‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ Premiere Brings Back an Old Favorite — but Not the One We Expected

Move over, Luke Skywalker: Why "Obi-Wan Kenobi" hits the right nostalgic note with a key character.
Obi-wan Kenobi
"Obi-Wan Kenobi"
Lucasfilm Ltd.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Episode 1 and Episode 2, “Part 1” and “Part II.”]

About 23 minutes into the premiere of “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” an old Star Wars friend shows up. First there’s an establishing shot of an unfamiliar city and planet, and then a montage of various people assisting a small child get dressed in a pristine white tunic with purple accents. There can be no mistaking that elaborate hairdo, even on such a tiny head: This is young Leia Organa.

Well, not exactly. It’s a friend Leia enlists to play a prank on her mother, but with a triumphant swell of John Williams and Natalie Holt’s score we quickly cut to the real Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), sprinting through the forest while her braids trail behind her.

For too long — and probably still — Star Wars has been unable to quit Luke Skywalker. The hero of George Lucas’ original films, portrayed by Mark Hamill, was a hell of a Jedi to live up to. The prequels dodged him altogether, while the sequels managed to get so bogged down in all things Skywalker, Palpatine, and Solo that they squandered the potential of new characters and stories. A de-aged Hamill (action performed by Max Lloyd-Jones) was a pleasant surprise in “The Mandalorian” Season 2, but overwrought when he became the ostensible purpose of “The Book of Boba Fett.”

So when child Luke (Grant Feely) showed up in the trailer for “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” it put the show in immediate danger of that perpetually tempting but perilous obsession.

After one scene in which Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) spies on him from afar, child Luke is seen no more. Leia, on the other hand, is kidnapped in those very woods where she frolicked, and her parents entreat the retired Obi-Wan to go rescue her.

Child Leia evokes a unique nostalgia, if you can call it that. We’ve never seen her before, but Blair captures the wit and warmth that made Carrie Fisher’s young Princess so magnetic in 1977. Obi-Wan speaks for everyone when he says that she doesn’t sound 10, and that’s because she is effectively a vessel for the older character’s traits to shine through. There’s an unshakeable but not overpowering awareness that this character is emotionally manipulating viewers, but she’s cheeky and charming and pairs nicely with McGregor’s Obi-Wan at this specific moment in his life — and look at that little braided bun, come on.

In IndieWire’s review of the premiere episodes, Ben Travers notes that the Jedi’s compulsion to do good will always come back to them, one way or another. In episode 1 we see Obi-Wan almost fail to give in to that compulsion, telling the Organas that he must stay on Tatooine instead of going after Leia’s kidnappers. To their credit, Bail and Breha (Jimmy Smits and Simone Kessell) do not call Master Kenobi a sexist to his face, but he takes a little too much convincing to risk his life for Anakin Skywalker’s other kid, who happens to be Force-sensitive as well. He reasons with the Organas that he hasn’t fought for 10 years, that he isn’t the knight they once knew and his powers are weak — so how qualified is he to watch over Luke in the first place? Of course we know by now that keeping watch is itself a thin excuse, that Obi-Wan is only biding time until he can train the boy in the ways of the Force — something for which he’d definitely need his old skill set.

For the most part, Obi-Wan saves Leia without tapping into his dormant Jedi training (except for that fall). And he’s going to need to start saving people without the Force or find a way to reconnect with it if he hopes to train that boy playing pilot on a moisture farm. As of the end of episode 2, Obi-Wan is driven by a new purpose: To once again face Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), either to appeal to any lingering good in him or battle him now, as Darth Vader.

New episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.

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