After a short break, Obi-Wan Kenobi returns with a third episode that delivers a surprising amount of solid Darth Vader action; and offers more of what fans expected from the series. Does the episode break any new ground? Is it better than the previous two? Does Vader live up to the hype? Let’s dive in.
As if hearing the cries from a fan base utterly shocked by the lackluster first two episodes, series director Deborah Chow wastes no time giving us our first look at the small screen (live-action) Darth Vader, and it’s pretty rad.
Picking up immediately following Reva’s revelation that Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is still alive, we see Ben (Ewan McGregor, still aces) again calling out to his deceased master Qui-Gon Jinn — why he doesn’t reach out to Yoda is still a question the series refuses to answer — while Anakin’s mutilated corpse is lifted from a Bacta tank and outfitted with Vader accessories.
But first two side notes: After much pondering, it seems like a poor choice to have Reva — a side character with zero ties to any of our characters, much less the audience — give away Vader’s identity. This very important revelation should have come from Vader’s own lips further down the line for maximum impact. Indeed, the standoff between Ben and Vader that occurs later in this episode would have worked even better had Ben’s emotions come under fire following the big bad’s enormous reveal.)
Also, composer Natalie Holt surprisingly refrains from using Vader’s theme during the big guy’s intro, which seems like a wasted opportunity. In point of fact, I don’t recall hearing the Force theme throughout this series either, but I could be wrong on that regard. Is there a rights issue with John Williams’ music? The man wrote the main theme to the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, so one would think his classic themes would likewise be implemented in some way shape, or form here. I mean, after all the nostalgic throwbacks to previous films, why skimp on the music?
Vader emerges from his slumber and marches through the aptly named Fortress Vader on Mustafar like a boss. We saw this locale in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but this is probably the best look we’ve had at the big guy’s residence in live-action. (He needs a little more furniture. Or, at the very least, a TV. Maybe even a picture or two of Padme, some podracer toys, a Naboo 12-month calendar, and a “NO SAND” sign.)
Vader speaks with Third Sister Reva (Moses Ingram) via hologram and promises her the Grand Inquisitor role if she’s able to deliver Obi-Wan. She looks mildly bored with the conversation and taps out, prompting Vader to head to his one window to view the scenery. He’s also probably thinking about what else to do with his day — he could try lava surfing, that’s a neat trick! — and wondering whether it was worth it to crawl out of the bath for a 30-second conversation? (I jest. This scene was actually pretty great.)
We jump back to Ben who fumbles with Leia’s Mickey Mouse droid. The child wanders out and asks, “Are we there, yet?” Ben grumpily responds, “It’s a trade route, Leia. I’m not in control of it.” Again, the dynamic between Ewan McGregor and actress Vivien Lyra Blair is pretty great. She asks about the Force, and Ben compares the power to the safety one feels when they turn on a light to escape the darkness. That’s a neat and very simplistic way to explain it. Imagine if Yoda had told Luke the same thing — “Like turning on a light, it is.” Maybe he becomes a Jedi a lot faster?
Anyways, Ben and Leia wander through Arizona and stumble upon a transport vessel with Imperial markings driven by a mouse named Freck. (Ben also sees a pre-Vadar Anakin standing on a cliff in a particularly eerie moment.) At one point, the craft stumbles upon some Stormtroopers who are looking for a Jedi but clearly have no idea what a Jedi looks like — hint: they wear brown robes and carry a lightsaber. After some conversation gaffes in which Ben accidentally reveals Leia’s name, the troopers eventually leave our heroes in peace.
Leia then asks Ben if he knew her real mother before asking if he is her real father. “Oh, I know who your real father is” (cue Arrested Development “Oscar father jingle”). As stated last week, it’s weird to think of Ben’s previous life alongside Anakin, Padme, and Jar Jar … can anyone picture Alec Guinness’ wise ole Ben using split kicks to take down droids? This guy used to be an action figure come to life but has since fallen prey to old age and despair. It’s tough to watch.
Ben deflects the inquiry and somehow ends up talking about memories of his own family, which is something I’ve never even thought about before. The old Jedi even drops a hint about a brother … will we see him in future episodes/seasons? A quick Google search reveals that Ben’s brother has never been a thing in Star Wars canon aside from George Lucas’ original desire to place Owen Lars in the role during the script process. So, this is clearly something Disney is setting up for future adventures. Holy Hell, what if Obi-Wan has a twin, dies in this series, and is replaced by his brother?! The world would explode.
Anyways, the transport comes across more Stormtroopers and there’s a pretty wicked fight sequence between Ben and the lot that again teases some lightsaber action, but results in another blaster standoff (so uncivilized). More troops arrive and considering the easy manner in which he obliterated the previous unit, one would think Ben could handle this gang without breaking a sweat. Alas, he decides to surrender (rather than using his lightsaber) and gets lucky when the unit commander turns out to be a rebel sympathizer. (This is the umpteenth time Ben has almost let someone die as a result of his refusal to spring into action only to be bailed out by another character. As Gob would say: “Come on!”)
