Hives of scum and villainy are a Star Wars speciality. In other words, you can take the show off of Tatooine, but you can’t take the Tatooine out of the show. In its second episode, Obi-Wan Kenobi makes clear that this will not be Boba Fett redux, with Kenobi puttering around the sand, brokering alliances with various gangsters. Though Obi-Wan did prove himself adept at skulking around various oddball planets in the prequel trilogy, so the show brings him to Daiyu, a planet that has the neon of central Coruscant and the seediness of Tatooine’s Mos Eisley. It’s an environment simultaneously alive with the promise and hampered by the limitations of the Star Wars series’ signature StageCraft virtual effects. Put another way: Daiyu is so cool, and it would be even cooler if we could actually see more of it! Instead, despite some appreciated visual flourishes from director Deborah Chow and company, there are plenty of moments that illustrate the difference between movie shadows (rich, black, inky) and TV shadows (dim, gray, murky).
Still, the endless, sunless illicit street fair of Daiyu is an excellent setting for a trim, snappy episode, as Obi-Wan tracks the kidnapped Princess Leia and approaches a trap set by Reva, unbeknownst to her Inquisitor bosses. To locate the lost princess, Kenobi starts asking the locals, including a young female spice-slinger who assures him that any girl he seeks is assuredly lost, but spice can make him forget. (Perhaps taken aback by this notion, he does not mind-trick her into going home and rethinking her life.) The best moment comes when he pauses his search to lay eyes on a Clone Wars veteran begging in the street. Obi-Wan, who once commanded armies in that conflict, obligingly tosses a few credits into the clone’s helmet. Because the clone is played by Temuera Morrison, the same guy who plays both Jango Fett and older Boba Fett (Jango was the basis for the entire clone army), it might come across as an Easter egg. But first and foremost, it’s an unsettling reminder of Obi-Wan’s old life and how much he and so many others have lost.
Kenobi’s interest is piqued when an urchin tells him that “there’s a Jedi” who can help with his search. This turns out to be Haja Estree (Kumail Nanjiani), who uses a cocktail of buzzwords, misdirection, and magnets to create the impression that he is, well, exactly who some might hope Obi-Wan would be: an exiled Jedi with the power to help the downtrodden and oppressed. (And he does, albeit for an exorbitant price and perhaps less physical safety than a real Jedi could offer.) Great concept, medium execution: Nanjiani is both amusing and a reminder that these new Star Wars shows are written by pro screenwriters, less prone to flights of bizarre, perhaps accidental poetry. Put another way: No one will be repeating any Haja Estree lines a decade hence. Not in jest, not in affection. He has second-tier MCU energy. Kingo energy, if you will, though it’s far more on the writing than on Nanjiani, who has fun summoning mock portents based on various Jedi signifiers (and magnets).
So let’s discuss the previously unthinkable: missing George Lucas dialogue, specifically in terms of the Obi-Wan Kenobi character. Even for prequel apologists, this might seem counterintuitive. For all of his imaginative gifts as a filmmaker, Lucas frequently seemed decidedly uncomfortable with both the music of human communication and the cursed flesh prisons he was (sometimes) forced to use to speak it. (Today, we call them actors.) Yet the language of Lucas provided Obi-Wan with some odd grace notes, whether bringing humanity to the banter and bickering with teenaged Anakin, smug Jedi elan to his derring-do (“Hello there”; “Senator Palpatine, Sith lords are our specialty”), or flashes of self-doubt (“Oh no, not good,” he mutters just before a scuffle with Jango Fett sends him hurtling off a roof). Yes, there’s plenty of unwieldy exposition in the prequels, but McGregor has a way of clipping and refining it. Harrison Ford famously-slash-allegedly told Lucas that he could type this shit but couldn’t say it. For whatever reason, McGregor could say that shit. Obi-Wan Kenobi wants to relieve him of that burden and make him sound a little more, well, normal. In a weird way, it sometimes gives McGregor less to do as an actor.
