We are finally seeing Disney dialling in a legacy Star Wars character. Han Solo was the guinea pig. Luke Skywalker was the experiment. Leia Organa never had the chance. Boba Fett was the anti-experiment.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is Disney learning from past mistakes.
Spoilers. Leave now.
Each legacy character has been telegraphed over the last 40 years. Luke’s extended universe story had him becoming a wise grandmaster, much like Yoda. Han and Leia parented the next generation of Skywalker Jedi. Each of these characters had a backstory engrained in a gigantic audience, and Disney punted these backstories in favour of a new backstory. That new backstory wasn’t told quick enough or with enough force to make each legacy character’s fall believable. Grandmaster Luke in the extended universe to Blue Milk Luke in The Last Jedi was one of the strongest bits of whiplash an audience has seen in Hollywood history.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has been handled very, very differently. So much backstory has been written — this time, it was backstory that Disney decided to keep or continue, such as Clone Wars — telegraphing where Obi-Wan would be in the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. His fall into PTSD. His visions of the downfall of Anakin Skywalker. His belief that Anakin was dead.
All this stuff makes sense.
It was telegraphed over the last 20 years and Disney is simply following through. There’s nothing shocking about Obi-Wan. There’s nothing off-putting. It’s much easier to understand why Obi-Wan completely cuts himself off from the Force, why he makes mistakes, and why he’s so afraid. All these tendencies have been hinted at or built upon since the end of Revenge of the Sith.
Side note: How awesome would the sequel trilogy have been if Disney just followed through on the telegraphed path?
The Obi-Wan series benefits from more than just Disney’s learned lessons.
The series is benefiting from tremendous acting. This is Ewan McGregor mastering the Obi-Wan character. His confidence in the prequels followed by his fear in this series is masterful. How McGregor has been able to take the same habits and mannerisms from the prequels, moulded them with the Alec Guinness character, and somehow managed to switch from fearless Obi-Wan to afraid-of-everything Obi-Wan is truly amazing.
Moses Ingram! She was so stinking annoying in the first three episodes — an absolutely perfect portrayal of the pitifully annoying Inquisitors. If you’ve watched any Rebels episodes or played Jedi: Fallen Order, you’ll understand why she’s so annoying — these are fallen Jedi, artificially boldened and tempted with greed and power. Ingram has done an incredible job becoming that character in live action. I feel bad her character has to meet her end by the end of the series.
And Vader! Disney’s Star Wars has been dominated by characters behind masks (specifically The Mandalorian). It must be difficult to portray emotion when nobody can see your face. Pedro Pascal has been superb over the last few years with Din Djarin. I suppose we’re only getting started with Christensen’s version of Darth Vader.
I like how Christensen’s version of Vader incorporates some of the younger Anakin mannerisms. The way he walks through the village largely matches how Vader walks through Mustafar at the end of Revenge of the Sith. The best line in this show — “I am what you made me!” — nicely reflects the tone, pace, and structure of Vader’s quote “If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”
I believe Vader would have thrown the fire aside amidst his burning passion to torture and destroy Obi-Wan. At least the Vader in the comics would have done this.
But there’s plenty of evidence to show Vader opting to let his enemy go for the sake of catching more of his enemy’s friends. He lets the Falcon get away at the end of A New Hope to allow for Han, Leia, and Luke to lead him right to the Rebellion on Yavin. So, given the backstory, I can understand Vader allowing Obi-Wan to get away, especially after seeing the blue blaster bolts and the NED-B droid pulling Obi-Wan to safety.
This is also a more calculated Vader, a more mature Vader — a Vader that has killed nearly all the remaining Jedi after Revenge of the Sith. You don’t do that by running hotheaded through a fire.
This is Disney Star Wars at its best so far. Disney has learned from past mistakes. They’re following through on 40 years of telegraphed character behaviour. And they’re benefitting from actors and actresses exploring and mastering new elements of their characters.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is my favourite bit of Star Wars since the Disney purchase years ago. The Rogue One hallway scene ranks higher. The Luke hallway scene ranks higher. And perhaps the Clone Wars finale comes close.
But from a live action perspective, this is Star Wars just like my imagination fancied all those years ago.