Without reliving the entire controversy, I think it’s safe to suggest that viewers were a bit confused about why this saga would begin with Anakin Skywalker being so young. This wide-eyed, peace-loving Tatooinian (is that the proper word?) brought with him some kinda/sorta juvenile antics and attitudes that took Star Wars back to the realm of the kids. JarJar Binks delivered a kind of ‘babyspeak’ to everyone around him in the film, pushing the envelope for what level of intellectual development Lucas was truly going for with the picture. And cries of ‘yippie’ and the like were a far cry from the late teen years of Luke Skywalker and the decidedly more adult tone audiences had embraced with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, so maybe – maybe – there’s something legitimate to their complaint. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong: I’m only saying it’s likely grounded in reason, flawed or not.
Think what you will of the Sequel Trilogy (personally, I didn’t much care for it), I’d agree with anyone who said that JJ Abrams and his collaborators at least ignored some of that kidcentricity (now I’m just making words up!). Though Finn, Rey, and Poe may’ve been hamstrung by these creative worldbuilders’ collective inability to craft a suitable outline (for consistency’s sake alone), none of the rebels or resisters approached young Anakin’s naivety or JarJar’s goofiness. Tonally, the Sequel Trilogy ‘felt’ a bit closer to the Original Trilogy, though I’m already on record as saying the Disney stuff lacked consistency as well as coherence in a few places.
So I was honestly a bit surprised when the Mouse House announced that they wanted to revisit the character of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a new streaming property, and I’ll tell you why simply: what more truly needed to be said about his character?
I dabble in writing fiction from time-to-time, and one of the tools I cling to as an author is making sure that each character has both a narrative purpose and is used to that best potential. I don’t craft them casually: I want to know why I made them and put them in this universe because – once they accomplish the reason for being – they do have a shelf-life. Like (hopefully) you and me, they do reach the end of their usefulness; if that sounds cold or crass, I apologize … but of all things I’ve ever been called that I agree with is that I’m a realist. Stories function on their own economy, and something that doesn’t need to be there shouldn’t be. That involves characters, and so far as I can tell the great Kenobi had met and delivered all of his ‘beats.’
To resurrect a character whose – ahem – best narrative days were behind him can be a treacherous task, and I’m kinda/sorta feeling the folks behind this limited series may have bitten off more than a Bantha can chew. Part I debuted just last week (along with Part II, which I’ll review separately), and I found so very much of it underwhelming if not a bit confusing. It's nearly all 'set-up' -- a curious but necessary choice -- but kinda/sorta spoils some of what has been already established in lore (i.e. Kenobi's secret isn't so secret, it seems).
Masters very quickly come under attack, and – instead of focusing on their own wellbeing – they take to defending their pupils. It appears as if a small group of trainees gets away – hint: we’re never given the identities of these students, but I’m guessing that’ll play into the series’ full arc before all is said and done. Before you know it we’re whisked off to Tatooine – ten years later – where a band of Imperial Inquisitors show up knowing full well that there are Force users in hiding on the planet. Despite their successfully finding (and losing!) a former youngling in a tavern, it would appear that not all is well amongst the Inquisitor staff; there's some obvious infighting, along with trust issues, and then we zoom in on a distant slaughterhouse where the older, grizzled Kenobi spends his days chopping up meat, troubled by Force visions, and guarding young Luke Skywalker from afar.
Before this first episode is over, however, it would seem that Kenobi’s secret isn’t quite as protected as Star Wars fandom had been previously led to believe. Jawas know where he is (and they’re known to share anything for a price). He’s been seen in town and recognized by that young user almost caught earlier by the Inquisitors. Why, even Bail Organa comes a’callin’ when he needs the master’s help: young Leia Organa is kidnapped, and – you guessed it – “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”
To the show’s credit, both Skywalker children get a bit of screen time – Leia vastly far more than Luke (this is the era of Kathleen Kennedy, after all, where men and boys are lesser creatures) – but the focus shifts comfortably between the known locales of Tatooine and Alderaan. Bail and his daughter have a healthy cinematic relationship – he’s rearing her for the role she'll eventually play in the wider Star Wars’ mythology, and their father/daughter dynamic elevates the otherwise slow hour – though he probably allows her a bit too much legroom when it comes to expressing her (oh so snarky and negative) opinions a bit too freely, especially for a ten-year-old. (No wonder she gets kidnapped!)
That's why I opened this review referencing Star Wars' kidcentricity (Ok, I'm using it again, so does that make it an official word?). The kids are back. Kenobi's young Leia 'felt' very similar in some ways to Lucas's young Anakin. Clearly, Disney knows kids are watching, and they've created a spark with li'l Leia. Let's see if they can properly cultivate this spark to a full rebellious fire. And I said 'properly,' Disney! Let's get it right!
Alas, it’s hard to make all that much positive or negative of Part 1. I thought the pace was a bit slow: once the opening action sequence at the Jedi Temple ends, there’s really nothing new in this universe it would seem. Clearly, most of the time is spent setting up the particulars needed to take this particular journey to that galaxy far, far away. Character introductions and re-introductions are about as efficient as we’ve come to expect from these streaming series. Production quality is excellent, and the hour ends as Kenobi accepts the responsibility handed to him – albeit reluctantly – and heads into space on an available transport … secret be damned.