Obi-Wan Kenobi tries to hide from established Star Wars canon in an uneven premiere

·8 min read
Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi

There’s a moment early on in the first episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s two-part premiere that, while an astute observation about how the Jedi work as characters, seems explicitly designed to be an explanation for why everything happens the way it does: Reva, the Sith Inquisitor known as Third Sister (Moses Ingram), notes that “the Jedi code is like an itch.” Jedi cannot resist helping someone who is in trouble, so if you want to flush out a Jedi in hiding, just start hurting people and eventually you’ll have a blue or green lightsaber in your face.

Reva’s trick works very well on Nari, a terrible Jedi who somehow survived an entire decade of being pursued by the Empire even though his version of “hiding” is more like “just being a Jedi and hoping nobody notices.” See, Obi-Wan Kenobi—if Disney+’s recap of the prequels and its prologue scene, which we’ll get to later, didn’t tip you off—takes place in the increasingly crowded window between Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith and the original Star Wars, with the Emperor’s Order 66 turning the Jedi into criminals and his Sith Inquisitors (introduced in Star Wars: Rebels) hunting down the few that remain.

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Obi-Wan himself doesn’t show up for a while in the first episode, and when he does, he’s seemingly serving as a counterpoint to Reva’s argument about Jedi. He spends his days working with a crew on Tatooine that’s harvesting some big dead monster, chopping up its bits into meat and then getting their daily salary from some pay robot. When one of Obi-Wan’s coworkers complains about not getting as much as he’s owed, another guy yells at him. Obi-Wan watches it happen, rather than standing up against (admittedly small) tyranny.

At night he goes home to his cave and occasionally sneaks out to the desert to spy on little Luke Skywalker (sent to live with his aunt and uncle on their moisture farm at the end of Episode III), and that’s it for Obi-Wan… until Nari shows up and asks for him, swinging his lightsaber around to prove he’s a Jedi and ignoring Obi-Wan’s pleas to shut up and accept that the Empire won. “The time of the Jedi is over, he says.” But, like Reva said, he’ll have to scratch that itch eventually.

Which brings us to the surprising main plot of these first two episode: Young Leia Organa, played by Vivien Lyra Blair, is getting into hijinks on her adoptive planet of Alderaan. She runs from a fancy party held by her parents (including a welcome return from Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa) and is captured by a criminal goon named by Vect, distractingly played by Flea. Bail Organa reaches out to Obi-Wan for help, because he’s the only one who knows that there’s more to Leia that just being the adopted daughter of a famous politician. Obi-Wan initially refuses, but after seeing Nari dead and strung up in the middle of town he gives in and agrees to break his oath to keep an eye on Luke so he can go save Leia.

This is where the show runs into a bunch of Star Wars canon problems that it just creates for itself out of a desire to give Obi-Wan something to do beyond sit in a desert until the events of the original movie. Leia’s “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” message that she gives to R2-D2 in the movie seems to imply that she and Obi-Wan do not know each other, but she eventually does meet Obi-Wan in part two of the premiere and she hears him referred to as Obi-Wan—despite his insistence that he is called “Ben.”

It’s too early to say if this is A Problem, because this is just the premiere and there are many more episodes to go, but as a Star Wars nerd who questions the need for some of these Big and Important spin-off stories, I can’t help but notice it.

The good news is that the second episode is a lot more interesting and exciting than the first one, with Obi-Wan using the Game Boy Advance he stashed in his secret Jedi box to track Leia to Los Angeles from Blade Runner, or at least the Star Wars version of it. Dressing like a Jedi and wearing his lightsaber on his hip, Obi-Wan has adopted Nari’s extremely unsuccessful version of “hiding,” and a kid quickly invites him to meet with a suspiciously helpful Jedi named Haja Estree (Kumail Nanjiani, clearly having a blast).

Haja is helping force-sensitive kids get out of the city, and while he’s lying about being a Jedi, his heart is still pretty clearly in the right place. He guides Obi-Wan to Flea’s lair, and after sabotaging some kind of drug lab, Obi-Wan gets into a fight with some goons that cleverly makes it clear that he can’t effortlessly hold his own in a fight anymore—he’s been in a cave for a decade, after all, seeding in some continuity for the fact that he’s going to turn into Alec Guinness in a few years.

Speaking of Obi-Wan’s age, little Leia repeatedly makes references to him being ancient, which is definitely not the case, but it feels like a little wink at the audience to wave away the inconsistency of Ewan McGregor’s appearance versus Guinness’. Also: Little Leia is a lot of fun. Extremely precocious and cute, like a Star Wars version of Anya from Spy X Family, and I like that her precociousness actually becomes a problem for Obi-Wan when she immediately figures out that he’s a Jedi and that the bad guys are coming after her to get to him.

That being said, I would also note that the complexity of this evil plot, with Reva kidnapping Bail Organa’s daughter simply because she knows that Obi-Wan met Bail during the Clone Wars and she wants to flush Obi-Wan out, is absurd. She has no way of knowing that Bail isn’t going to send in his army, as Leia assumes he will. It’s just very convenient for Reva that Bail must keep the kidnapping quiet and therefore can’t ask anyone other than Obi-Wan for help, even though she would’ve had no reason to assume that he’d want to keep it quiet… regardless of who Leia’s father is, she’s the adopted daughter of a famous senator! It can be a big deal if she gets kidnapped, and nobody is going to think “hold on, why does this guy care so much that his daughter got kidnapped?”

Obi-Wan eventually gains Leia’s trust by using his powers to save her from falling, and with some help from Haja (he is is a nice guy!) they find a way to escape. Before that, though, Obi-Wan tells Leia that she reminds him of someone he knew, a “fearless and stubborn” woman, making this maybe the first time ever that Star Wars has acknowledged the existence of Padme Amidala since her death. It’s nice to see that not every member of the Skywalker family must define themselves by their relationship (or lack thereof) to Darth Vader.

And hey, the episode ends with Obi-Wan learning from Reva that Vader is indeed still alive, and we get a hard cut to a wrinkled and roasted Anakin floating in a tub with a breathing mask on. Of course… it will really break the canon if Obi-Wan and Vader meet at any point before A New Hope, but we’ll see how Obi-Wan Kenobi handles that.


Stray observations

  • Reva is obviously one of those padawans from the beginning, right? Why show that otherwise? And if it’s so obvious, why not just make it explicit?

  • On the subject of “why show that”… uh, it probably wouldn’t have hurt Disney to throw a disclaimer or something in front of this episode just so everyone knows going in that the first thing you’ll see is what is essentially cops shooting at children. Certainly not Disney’s fault, but it still hits hard after this week.

  • The meaningless sci-fi babble in every Alderaan scene felt very unlike Star Wars to me. Yes, there are things about “blasting womp rats” and “banthaa poodoo” in the movies, but every line in those scenes was “it’s like raising a glor-ag” or “you’ll get sweetmallows.” What’s wrong with Han Solo saying “I’ll see you in Hell” and all that?

  • It’s worth saying that the basic plot here—a Jedi in hiding after Order 66, working a menial job, forced to expose themself under threat from Imperial Inquisitors—is a whole lot like Jedi: Fallen Order. That game also spent time humanizing (so to speak) a Sith Inquisitor, specifically the Second Sister, with Reva here being the Third Sister.

  • Hello there! I will not be your regular Obi-Wan Kenobi recapper. I’m just popping in for this week. If you’d like to know my Star Wars cred to determine whether or not my opinions are valid, my ranking is: 1. The Last Jedi, 2. All of the others including the other shows, 3. The Rise Of Skywalker. Oh, look at the time! Gotta go!