It’s been 17 years since Ewan McGregor last played Obi-Wan Kenobi on-screen in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (RotS). Although the Star Wars prequels garnered quite an infamous reputation as bad films, for many of us kids sitting in theaters in 2005, RotS was a cultural moment and the experience of seeing Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan’s climactic battle was unforgettable.
Fans have been looking forward to an Obi-Wan Kenobi series for a long time, and now it’s finally here. Let’s dive into what the premiere holds in store for us.
The episode may not be the most exciting opening, but it does a good job of (re)introducing many of the major players involved in the series and the conflicts they’ll create or work to overcome. We quickly meet the Grand Inquisitor (Rupert Friend) and his supporting inquisitors, Third Sister (aka Reva, played with contrasting rage and gracefulness by Moses Ingram) and Fifth Brother (Sung Kang). They arrive with a threatening presence on Tatooine to harass the locals into revealing the location of a Jedi.
Although there was some fan backlash to the Grand Inquisitor’s design when images of him were first released, Rupert Friend does not falter. His presence on-screen offers a sense of stillness that contrasts well against Reva’s impulsive approach. When the Grand Inquisitor tries a dramatic-yet-controlled monologue to root out a Jedi, Reva snaps, throwing a knife at a barkeeper in order to find the Jedi present. She’s right; it works–the Jedi named Nari (Benny Safdie) uses the Force to stop the weapon. The Grand Inquisitor chastises the Third Sister for her impetuousness, but the show has established her methods as unfortunately successful. It also sets up her burning hatred for Obi-Wan and her insistence on finding him.
Speaking of our title hero, ten years after the events of RotS, the series finds him living in a cave, working a laborious job, and keeping an eye on Luke (Grant Feely) despite his uncle Owen’s (Joel Edgerton) distrust. Interestingly, Obi-Wan’s routine of work, return, and dinner prep reminded me of Rey’s from The Force Awakens. Even the pop-up meal is similar. (Yes, I was one of the people hoping Rey would end up being a Kenobi, so I’m happy to get any parallels I can.)
The Jedi Nari turns up to beg Obi-Wan for help, but he only finds warning. Obi-Wan tells him to go into the desert, bury his lightsaber, and pursue a normal life. Later in the episode, Obi-Wan goes into town and finds the Jedi dead, strung up for his crime of simply existing.
The real heart of the episode for me comes with the introduction of the young Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair). We first find Leia running through the woods after she has just pulled a prank on her mother. She’s joined by her small, floating droid Lola as they watch ships pass by in the skies of Alderaan. Blair gives a splendid performance as the young princess, locating a sharp and strong note on the same frequency as Carrie Fisher’s original portrayal. This young version of Leia not only elevates the character, but helps infuse the show with a sense of energy that contrasts the world-weary moodiness of Obi-Wan.
Back on Tatooine, we see evidence of Owen’s distaste for Obi-Wan when he confronts him in town after the latter leaves a toy for Luke at the farm. Obi-Wan wants to train Luke eventually, but Owen wants him to have no part in the boy’s life. Owen even reminds him of his failure to properly train Anakin. “Anakin is dead, Ben, and I won’t let you make the same mistake twice,” he says. This line introduces the fact that neither Owen nor Obi-Wan know Anakin is alive, much less that he’s Darth Vader.
Following this conversation, the Inquisitors arrive on the spot, looking for the Jedi who asked Obi-Wan for help. Third Sister Reva picks Owen out from the crowd to harass, and despite her threats to kill his family, Owen does not give Obi-Wan up to them.
After attending a party, devastating her rude cousin with one of the wittiest reads imaginable for a kid, and having a heartfelt conversation with her adoptive father Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), Leia runs back to play in the woods. While there, she’s confronted by kidnappers, and although she sprints away toward the royal guards, she’s captured. Queen Breha (Simone Kessell) and Bail reach out to Obi-Wan to help rescue her. Obi-Wan says that his “duty is to the boy” but Bail asks “What about your duty to his sister?” In a powerful move for feminist portrayals in Star Wars, Bail asserts that Leia is just as important as Luke. Although Luke, as the protagonist of the original trilogy and the first to train in the Force, often overshadows Leia’s force sensitivity, this line is an excellent reminder that Leia also has a key role to play in the galaxy. She’s never been less important than Luke, especially to those who care about her. After a face-to-face visit from Bail, Obi-Wan caves to his request and heads into the desert to retrieve his lightsaber.
The end of the episode reveals that Leia’s kidnapping is Reva’s elaborate scheme to root out Obi-Wan. The episode’s final images are of Obi-Wan leaving Tatooine to journey elsewhere in search of the princess while potentially walking into a trap.
It’s also important to touch upon the unfortunate opening of the episode. After a helpful recap of the prequel trilogy films, the episode begins with a flashback to troopers breaking into a classroom and attacking younglings during Order 66 (the event in RotS when clones executed an order to kill all Jedi). A teacher sacrifices herself for her students, and these images will certainly hit home for many viewers still reeling from news of the Uvalde school shooting in Texas.
Overall, this episode isn’t the strongest we’ve seen for a Disney+ Star Wars premiere (which, in my opinion, still belongs to The Mandalorian), but it will be meaningful to many fans to see Obi-Wan again as well as a young Luke and Leia. A little more sense of urgency and tension to the scenes, especially the ones with Obi-Wan, could have helped this feel like more of a gripping first chapter, but we still have a lot to look forward to with the rest of the series.