Ewan McGregor Makes Triumphant Return to Troubled Galaxy


It might be surprising to remember, but about 25 years ago, people started to hate Star Wars. The franchise, one which probably dug the deepest trenches of fan warfare throughout its love-hate relationship with audiences, was of course beloved for the original films, but when George Lucas re-released ‘digitally enhanced’ versions of the Star Wars movies, many fans were pissed. That hardly compared to the apoplectic rage which overcame fans when the prequel trilogy first hit screens in 1999 with The Phantom Menace.

“Star Wars was my Vietnam,” comedian Brian Posehn liked to joke, and he wasn’t the only disgruntled superfan. Patton Oswalt included a bit in his stand-up set where he said, to waves of applause, that the first thing he’d do with a time machine would not be stopping the Kennedy assassination or the Holocaust, but rather to travel to 1993 and “kill George Lucas with a shovel to stop him from making the prequels. That’s how I would try to save history.” An entire documentary, The People vs. George Lucas, depicts throngs of upset fans embittered over what they believed to be the dismemberment and mutilation of their childhood nostalgia with the prequel trilogy.


Obi-Wan Kenobi Two Decades Later

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This part of nerd history has been seemingly erased, at least if the breathless anticipation over the Disney+ original series Obi-Wan Kenobi is any indication. Instead of the red-faced screams directed at Hayden Christensen, many people seem overjoyed that he and others from the prequel trilogy are back (even fueling speculation for Christensen’s own spinoff as Darth Vader), and everyone’s forgotten that he ‘won’ two Golden Raspberry Awards For Worst Supporting Actor.

Even Ewan McGregor, as fan-favorite Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi, had a hard time putting up with the hate toward the prequel films. “They weren’t received very well,” McGregor told Total Film Magazine (by way of CBR). “Every time they were released, they were being hammered. And that didn’t feel very good.” Nonetheless, McGregor was one of the few casting choices that fans loved (or at least didn’t tear to shreds), which is a big reason why the Obi-Wan Kenobi series has been eagerly awaited, and a large factor in its success.

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McGregor is excellent in Obi-Wan Kenobi, bringing a wounded dignity and reluctant heroism to the show, especially when he goes full Alec Guinness. The six-part series finds the title character living in hiding a decade after the events of Order 66, which attempted to wipe out every Jedi. Kenobi is doing menial labor to survive in the deserts of Tatooine while watching over young Luke Skywalker from afar. He’s a man haunted by his last (and, in his mind, final) encounter with Anakin Skywalker, the Jedi he was supposed to train but who turned to the Dark Side and wreaked galactic havoc as Darth Vader.

Related: What to Watch Before Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ in Chronological Order

This failure and the years of darkness that enshrouded the Republic have worn Kenobi down into a tired, sad man. “The fight is done. We lost,” he says, “the time of the Jedi is over.” “You seem kind of beat up,” a girl says to him, and it’s difficult to disagree. McGregor’s vulnerability and pain as Kenobi is palpable, but so is the charm, compassion, and intelligence of the character. He does a wonderful job tapping into the headspace of a man who’s existing rather than living, someone who has basically lost his faith; after all, the Jedi Code is essentially a religion or spiritual practice, and McGregor plays Kenobi as if he has witnessed the death of God.

Great Star Wars Characters, If Fans Can Handle Them

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After a quick rush of lightsabers and blasters in the opening minutes, the first episode is a surprisingly downbeat and patiently methodical look at this character and the world he’s living in, in which the Inquisitors of Star Wars hunt down the remaining Jedi and large swaths of the galaxy dwell in a kind of anarchic, permanent Wild West. When Kenobi is contacted by senator Bail Organa to help find a kidnaped Princess Leia, the aging Jedi emerges from hiding with doubtful trepidations and begins a new quest.

Surely, one of the joys in Obi-Wan Kenobi is seeing Leia and Luke as children. Vivien Lyra Blair (from Bird Box) is delightful as a young Leia, and hopefully won’t endure the same harassment and bullying that a young Jake Lloyd suffered after playing Anakin in The Phantom Menace. “My entire school life was really a living hell,” Lloyd told The Sun, “I’ve learned to hate it when the cameras are pointed at me.” Aside from Blair, Moses Ingram is especially wicked as Reva, the Third Sister of the Inquisitors. Again, though, it’s a tragic testament to Star Wars fans that, when cast, Ingram had to literally be warned by Lucasfilm of racist backlashes against her character.

