The Problem With Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi (Review)
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As we approach the end of season 3 of The Mandalorian, my love of Star Wars continues to be strained. Unfortunately, shows like Andor have not been able to cleanse my memory of, for example, the soulless mistake they dropped about a year ago. Time to rant.
After seventeen years of waiting, Ewan McGregor finally returned as the fan favorite, sassy but wise, jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, the eponymous show was poorly directed, had lackluster action, and retconned pre-established lore. As a longtime Star Wars fan, I had been desperately longing for the return of this character. But I can safely say it’s my least favorite Disney+ show to date.
Star Wars has been the number one franchise in my life for a while now. Me and my friends were obsessed with the movies growing up, constantly attempting to prove ourselves as the biggest fan of the bunch. At every opportunity, we would use our jedi mind tricks to dupe our parents into purchasing yet another overpriced LEGO Star Wars set.
We grew up on the prequels, a trilogy of movies that has been ridiculed and nailed to a cross for its various shortcomings, but a trilogy of movies that we loved nonetheless. Since then, the internet has embraced them more warmly, both for their meme value and their merits as films.
One of the main upsides of the trilogy, according to fans and critics alike, was Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Scotsman had a certain sass and swagger that, in a trilogy bogged down by space politics and poor CGI, stood out as engaging and endlessly entertaining. This garnered McGregor and his iteration of Kenobi a massive fanbase, which Lucasfilm has finally caved to in releasing a Disney+ show that stars him.
Obi-Wan Kenobi follows the jedi master in a post-Order 66 world, where the jedi order is all but extinct after a galaxy-wide slaughter. The merciless Empire has taken over control and Kenobi has been hiding out on the desert planet of Tatooine for ten years, protecting the only hope in defeating them, Luke Skywalker. After being roped into rescuing Luke’s sister, Leia, he is faced with confronting his greatest fears and reconnecting himself to the force.
The show was on the receiving end of a relentless smear campaign by what has colloquially been termed the Fandom Menace. This group consists of largely far-right nutjobs who discuss the Star Wars franchise and berate it for peddling a woke agenda of radical feminism and forced diversity. In spite of the original trilogy literally being an analogy for American imperialism and the Vietnam war, these ‘fans’ believe Disney has made Star Wars too political.
This resulted in the following: “Disney and Ewan McGregor condemn ‘horrendous’ racism sent to Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram.” Ingram, a woman of color, portrays the inquisitor Reva, a jedi hunter who is obsessed with capturing Kenobi. She shared various abusive DMs from people who claim the show is terrible and view her only as a diversity hire.
You would think knowing what happened to Ahmed Best, Jake Lloyd, and more recently Kelly Marie Tran, people would be more mindful of what they say to and about others online. They were relentlessly ridiculed and bullied, which came at the expense of their mental health. Perhaps, like people have done with the prequels, fans will come around on Obi-Wan Kenobi, seeing its merits years after all the vitriol.
For me, though, the show fails not in terms of on-camera talent, but in terms of everything else. I am no Star Wars purist, so possible breaks in the canon do not concern me much. The reason I dislike Obi-Wan Kenobi is that it is a gargantuan waste of potential and abysmally executed.
It’s hard to point out what exactly is the most outrageous issue, as it is more so a combination of many different factors. The fight choreography is amateurish and clumsy, the direction and camera work are poor, the CGI is mediocre, the art style is unimaginative, and the space the characters inhabit seems incredibly restricted.
The latter problem most likely results from their use of ‘the Volume’, a piece of innovative technology that allows for in-camera visual effects. Created for The Mandalorian (2019-), it is a “largely computer generated, photo-real environment that wraps around physical sets and real actors to create a seamless effect.” The issue, however, is that it also gives the audience the feeling that the sets lack depth and it becomes obvious that they are actually quite small.
After finishing the show, it felt to me that very little actually happened. Many of the scenes seem uneventful and the moments that should really hit hard lack gravitas. For instance, Kenobi sneaking into the Fortress Inquisitorius in episode four felt redundant as it was already done much better in the Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) video game.
Additionally, our first rematch between Kenobi and Vader, which had been hyped up in the marketing of the show, left me underwhelmed more than anything. It was sloppy, drawn out, and a let down from both a filmmaking and storytelling perspective.
Admittedly, their rematch in the finale was a massive improvement, yet it didn’t quite scratch the itch I was hoping it would. Seeing Hayden Christensen’s face and hearing his voice mixed in with an AI-generated James Earl Jones was pretty cool. However, the lead-up was excusable only through the lens of fan service. The choreography was rather simplistic, the environment was incredibly dull, and they kept cutting in footage of Reva clunkily going after a young Luke Skywalker, repeatedly deflating the tension of the climactic duel. It bored me.
Disney has traditionally refused to commit fully to longform television or full-length movies for these Disney+ properties, putting them in this six-episode limited television series limbo. They seem more like two-hour movies that have been stretched to fit multiple episodes, which is a problem I have felt with all of their other Disney+ shows except for The Mandalorian and WandaVision (2021). Weirdly enough, it seems that whenever the finale rolls around, the creators of the shows are playing catch up, attempting to neatly bring all the storylines to an end as a result of bouts of repetition and filler in previous episodes.
Another casualty of that format was The Book of Boba Fett (2021), a show which also failed to meet expectations for the return of a fan favorite character. Interestingly, Obi-Wan Kenobi somehow makes that show look great in comparison. That was a property where the titular character had no lines for two episodes of his own show as a result of it being hijacked by The Mandalorian. And, to be honest, I was kind of hoping the same would happen to Kenobi.
It seems that the people making the show attempted to do too much, while in reality doing very little. The inclusion of Vader, the inquisitors, and Leia, it all seems a little excessive. Too much time is spent on them.
They should have just kept Obi-Wan on Tatooine, a planet we have admittedly seen too much of. Even though the sand is coarse, rough, irritating, and gets everywhere, it feels like that’s where the story should have taken place. Kenobi, a traumatized, reclusive old man with a broken connection to the force, trying to make his way on this depressing desert planet. Low stakes and occasional flashbacks or nightmares about his past apprentice Anakin Skywalker, as he’s guided through his troubles by his old master Qui-Gon Jinn.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get that show, nor will we ever. On the bright side, there is plenty of great content out there, mostly due to Dave Filoni’s involvement with the franchise (I’m currently enjoying The Bad Batch (2021-) season two and looking forward to the Ahsoka (2023) series). In the meantime, watch Andor (2022), it’s a really good palate cleanser if you’re looking for a unique way of approaching Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi is just another mediocre TV show and doesn’t warrant sending anyone death threats. Just watch something else.