Deborah Chow’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is a masterclass in compelling, character-driven narratives, unparalleled performances, and insanely gorgeous cinematography. There’s plenty about it that deserves immense praise and accolades all around, but right now, it’s Ewan McGregor’s brilliant embodiment of the titular character. The exploration of grief, battered edges, and broken pieces is the series’ most haunting strength, and through every expression, no matter how brief or acutely in-focus, McGregor shows viewers cascades of emotions coursing through the Jedi.
Obi-Wan is broken. It’s the straightforward, undeniable truth viewers don’t even have to look too closely to see. Obi-Wan, now Ben, is no longer the man he used to be—he says as much with his own words, and he exhibits it quietly throughout his entire physicality. There’s not a single moment during the six-episode series where McGregor isn’t at his best. And it isn’t hyperbolic to say that every single scene featuring the fallen Jedi could be its own scene breakdown.
While the prequels divide fans and critics alike, Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi is the gift that keeps on giving. (As is Hayden Christensen, but that’s for another time.) The progression of a young Padawan thrust towards loss after another to a guilt-ridden hermit waiting in the shadows for his second chance is a gem to look into. McGregor’s mannerisms with the late and remarkable Sir Alec Guinness are part of the Star Wars foundation in a way that layers the story more profoundly than where we first begin in a galaxy far, far away through A New Hope. And in the series, the weight of the character’s legacy becomes far more palpable.
“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope” is as critical to Star Wars lore as “may the force be with you.” Who was Ben Kenobi, a beacon of hope to matter with such ardency where we knew very little? And though the prequels ground the character’s legacy along with his heart, the series, and by extension, Ewan McGregor’s performances allow us to understand beyond the barriers of Jedi rules. Obi-Wan is hope personified. In his brokenness, he is all strength.
McGregor not only brings to our screens the face of a broken, rugged man who’s tirelessly plagued by guilt and grief, but he shows us how deeply the Jedi still cares despite how much life has taken from him. Obi-Wan is observant, juxtaposing Anakin’s brashness and outside of the dramatic angles he chooses to take, he’s a man who always thinks first and acts second. And with every look, every move through his body, McGregor allows us to see that, with every piece of him, Ben’s fighting with himself to push forward. It’s hard not to wonder how the show or the entirety of the story would’ve ended if Jedi didn’t go into hiding. Or even if they didn’t cling so fervently to the idea of chosen ones. Who would Obi-Wan Kenobi become if he continued to fight? Who would he be if he’d left the Jedi Order for Satine Kryze?
We see him transform from a reluctant man who’s entirely unsure how to deal with a small child, to a man whose warmth immediately shines through from his persistence to get her home. Obi-Wan is gentle and soft when necessary, allowing McGregor to bring different facets of that tenderness to the character in instances such as when he’s interacting with Leia or how he then begins to approach Reva in Episode 5. In the eyes of the negotiator, his warmth becomes the very anchor.
It takes an incredibly skilled actor to not only understand the character he’s playing but to embody dark, haunting emotions without overdoing it. If Ewan McGregor didn’t care as deeply about the character’s heart, his performances wouldn’t feel as authentic or as comforting. What we see in the series isn’t any form of overrated (and deeply unhealthy) meta-acting; instead, we witness the kind of embodiment that stems from wanting to tell a transcendent story about a man who’s defeated and dreadfully scarred.
Obi-Wan is a representation of the fact that grief doesn’t merely cut deep—it scars. Our losses etch themselves into every piece of us, steadfastly staying put as an exhibition of the love we allowed ourselves to feel. If Obi-Wan didn’t love so deeply, he wouldn’t be haunted by his failures and losses. It wouldn’t ache as much looking into little Leia’s eyes, knowing that she’d never get to know Anakin or Padmé the way he did. The pain wouldn’t tirelessly shadow him if he could’ve stopped the Order 66 massacres. His scars wouldn’t throb with every use of the Force, pushing beyond his being towards the places he doesn’t let a single person through to. If he didn’t still care so much about Anakin, the good that remains in Vader—Padmé’s final words he also clings to—he wouldn’t be this battered and bruised.
Ewan McGregor understands Obi-Wan Kenobi down to his bones, ensuring that every beat, significantly his most vulnerable calibers showcase the character’s colossal heart. The show is a character study in more ways than one, and Deborah Chow knows precisely which of McGregor’s expressions to draw imperative focus on. How she frames Obi-Wan’s arc, the battle with Vader in Episode 3, and later his quest to save Leia in Episode 4 are all ways of displaying the lengths the man is willing to go through to right his wrongs. Chow ensures that we catch the glances that matter, the sudden strikes of undeniable fear, the tormenting pangs of unceasing grief, and the innate kindness which resides perpetually in Obi-Wan’s eyes.
In the final episode especially, Ewan McGregor takes us through pieces of the character’s arc that cut and break transcendently. Whether it’s the subtle yet unmistakable pride in his expression as he watches Leia use Lola to comfort scared passengers, the haunting sorrow as he looks into Anakin’s eyes one last time, the genuine laugh, the hopeful goodbye, the endearing kindness as he once again utters the words “hello there” to Luke, and the face of an ambitious young Padawan reunited with his Master once more, McGregor’s range is truly sensational. The transformation from a broken, tired man to one fighting for better days ahead has been otherwordly to watch. To breathe such tremendous life into the character is one thing, but to ensure that his performances feel like a homecoming for us all is another.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is now streaming on Disney Plus.