A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a hermit in the desert passed down a father’s lightsaber to the son. He said, “This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.” Obi-Wan Kenobi: Season One is a blaster, clumsy and random, but given enough shots it eventually hits what it’s aiming for.
What the show never quite gets past is its status as a story between stories, filling in a gap between Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005) and Episode IV: A New Hope (1977). Ten years have passed since the fall of the Jedi Order. Luke is barely aware of the need for power converters, growing up on Owen and Beru’s moisture farm. Leia lives in isolated luxury, caught between her own off-world dreams and the expectations of her political life. Obi-Wan has become a recluse, having cast off the Jedi code that had failed him, and somewhere out there Anakin Skywalker, now Darth Vader, hunts Kenobi and the remaining Jedi.
Throughout the movies Obi-Wan’s life has always been tied to a Skywalker, and the show has no plans on breaking the wheel. Because Luke is busy not knowing anything about the Jedi, it leaves Leia as the only other available Skywalker to shoe horn into the plot. She seems to be living a safe life, just as far from excitement as it is from danger, but all it takes is a group of suddenly appearing generic mercenaries and a terribly shot chase scene to prove otherwise.
It’s here that Obi-Wan Kenobi shares a problem with Captain Marvel (2019), in that most of the characters involved, that the show wants you to be worried about, all have fully developed stories that occur after the events of the show. There are fight scenes, chases, threats of torture, threats of death, and none of it carries any weight because the fates have already been written. The illusion that any of the characters involved are in any danger just never materializes, despite all the attempts that are made to make it seem like anybody, let alone Leia, is at risk for anything.
The call to adventure is issued to Obi-Wan. Princess Leia has been kidnapped, and for some reason, only the most wanted Jedi in the entire galaxy can track her down. Naturally, Obi-Wan says no, he has Luke to watch over, as well as his obligations to his full-time job chopping meat, but after an entire episode of brooding and routine he unpacks his lightsaber and sets out for one more adventure.
Like any good monomyth, Obi-Wan will have his set of challenges to overcome. His former apprentice is out there but isn’t alone. There’s a group of Jedi hunting inquisitors, plucked right out the expanded Star Wars universe to try and chase Kenobi down. While it’s the Grand Inquisitor that gets to say the big speeches, it’s a subordinate Sith that steals the show. It was the Inquisitor Reva that arranged for Leia to be kidnapped, to lure Kenobi out of hiding.
And that’s the main problem that the first half of the show has: it doesn’t have enough meaningful story to tell, filling out its time with characters that don’t matter and scenes that go nowhere. The Inquisitors are shown hunting a Jedi, but the death of that character doesn’t affect or inspire anyone. There’s a scene where Reva is racing across rooftops to get to Obi-Wan, but then the show just cuts away from her, and the next time she’s seen she’s the last of the Inquisitors to show up.
There is, at least, plenty of Star Wars action, with blaster fights to lightsaber duels and back. The action functions well enough, but suffers from an excess of shaky cam, combined with a lot of close-ups that cut to overhead shots and back to close-ups. Fight scenes seem to only happen at night, with only the glow of the lightsabers illuminating the action. At a distance all that can be seen is the twirling of the lightsabers, and up close there’s only the frantic expressions of the actors involved. On one hand it means that the choreography of fights gets lost in the camera work, but there is a clear intention to emphasize the emotion in the characters first and foremost.
It takes a long time to build up to, but when the final confrontations show up the story and the characters involved have actually developed to such a degree that there is something dramatic to capture. It’s at this point that there actually seems to be an understanding of what a story between stories can accomplish. Just because the ending is known doesn’t mean that the journey itself can’t be emotionally meaningful, and so when Obi-Wan draws to a close the important thing is about why they fight, not who they’re fighting. While Obi-Wan Kenobi may have started out poorly, its finale actually makes for a thrilling, though sometimes obvious, conclusion to a series that could have benefited from some focus.