Stirring 'Obi-Wan' finale justifies shaky series' place in the 'Star Wars' canon

  • Jedi buddies Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) do a little lightsaber sparring in the fifth episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi."

    Jedi buddies Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) do a little lightsaber sparring in the fifth episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi." Courtesy of Disney+

 
 
Posted6/22/2022 7:08 AM

The hype and the viewership numbers for "Obi-Wan Kenobi" on Disney+ were massive, and this week's sixth and final episode finally delivers on the limited series' expectations.

Fans have longed to see Ewan McGregor reprise the role he played in the "Star Wars" prequels, and before Wednesday's finale, they were "rewarded" with a sparse, unfortunately cheap-looking TV show that, in five drawn-out episodes, managed to feel both too short and too long at the same time. (I guess that's a new Jedi power?)

 

The live-action return of Obi-Wan 17 years after "Revenge of the Sith" deserved to be a grand adventure, especially when accompanied by the return of Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader -- and the surprising debut of 10-year-old Vivien Lyra Blair as Princess Leia, a delightful plot development that was withheld from all the prerelease marketing, just as Grogu (Baby Yoda) had been before "The Mandalorian" landed in 2019.

The finale brings that grandeur, even if most of it is cloaked in darkness that makes the "Game of Thrones" battle of Winterfell seem clear and bright by comparison. Yes, there is a terrific lightsaber duel between Kenobi and Vader. Yes, there are expected (but no less thrilling) cameos. But it is our emotional bond with these characters -- and, at last, good writing -- that gives the finale its Force.

The writing team of Joby Harold ("Army of the Dead"), Andrew Stanton ("Finding Nemo") and Hossein Amini ("Drive") deftly finds a way for the show's seemingly apocryphal events to comfortably, logically fit into the established "Star Wars" canon, directly addressing two lines of dialogue in George Lucas' original 1977 film that became contradictory as the sequels and spinoffs added up. The script does right by Lucas, who practically invented retroactive continuity in "Return of the Jedi."

Little Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) hides in the title character's comically large trenchcoat in the fourth episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi."
Little Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) hides in the title character's comically large trenchcoat in the fourth episode of "Obi-Wan Kenobi." - Courtesy of Disney+
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Much of the first five episodes felt slight and silly, even with a premise that seemed tailor-made for a big-screen epic: Kenobi is tasked with saving little Leia from kidnappers (including one played by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) while fleeing Vader's Inquisitors (led by the magnetic Moses Ingram as Reva). But our hero also had to contend with a scaled-down TV budget, scripts that struggled to justify his show's length, and some just plain dumb decisions.

Example? In the fourth episode, Obi-Wan infiltrates an underwater Empire facility with the help of a rebel spy (Indira Varma) posing as an Imperial officer and lays waste to Stormtroopers with his lightsaber after finding dead Jedi warriors encased in amber. A good, exciting premise.

But in practice, it saw Kenobi hiding Leia under a huge trenchcoat (yes, really) and the spy carrying out her secret mission in a room full of bad guys who would clearly be able to see and hear everything she's doing. Not "Star Wars'" smartest hour.

But "Obi-Wan Kenobi" came alive whenever Christensen is on screen, whether in the Vader suit and speaking with an A.I.-enhanced version of James Earl Jones' voice, or wearing the prequels' Padawan braid and sparring with McGregor in the fifth episode's flashback. The finale contains the finest moment of Christensen's "Star Wars" career, a heartbreaking look at the man behind the mask for both Obi-Wan and the audience.

Ultimately, "Obi-Wan Kenobi" earns a place alongside "The Mandalorian" Season 2 as an essential addition to the "Star Wars" legacy. It just took six episodes to get there.

• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who thinks "The Phantom Menace" is the best of the prequels.

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