NOTE: This review assumes you have seen the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and are broadly familiar with the ins and outs of Star Wars lore.

Spoilers abound

Obi-Wan Kenobi has one job. How do you make him abandon it? That’s the question the creative team behind Obi-Wan Kenobi, Disney+’s latest small-screen Star Wars adventure, faced. Because while Ewan McGregor as the titular warrior and Joel Edgerton’s Uncle Owen, the gruff farmer whose nephew, Luke, is Kenobi’s main concern, are probably compelling enough to make six episodes of desert babysitting work, that’s not a show that’s going to be to everyone’s taste. Star Wars is about planet-hopping adventure, and if the recent Book of Boba Fett has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a reason both Luke and Anakin Skywalker were desperate to get off the desert rock of Tattooine. It’s a boring place to spend a TV show.

The solution is elegant. Luke Skywalker is safe, for now, dreaming away in the middle of nowhere. But what of his sister? What Disney and Lucasfilm have taken great pains to hide from us is that the MacGuffin of the Obi-wan Kenobi TV series is Princess Leia herself. While we do have a bit of scene-setting with Kenobi going about his extremely humdrum life as, literally, a smelly old tramp in the desert (we’ve seen his schedule – he is not busy), scraping a living butchering Krayt Dragon meat, bickering with Jawas and being savagely burned by Uncle Owen, it’s the kidnapping of Leia Organa on far-away, beautiful Alderaan (by, of all people, Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers) that kicks the story into gear. Obi-Wan must dig out his lightsabre (again, literally) and hop a transport on the tail of Leia’s kidnappers. What he doesn’t know is that the Princess is just bait. It’s a shame Obi-Wan is presumably yet to meet Admiral Ackbar, who could have told him exactly what he was walking into.

Reva (Moses Ingram) in Lucasfilm’s OBI-WAN KENOBI, exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. & ™. All Rights Reserved.

Episode 2 takes us to the Neon-drenched planet of Daiyu, a criminal hub and most wretched hive of scum and villainy, where the Jedi-hunting Imperial Inquisitor Reva (portrayed magnificently by Queen’s Gambit’s Moses Ingram), obsessed with catching Kenobi and winning the favour of Darth Vader, is waiting to spring her trap. It brings us what the Kenobi series was always desperately going to need: new locations, new bad guys, new allies. These stories always fall down when they make the universe feel small, retreading the same ground, the same characters, the same beats.

While Obi-Wan and Leia are characters we know, and fans of the animated Rebels show will recognise Reva’s boss, the Grand Inquisitor – a delicious, scenery-chewing Rupert Friend – this is a new tale with new objectives. The episode gives us plenty of action, with a rusty Obi-Wan relying on his hand-to-hand combat skills and proving he’s still nifty with one of those uncivilised, clumsy and random blasters, but it’s action that always serves the story. What’s notable is his reluctance to ignite his lightsaber, or use his Jedi powers at all … until Leia’s fall from a high building forces his hand. We end with Obi-Wan and Leia stowing away in an automated cargo ship, apparently safe for now, but with the Jedi master reeling from a new revelation: Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – is alive.

There’s plenty to enjoy in these two episodes; the feel is satisfyingly Star Wars-y, and director Deborah Chow does a fantastic job setting the rhythm and mood of the series. Like The Mandalorian and Book Of Boba Fett before it, the show looks beautifully cinematic and the fight sequences have some real punch. Unlike the Boba Fett series, thank the maker, the stakes feel substantive and we’re invested in them. It all works, and it works well. This is a good Star War.

Where Obi-Wan Kenobi really comes into its own, and perhaps even more so than any live-action Star Wars project since the original trilogy, is in how well and how completely it nails its characters, both in the writing and the performing. New baddie Reva, aka ‘Third Sister’, feels fleshed out and real already. She is magnetic and repulsive at once, and her ambition and power are wrapped neatly in Moses Ingram’s absolutely astonishing on-screen charisma. Joel Edgerton as the now-grizzly Owen Lars does an awful lot with not much, Kumail Nanjiani as bogus-Jedi conman Haja Estree is a great comic foil but hints at greater depths, and Rupert Friend’s Grand Inquisitor drips utter, arrogant menace.

