‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ brings Disney ‘Star Wars’ franchise to higher ground

Photo of "Obi-Wan Kenobi" Disney series
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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Alderaan cityscape still glistened against a mountainous backdrop, with a sprightly Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) residing in its reaches. Across the stars, Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely) remained on the ever-sandy Tatooine, growing restless as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) quietly watched from afar.

“Obi-Wan Kenobi,” the latest “Star Wars” miniseries on Disney+, illuminates this period in time, filling in the temporal gap between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope.” At just 10 years old, Leia and Luke do not yet know the darkness of their past, but for Obi-Wan, it is inescapable.

A decade after his former Padawan Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) transformed into the merciless Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), Obi-Wan now lives a quiet, hermetic life on Tatooine. Here, he evades discovery by the Inquisitors, who seek to eliminate any Jedi who survived Order 66.

Third Sister (Moses Ingram), also known as Reva, proves especially bent on finding Kenobi and turning him over to Vader. Ruthless and conniving, she organizes Leia’s kidnapping in an effort to lure the elusive Jedi out of hiding, setting the series into motion.

This is not the same Obi-Wan audiences know and love from the prequels. He has grown weary since his days on the Jedi Council, and he has not yet achieved the tranquility seen in “A New Hope.” McGregor spends much of the first episode in silence, yet Obi-Wan’s lingering guilt and dissatisfaction emerge through every drained glance and strained encounter.

As the series progresses, however, the fan-favorite Jedi resurfaces on screen, especially as he takes young Leia under his wing. Though their relationship is comparable to that between the Mandalorian and Grogu, Leia possesses a certain spunk that twists this dynamic on its head. Throughout the series, Blair proves herself fit to honor the legacy of the late Carrie Fisher: Even when it seems as though Obi-Wan is her only hope, Leia has the grit and determination to save herself and the people she loves.

Though Anakin’s conversion into Vader casts a dark cloud over the entirety of the Skywalker saga, no movie or series makes this transition quite as immediate as “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Flashbacks to training sessions cut starkly into the show’s timeline, and Anakin’s voice echoes before succumbing to the deep, foreboding breaths of Darth Vader. As the tears accumulate in Obi-Wan’s eyes, one can feel the pain of losing one’s brother.

As “Obi-Wan Kenobi” fills in the blank spaces of the “Star Wars” universe, it sprinkles in a few new stars. Dubious and difficult to read, con man Haja Estree (Kumail Nanjiani) introduces some levity amid the apprehension. Initially presenting herself one way, Tala Durith (Indira Varma) soon reveals her true colors, forming a special bond with Obi-Wan and playing a pivotal role in the story arc.

“Star Wars” may be predicated on the binary between light and dark, but where it thrives is in the moral gray areas. Throughout the franchise, “good” and “bad” are presented as choices rather than essential inscriptions into the cosmos. The most compelling characters are those who feel a push and pull between both sides — their internal battles as intense as those enacted between the stars.

Though she initially comes across single-minded, Reva soon emerges as an ethically complex villain — her tough exterior belying her traumatic past. As she faces resistance from other Inquisitors and opens up about her childhood, she gains a bit of the audience’s sympathy, making her motivations all the more riveting. Obi-Wan’s principles are also shaken as he confronts manifestations of his past failures. He knows his former student presents a danger to the galaxy, but does he really want to see Anakin dead?

The battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin is far from over, and the former certainly no longer has the high ground. By dramatizing this fraught relationship, “Obi-Wan Kenobi” casts a light on the Jedi Master’s emotional scars, adding even more depth to his character. With every “hello there” and attempt to save the galaxy, it’s difficult to believe Obi-Wan could become even more of a beloved character — but somehow, the series achieves just that.

Lauren Harvey is the deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].