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It's a question that's vexed Star Wars fans for decades: How did the bad guys not find Luke Skywalker when he was literally hiding in his father's old home? New Disney Plus miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, streaming now, will reveal the answer. But the real question is, can a minor continuity error actually be stretched out to create an entire TV series worth your time?
And is there really a compelling story to be told when you already know how it turns out?
Thankfully, on the strength of the first two episodes -- both available to stream on Disney Plus today, followed by further installments each Wednesday -- the answer appears to be yes. Obi-Wan Kenobi (the show) is an assured, pacey and exciting new series that knows just how to use familiar elements -- and, crucially, how to hold some back -- in a story that is, most importantly, character-driven.
(Be warned that the first episode opens with a scene depicting children under attack, which may be upsetting to viewers in the wake of the Texas school shooting.)
This series could have gone either way, let's face it. It features Proper Movie Star Ewan McGregor wielding both a beard and a lightsaber, and focuses on one of the most engaging characters in the whole Star Wars saga. But more than any recent Star Wars shows, it's built from Star Wars at its best (the original film) and Star Wars at its worst (the overblown, computer-effects-blighted prequel trilogy). And it follows the stodgy Book of Boba Fett, another tale of a familiar Star Wars mainstay which undid some of the goodwill around streaming hit The Mandalorian.
But the series is safe in the hands of writers Hossein Amini (who wrote Drive, McMafia and more), regular Pixar writer Andrew Stanton, Pirates of the Caribbean writer Stuart Beattie, Hannah Friedman (who's also working on Willow for Disney) and showrunner Joby Harold, with director Deborah Chow. Between them, the creators of this series find the gripping human drama at the heart of this story.
Yes, it's a fantasy theme park of laser swords and rocket ships. But Obi-Wan -- now simply "Ben" -- is a broken war veteran who not only lost a surrogate son but also saw his whole civilization fall to darkness. He's a defeated man, and all he has left is a child he can never even speak to. This makes him a hugely compelling character. The story cleverly strips this beloved character back to a shell, and in the hands of an actor as good as Ewan McGregor it's a moving journey to watch. Watching Obi-Wan agonize over not just a call to adventure in episode 1 but also a horrifying personal revelation in episode 2, I suspect this series will see McGregor finally leave behind comparison with Alec Guinness (who originally played Obi-Wan in A New Hope). Guinness, the Oscar-winning star of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, will always be a titan of cinema. But his brief in 1977 was to play a spritely and slightly batty space wizard. By contrast, McGregor gets to play the anguish and conflict etched into this devastated man's soul.
Enlarge Image c1.6,0,3-0.5,4.1-1.5l3.5,3.5c0.1,0.1,0.2,0.1,0.3,0.1c0,0,0,0,0,0c0.1,0,0.3-0.1,0.3-0.2l0.8-0.9C16,14.8,16,14.5,15.9,14.3zRuthless Imperial baddie Reva (a chilling Moses Ingram) is an instantly engaging addition to the Star Wars canon.
The creators' other cunning move is making the villains much more than cardboard cutout baddies. The black-clad Inquisitors are an order of fascist fanatics, but they're not above a bit of office politics. The divisions between Rupert Friend's moon-faced Grand peatix.com Inquisitor and his impatient underling Reva mirror the Padawan relationship between Jedi master and apprentice. And even though she's a ruthless functionary of an evil regime, chillingly played by Moses Ingram, the troubled and ambitious Reva ends up being just relatable enough to be engaging.
For a space shoot-'em-up, the series also touches on some timely themes. Star Wars continues to provide a metaphor for the insidiousness of evil, with an oily ambassador chuckling that "the Empire is finally lining some pockets" as he laughs off slavery and munches canapés. Children thoughtlessly repeat their parents' bigotry, while Obi-Wan himself grapples with his responsibility to the next generation.
The opening episodes set up the show as potentially progressing along similar lines to The Mandalorian, in which our tough hero took Baby Yoda under his wing.