with Owen Lars is on point adding weight to Phil Brown’s characterization in the original film.

10-year-old Leia taking charge during her rescue with Obi-Wan not only reminds us of Carrie Fisher’s Leia, but also of her character’s mother Padme which is a beautiful nod to the past and the future. It’s a satisfying story beat.

While some may feel like details such as Obi-Wan gifting young Luke his T-16 Skyhopper model seen in the original film or using T-47 Airspeeders, The Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth Snowspeeders, may have been fan service, these are the sorts of things that put a smile on my face as a fan.

The characterization of Obi-Wan himself is perfect. We’re sympathetic to his difficult situation and feel both his inner turmoil vs his dedication to his mission. Whether it’s a homeless clone veteran or a con-artist with a glimmer of morality, Obi-Wan helps every chance he gets. We’re rooting for him. It’s a well written part and no one other than Ewan McGregor could have pulled it off.

But, where the series does justice to Obi-Wan Kenobi, it does injustice to Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan Kenobi begins to lose focus with the introduction of Darth Vader at the end of Part II.

Here, Obi-Wan learns that Anakin Skywalker is still alive. It’s a scene I didn’t know I needed and I’m grateful for it. However, where the series goes wrong is in its use of the character of Darth Vader himself. It’s a tale of the two Darth Vaders and is arguably what keeps this Star Wars adventure painfully short of greatness.

First the perfect Darth Vader.

There are two outstanding sequences. In Part III when Vader arrives on the mining planet where Obi-Wan is seeking transport to get Leia back to her father, his march down the settlement’s street is terrifying. He’s vicious and cruel, killing innocent people just using the force as an example to others who would defy The Empire. And he doesn’t say a word. The other sequence is Part V’s duel with Reva, the Third Sister, who we learn is out for revenge on Vader. The fight is superb with Vader not drawing his own lightsaber at all. This is the Darth Vader who lives rent free in our nightmares.

Then we have the other Darth Vader. The Darth Vader who talks.

What makes Darth Vader work in the original trilogy was the mystique surrounding his character. He said little. And when he did speak, he spoke to our fears and ignited our imaginations with the lure of a mysterious dark power he wields just by thought.

Starting with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, modern Star Wars forgets that less is more.

Darth Vader invokes fear with his presence alone and unless there’s a veiled threat to his underlings, each time Darth Vader speaks, it erodes his mystery and power. Darth Vader doesn’t need to explain himself to anyone. If he’s force-throttling you, you know you erred, and you probably know why.

Today’s audience understands just the same as we did in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The talking Darth Vader was distracting, leaning more towards an Arnold Schwarzenegger quipster over the villainous Dark Lord of the Sith that we grew up with. Had the filmmakers shown a bit more restraint with Darth Vader’s dialogue, Obi-Wan Kenobi could have been something special.

The series still does a great job of world building, specifically The Path. A galaxy-wide network hiding Jedi who survived the purge known as Order 66 and those younglings who are showing as force sensitive. Star Wars’ underground railroad.

The tomb Obi-Wan finds while rescuing Leia for a second time in Part IV is morbid and perhaps teases what is come in the post Empire era of The Mandalorian.

As a bonus to extended universe fans, we get another mention of Jedi Master Quinlan Vos, a popular comic book character that made appearances in The Clone Wars animated series, a blink and you’ll miss him appearance in The Phantom Menace, and a shout out in Revenge of the Sith.

Speaking of Order 66, Part I leads off with a spectacular Order 66 sequence that out-shines by a mile any seen in Revenge of the Sith. This sequence joins the club of the outstanding Order 66 sequence in the premier episode of The Bad Batch series.

For a solid as continuity held at the start of the series, by the end, in Part VI, I found myself asking whether the story threads made sense.

Reva’s confrontation with the Lars family made sense story-wise for her character. However, the greater concern is Luke’s memory and how he could forget this incident as he learns of the Jedi and the Force from Obi-Wan ten years later. Perhaps if Reva had gone after Luke sans lightsaber, it would have made more sense.

The most important scene in the entire series however, rests on reconciling Vader’s iconic line in Star Wars when he meets Obi-Wan on the Death Star for their legendary showdown; “The circle is now complete.  When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the Master.”

Part V of the series did an excellent job of showing Anakin’s hubris during the flashbacks of Obi-Wan and Anakin Skywalker sparring. These scenes beautifully help us understand their complected relationship. The story begs for this to be played out again in their final duel in Part VI.

It did not.

By the very nature of his wisdom and experience, it felt like Obi-Wan should have still been teaching Anakin that his anger blinds him. Perhaps even reaching out to the good that is still left in Anakin. It’s a moment I feel like the entire series was building towards. What we got was a well-choreographed lightsaber duel with zero emotional gravitas.

I did appreciate, however, Obi-Wan’s mocking of Anakin by calling him “Darth” upon his exit. It absolutely screams of retconning the fact that “Darth” was Vader’s proper first name in the original Star Wars, not a Sith title. It makes me think twice about it when I watch the original Star Wars, in a good way.

Extras include featurettes, commentary by director Deborah Chow on episode Part VI, and art cards.

Overall, I don’t think Obi-Wan Kenobi gets the credit it deserves. But, it’s not as great as it could have been.

 

 

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