The real standouts here – and they kind of had to be – are McGregor as Kenobi and relative newcomer (she is only nine, after all) Vivien Lyra Blair as Leia. McGregor, among the best actors in the franchise, completely inhabits what is arguably still his most famous role. Here he’s playing a broken Obi-Wan, a man who has lost everything, and whose every instinct has been beaten down, staying in the shadows while others are hurt, denying a desperate Jedi’s pleas for help; wilfully ignoring everything except his One Job – watching over Luke Skywalker. This is Kenobi midway between the charismatic and cunning warrior in Revenge of the Sith and the wise, calm and rather sanguine mentor of the first Star Wars. His descent into weary grief is understandable – but how he gets from the lonely vagabond we see here to the urbane mystic played by Alec Guinness is going to be an interesting journey to watch, and presumably not one we’ll get in just six episodes. If anyone can handle that, McGregor can.

The real revelation here, though, is nine-year-old Blair as the young Princess Leia, a genuine triumph of casting and performance (and just a few weeks after liar-liar-pants-on-fire Kathleen Kennedy told us that the series was done recasting legacy characters). Channelling the young Carrie Fisher would be a hard trick to pull off for any actor; that it feels so effortless here, from a performer so young, is nothing short of remarkable. Leia’s scenes are peppered with bolshy asides that echo the Leia of the original trilogy and Fisher’s feisty performance, to the point where Blair occasionally drops the register of her voice as Fisher does when she’s delivering Leia’s most savage put-downs. Princess Leia is very much the Baby Yoda of this series; and if she hadn’t worked, if the right person couldn’t be found, the whole thing would fall apart. It’s a triumph.

Notes and questions

Obi-Wan’s training with Qui-Gon has yet to begin. Despite Yoda’s attempt to set up a date on the astral plane between Kenobi and his old mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, it’s clear that either Obi-Wan has not yet learned to commune with the ghost of his master, or that Qui-Gon is choosing not to show himself. Perhaps he’s disappointed in his old padawan abandoning his Jedi robes and Jedi ways, or perhaps he has not yet learned how to incorporate as a force ghost. Maybe neither mind is sufficiently tuned to the Living and Cosmic force (they are things – look them up). Still, as this is clearly a transitional time for Obi-Wan, it’s not out of the question that we might see Liam Neeson reprise the character before the season is out, perhaps as a sign of Kenobi’s spiritual evolution.

Also, at some point, Ben is presumably going to build a house rather than continue to live in a cave, and ideally take a shower. That Jawa could smell him all the way from Anchorhead!

Obi-Wan doesn’t know that Anakin survived! This is a bit of a puzzler because lots of the Star Wars comics and novels suggest that Darth Vader was a relatively active force in the Empire, and those in the know would presumably have heard rumours of a powerful figure in pretty distinctive black armour with that name. Obi-Wan has been in isolation, of course, but as backwards as Tattooine is, it’s still a participant in the galaxy with communications, spaceports and access. You’d think Kenobi would be hungry for news. Was his isolation really that complete?

Meanwhile, Reva knows Vader’s real name! That’s as surprising as Kenobi not knowing that Obi-Wan is still alive. In Star Wars lore Vader’s real identity is a tightly-kept secret, and it’s not a given even that the Inquisitors would even know, let alone Reva, who we’re told is low in their ranks. Does she have her own relationship with Vader? And what is she “owed” that she thinks she’ll get for turning Kenobi in? Who is Reva? Is she one of the younglings in the cold open flashback?

The Star Wars Disney+ shows continue to pull the three trilogies together. We have flashbacks calls forward to both the original trilogy and prequel trologies, and Kenobi’s lifestyle echoes both Rey’s and Luke’s as they’re introduced in the sequels. In fact, Obi-Wan’s new life is extremely close to the one Luke will choose in the future, cutting himself off from the Force and abandoning any guardianship of the Galaxy at large. As well as this we have Reva reading information directly from Haja Estree’s mind; a power we see Kylo Ren using in The Force Awakens.

Leia knew Obi-Wan as ‘Ben’! It now makes a lot more sense that she gives her son that name since we know that they had a history. It also explains how she knows who Luke means when he says he’s “here with Ben Kenobi” in Star Wars.

The plan to hide Luke and Leia is still rubbish. Kenobi takes Luke to Anakin’s home planet and gives him to the closest person he has to a living relative without even changing his name, and then doesn’t even bother to shave his own beard or cut his hair to maintain his disguise. It’s all very well burying your lightsaber and getting a job in an alien meat-packing factory, but what’s the point when you still look exactly like Obi-Wan Kenobi? A man the Inquisitors have apparently been hunting for a decade. Meanwhile, it’s common knowledge that Leia is adopted – given Bail Organa’s close friendship with Padme and Obi-Wan, that seems incredibly risky: the Organas adopt a hither-to unannounced baby girl at the exact time that Anakin Skywalker’s pregnant wife dies? You’d think Vader might have checked up on that.