In “Part II,” that’s most noticeable in his interactions with Haja and with young Princess Leia. Haja’s vaguely worded tip leads Obi-Wan more or less straight to the princess, and after some non-lightsaber fisticuffs with her captors (who, it should be noted, for some delightful reason include Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea), he takes Leia on the lamb. She doesn’t entirely trust her harried escort, and while there’s a lovely moment when Kenobi tells her (without quite saying so) that she reminds him of the biological mother she never knew, the writing feels a little timid about playing up any testiness or, on the opposite end, residual Jedi decorum on Kenobi’s end. The space between them is filled with Obi-Wan lampshading her precociousness by asking, “How old are you?” even though Leia’s age should be pretty well burned into his memory, considering he was present for her birth.
But if the character interplay is a little perfunctory, “Part II” doesn’t linger unnecessarily in any of it; it doesn’t even maintain a tedious status quo. A premise that looked, in the previous episode and the beginning of this one, a bit like Taken in space quickly turns into John Wick territory. Specifically, it resembles the end of John Wick: Chapter 2 and the beginning of John Wick: Chapter 3, where Keanu’s Wick is suddenly made the subject of an all-in contract, sending every hit man in the city after him. Here, Reva ignores the Inquisitor’s orders to chill and issues a holo-bulletin to seemingly everyone on Daiyu, telling them it’s open season on the wayward Jedi. Chow’s resulting multi-assassin rooftop shoot-out-slash-chase is well-staged, especially as Reva does the sick show-off moves Siths are known for. Though Moses Ingram’s performance hasn’t completely clicked in yet, she certainly cuts an impressive figure.
Maybe Reva being less than fully formed and still sounding decidedly unthreatening when she yells threats is part of her character. This episode doesn’t directly confirm that she’s an escaped former youngling who has turned herself to the dark side of the Force, but it’s safe to assume her backstory looks something like that. At a minimum, she’s hunting Kenobi to impress Lord Vader, and by mentioning him as she stalks her prey, she corrects Obi-Wan’s misapprehension: Anakin Skywalker is not dead. (Well, from a certain point of view.) With Reva distracted by stabbing the Grand Inquisitor, Leia and Kenobi just barely escape thanks to a tip from Haja. Despite Kenobi’s disdain, there’s an unspoken irony here: At this point, Haja has done just as much to help as the real Jedi in this situation.
Again, Obi-Wan Kenobi shows more mastery of its serialization than The Book of Boba Fett: The show leaves another planet and leaves its lead character with a major revelation about the friend-turned-enemy he once thought dead. Kenobi and Leia zipping away with Reva vowing to pursue them does raise concerns that this show is going to become The Phantom Mando: Obi-Wan getting a second shot at mentoring a special Skywalker kid (contrasting with his dismissiveness over Anakin and the other “pathetic life forms” he and Qui-Gon pick up back in the first prequel) with a discount Darth Maul and extra Lone Wolf and Cub vibes, courtesy of the Din Djarin–Grogu relationship. Let’s not worry about the future, though; Obi-Wan has enough of that, with echoes of his past threatening to become deafening. Not a bad subject for a show that is itself a de facto legacy sequel.
Notes From the Higher Ground
• Deborah Chow really likes her direct-overhead shots, a neat bit of visual language that isn’t typically employed in the Lucas-driven prequels. Even though this is really about halfway between the prequel era and the original-trilogy era, it’s fascinating to see other filmmakers even attempting to toy with such a distinct (and largely CG’d) world. So far, the Star Wars TV shows have, like the sequel trilogy, attempted to use more practical creature effects than the prequels. It’s a noble aim from a craft perspective and certainly results in some great background details, but I do wonder if it will keep them from weaving in more prequel-originated aliens just to keep the aesthetic just so. That would be a shame.
• Sung Kang has appeared in both episodes so far as another inquisitor, notably un-stabbed by a red lightsaber. Let’s hope he gets more to do now that Rupert Friend is gone because another round of #JusticeForHan could get confusing in this universe.
• Watto Watch: Daiyu seems like exactly the type of planet where a formerly prosperous junk dealer might relocate once he was brought to financial ruin by a series of bad bets; based on the disguise-shopping that Leia does briefly, it also seems like a great place to keep a toydarian stocked in little metal hats. Alas, the impressive menagerie of merchants and weirdos on Daiyu does not seem to include a single toydarian.