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‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ threaded the needle between ‘Revenge of the Sith’ and ‘A New Hope’


Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Facing an even more formidable task than “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi” deftly threaded the needle between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope” in the “Star Wars” timeline, filling its finale with enough action and callbacks to cap off a highly satisfying and hugely nostalgic run.

A series where the simple words “Hello there” produce waves of recognition in fans obviously possesses certain advantages but also must grapple with the weight of expectations, as well as the challenge of laying the story into this between-movie period without causing too many tremors for that audience to nitpick.

Such debate is inevitable, but hardly anything here offset the pleasures of seeing Ewan McGregor back and completely owning the title role, and a light-saber rematch with Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) that delivered spectacularly on that promise.

In a way, the show’s real triumph was its initial, very clever ruse in focusing not on a young Luke but rather a pint-sized Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), establishing a bond between Kenobi and the princess while creating a rousing excuse to bring him out of hiding and back into the world of adventure and heroism.

That was only the tip of the project’s inventiveness, which included cleverly employing a flashback to provide Christensen actual screen time without being buried under that Darth Vader armor or totally ceding his voice to the great James Earl Jones.

The creative spark extended to the finale, and give enormous credit to the writing team (Joby Harold, Andrew Stanton and Hossein Amini collaborated on the script) and director Deborah Chow, who — having also worked on “The Mandalorian” — has more than earned the right to play a major role in Lucasfilm’s plans should she choose to continue operating in this part of the cinematic galaxy.

Even anticipating some of the flourishes, it was still thrilling — and for some perhaps chill-inducing — to hear Kenobi echo his previous words to Anakin by saying “I will do what I must” before their muscular duel, or to see Obi-Wan reunited with the ghostly specter of his master, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), a meeting foreshadowed since the end of “Sith.”

Ditto for Vader telling his former master, “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did,” a line that feeds directly into Kenobi’s explanation to a more grown-up Luke about his father’s fate in “A New Hope.”

Leaving few stones unturned, even the long-suffering Owen (Joel Edgerton) and Beru (Bonnie Piesse) had their overdue moment in the spotlight, protecting Luke from a vengeful Reva (Moses Ingram). After the ugly reaction to the character in some quarters, Reva’s tragic arc created a solid emotional hook in the later episodes before feeling somewhat overshadowed by all the other big moments and cameos tying back into the original films.

As for other potential quibbles, there’s the issue of Kenobi again leaving his one-time protégé alive to continue his reign of terror, though the glimpse of Anakin’s face through the mask (recalling a scene from the animated “Rebels”) provided logical cover for that, and after all, it’s not like the battle could have ended in a more permanent way.

It’s worth remembering “Obi-Wan Kenobi” was initially conceived as a movie, and despite the “Solo”-induced cold feet that sent the concept to streaming, everything here suggests it would have been a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. Whatever the financial ramifications of that, the six-episode format for Disney+ did allow subplots and characters more room to breathe in helpful ways.

Although the ending certainly felt neat and conclusive, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Disney and Lucasfilm plot a return to Tatooine if McGregor’s willing. Because while fans might have their own ideas about when it’s time to ride into the twin sunset, after a project as polished and commercially marketable as this one, well, studios will do what they must, too.

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