As such, it’s rather difficult to review any major new Star Wars media. Aside from the toxic fans and the franchise’s corporate servitude to the Dark Side (Disney) making it difficult to even state an opinion, there’s an undeniable personal bias present in consuming any new products from the galaxy far away. If you don’t understand the numerous world(s) map of Star Wars, then it might be confusing to fully appreciate a single piece of the puzzle like Obi-Wan Kenobi (though the series does a remarkable editing job summarizing the prequel trilogy at the start). Subsequently, if you know this franchise like the back of your (lightsaber-dismembered) hand, you might have incredibly high and unrealistic expectations. The old adage that “you can’t please everyone” doubly applies to Star Wars.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Celebrates Its Influences

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Fortunately, Obi-Wan Kenobi is generally very fun and entertaining regardless of how invested one is in this story. Deborah Chow’s direction continues to show why she’s one of the best directors in television today, with a filmography that includes Mr. Robot, Better Call Saul, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, and Reign. Her work on The Mandalorian prepared her well for directing every episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the sense of pacing and well-plotted suspense is efficiently executed. Showrunner Joby Harold is practically a pro at taking on franchise projects with lots of expectations (and fans with toxic social media comments) and handling them carefully so as not to upset the fans (working on Transformers, John Wick, King Arthur, Army of the Dead, and The Flash films).

If Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t exactly original, it’s not to its detriment. This series obviously doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so it’s beholden to the trilogies of Star Wars films it’s lodged betwixt, but it pays respects to the franchise in clever, cautious ways. It’s also a composite of some other films: the aging and once-respected and powerful hero on a quest to protect a young girl of Logan; the expansive world-building of bounty hunters and neon-lit streets of John Wick (especially the sequel); the self-exiled, beaten-down reluctant Jedi of The Last Jedi. These influences swirl about and intermingle with the Star Wars universe in often very gratifying ways.

Related: Star Wars Books: The Must-Read Canonical Titles in Chronological Order

Obi-Wan Kenobi also introduces some truly enjoyable characters. Along with Ingram’s Reva, Kumail Nanjiani (continuing his Chris Pratt-like trajectory of slacker funnyman to buff action movie star) is really amusing as a con-man masquerading as a Jedi, and Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers (you read that right) has some vile fun as a scumbag kidnaper. The planet-hopping adventure of Obi-Wan Kenobi takes time for pleasurable little detours through the lives and habitats of this fleshed-out galaxy, and the series is often most entertaining when it isn’t focused on action.

Despite the Drawbacks of Prequels, Obi-Wan Kenobi Entertains

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Obi-Wan Kenobi is not without its minor problems. There are some patently dumb continuity choices which make suspension of disbelief even more difficult, like Kenobi’s sudden exit from a rooftop fight, or how he digs up his lightsaber quickly from an unmarked area in the vast desert after a decade of presumably shifting sands. Some dialogue is clunky as well, and the series (like any prequel) suffers from a lack of stakes to a certain extent; when the audience knows characters will survive or stick around for later installments, they become practically invincible, sucking some tension out of the usually exciting action sequences. While the inexorable march toward a showdown between Vader and Kenobi in some sense or another is definitely exciting, it’s more interesting to map the roads they take.

Chow and the writers are wise, though, in knowing that a prequel isn’t so much about stakes as it is about character development; viewers know these characters will survive and who they will become, so it’s important instead to focus on how they do so. So far, after its two-part premier, Obi-Wan Kenobi seems to be following this path, elaborating on the psychologies of its characters and more Star Wars world-building in pleasant ways. It’s been nearly two decades since we’ve actually seen McGregor’s Kenobi, in the underrated Revenge of the Sith; now that the hate has died down, it’s genuinely exciting to see what he’ll do next.

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About The Author

Matthew Mahler
(115 Articles Published)

Editor and writer for Movieweb.com. Lover of film, philosophy, and theology. Amateur human. Contact him at matthew.m@movieweb.com

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