The title card says it all.
It's 45 years later and the story is again riding on Obi-Wan Kenobi and friends. When Star Wars first came out, it was groundbreaking and unlike anything that had been done before. So unlike prior films, it was accidentally planted in the realm of science fiction, like that other groundbreaking series, Star Trek.
Well, it's never been science fiction. It's pure fantasy in a technological world. Which is very different.
This time out, we get to see Obi-Wan and the Empire at odds with each other when both are at their worst. The time periods in Star Wars have always been shakey to me. Rather than think in years, it's better to just run with "this show is before Star Wars and after the prequels". Nailing down years in a galaxy far far away and a long time ago is rather difficult and really the series does not suffer for it. However, there are a pair of very obvious clocks in this series in the form of characters.
Since this is before Star Wars, we get to see a different type of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sir Alec Guinness made Old Ben the stately figure we all grew up with. He hated every moment of it, no matter how much we loved him for it. Back in the prequel years, Ewan McGregor was forced into the mold of what Sir Guinness gave us and I really enjoyed his interpretation of what this old war hero was all about. But it wasn't exactly what I expected of Ewan McGregor. He seem hemmed in by what had gone before.
With this new series, we see a new, new side to Old Ben. It will be no spoiler for the reader to talk about the prequels. With just under 7 hours of content, the prequels covered a lot of ground. It introduced a younger Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council then ripped them away as the Republic shifted to the Empire and the Sith destroyed the Jedi Council.
The next 7 hours of film, the original 3 films, give the viewer the old washed-up version of the Jedi which has faded into legend and myth. To this, we can add some unusual choices for bridging material. Three cartoon series have filled in the gaps to some extent: The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch plus two live-action features, Solo and Rogue One which ducked away from Jedi story entirely. The viewer should be very aware of what the Empire has been up to all this time. It's quite a lot really and all of it is bad.
This series should answer the questions we do not know the answers to, where has Obi-Wan been all this time?
The last time we saw Obi-Wan, he had delivered Leia and Luke to adoptive parents with an uncharacteristic smile. It was very strange to see Obi-Wan's world completely destroyed and his only hope in the hands of two children he would not see as prospects for change for many decades. That unnerving smile at the end of the prequels didn't seem reasonable but in light of what was happening to Obi-Wan in the series, it could have been either a complete mask of his true disgust or indicative of being on the horrible end of a complete breakdown.
After seeing the first episode of this new series, I think perhaps that it is the second. Obi-Wan has suffered a very real breakdown and the smile was merely an indication of how broken he was at the end of those stories. This new series starts with a very slow slog through Old Ben's life as he performs the most mechanical and boring duty: survive on a wasteland planet and hope that nothing bad happens to Luke. Of course, that is not where the episode ends. There are some important evolutions to Ben's duties and outlook on life in those 50 minutes.
Rather than tell you about this or that plot point and spoil it for the reader, I will merely point out which aspects of the show I enjoyed. First, the first episode was written by Stuart Beattie and Hossein Amini of Pirates of the Caribbean and Gangs of New York fame. Respectively, of course. I cannot stress how far away from the laughs of Captain Jack Sparrow Ben is, and I can happily report that Obi-Wan Kenobi is not nearly as gritty as Gangs of New York was. Thank the Maker!
With this material to work with, the series director could deliver the typical rich setting that Lucas was known for in the first three Star Wars films. However, rather than CGI the crap out of everything, there are a lot of practical effects which reminded me of both the original three movies and TV shows like Dr. Who. A lot is done with very little, which is nice to see in a Disney production. As much as I like Disney, there is something to be said about economy in storytelling.
Being made for the small screen, the scope and extent of the stages needed to be limited. I am pretty certain that there is CGI I couldn't see in every scene, but hey, that's the best type of CGI. The story is a limited one from Ben's point of view and the nature of made-for-TV actually hints at far wider vistas than what the show delivers. The viewer's impression is that the edges of the screen simply lose details. There is not a cast of 1000s, a lot of scenes are filmed top down so as to hide the edge of the stage. and sometimes, the detail simply peters out at the edges.
That's actually great.
It calls back the original movies while also having a psychological purpose. Ben is so burned out at this point that he is far beyond kiting checks Big Lebowski style for trivial amounts. His world has collapsed to just what the viewer can see.
Actually, it's less.
As the first episode progresses, the viewer receives a very different rendition of the character than McGregor gave 20 years ago and a wildly out-of-character performance relative to what Sir Alex Guinness gave us 45 years ago. It's not surprising that this would happen, because Ben is neither one of those characters in this series. What will be fascinating to see is the transition between old and new Obi-Wan and how that comes to be.
I look forward to episode two.
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