We learn the commander’s name is Tala, who allegedly joined up with the Empire when it stood for something. I think this is the first time we’ve seen people speak fondly of the Empire. Earlier, Freck, the rat, noted, “There’s nothing wrong with a little law and order,” while Tala’s revelation leads one to wonder how many troops or commanders within the Empire’s regime are similarly trapped in a system they no longer believe in. Good stuff!
Tala (played quite well by Indira Varma, by the way) leads Ben and Leia to a secret location to lay low for a time. More Stormtroopers arrive, but because they’re dumb another crisis is averted. You know, if the Emperor would give bonuses to troopers who go above and beyond the call of duty, they might actually be more effective. Just saying.
Anyway, Leia asks if Tala can train her to fire a blaster.
“She’ll make a good fighter someday,” Tala retorts in another one of those way too-on-the-nose callbacks to the original trilogy.
Before a training montage can occur, Ben has a Jedi panic attack upon seeing Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader for the first time. What a great moment this is. After all these years, Vader still induces goosebumps.
Similarly, I love Reva’s reaction to Vader. In hindsight, we needed her defiance against the Grand Inquisitor to see just how powerful ole Darth truly is (not that we didn’t already know). Where she was quick to step on the toes of her former boss, here Reva (and the other Inquisitors) watch in stunned silence as Vader nonchalantly tortures innocent bystanders.
(Side note: Chow and cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung do a bang-up job shooting Vader in this episode, drenching the terrifying figure in darkness in a manner akin to Empire Strikes Back. Well done.)
Ben hands Leia off to Tala and implores her to take the young girl to Alderaan before making a break for it. Somehow, he bumps into Vader, who has apparently acquired the powers of Jason Voorhees. No matter, this is the moment we’ve waited so long for; and the reason we’re watching this show — Obi-Wan vs. Vader Part II. The set-up is great. The intensity is riveting. Aaaaaand Ben makes like the six-fingered man and takes off in the other direction. (The editing hilariously makes it look like he runs behind a pile of dirt and immediately returns to the same location.)
Somehow, Vader catches up despite walking very slowly. “You cannot run, Obi-Wan,” Vader rhymes, freaking Ben out enough to finally pull out his lightsaber. Oh, so Ben will use his powerful Jedi weapon to save himself, but refuses to use it to save Lars, that stranded Jedi, or Leia? (It’s still awesome to see Ben ignite the blue saber, the light highlighting his face in epic fashion.)
“What have you become,” Ben asks.
“I am what you made me,” Vader responds. Nice.
(Side note: Imagine this moment on the big screen with a huge orchestral score behind it and better production values. As is, Deborah Chow does what she can with limited resources; and the results are good, albeit slightly diminished due to TV quality. The last time these two met, they duked it out against exploding volcanoes, a flurry of CGI, and John Williams’ “Battle of the Heroes.” Now, they’re fighting in the middle of some sand dunes while a generic action score plays quietly in the background. Gob: “Come on!”)
Meanwhile, Reva catches a whiff of Leia and Tala and takes off after the pair. Yeah, there’s no way the show was done with our plucky little heroine.
Back with Ben, Vader somehow sneaks up on him — again! — and the former allies finally engage in combat. Remarkably, the duel is more in line with A New Hope than Revenge of the Sith — and that’s a good thing. As Ron Swanson once said (and I’m paraphrasing), “No flips, no twirls. Anything more and this becomes figure skating.”
After some pretty gnarly lightsaber action, Vader ignites the ground with his laser sword and uses the force to drag Ben through the flames. Clearly, Anakin isn’t over the whole being left to burn on Mustafar thing. (Who else expected Vader to mawkishly say, “Oh look, Obi-Wan, it seems you have the high ground — again,” after he lifted Ben into the air?)
Following some light torture, Vader remembers that Obi-Wan has to appear in A New Hope and halts his attack. He then commands a nearby trooper to fetch Ben, but the order is thwarted when Tala blasts some nearby canisters and creates a strong enough fire barrier to prevent the bad guys from capturing the beleaguered Jedi.
I like to think Vader just got lost in thought during this moment because I assume he has the power to extinguish those flames and/or use the Force to drag Tala and/or Ben to his person. Or, maybe his good side got the better of him … let’s go with that because “silly writing” isn’t very climactic.
At any rate, Ben escapes and Vader doesn’t pursue. (“There’s no way around,” the panicked Stormtroopers announce offscreen. Sure.) Though, he does strike a wicked pose in front of those flames.
Tala tells her cargo droid to ready the transport to take Ben to Jabiim, a planet with some tragic Star Wars lore. And we’re all set for the final three episodes.
Back with Leia, the young girl bumps into Reva who has murdered the rendezvous contact. Our plucky, soon-to-be-princess turns and sprints the other way. For a moment, I’m worried the episode is going to end with another cheesy chase scene in which Reva is somehow always 10-feet behind Leia. Thankfully, the credits spare us from more embarrassment.
Overall, this was a pretty great episode, at least compared to the others we’ve received thus far. I’d give it a solid 7. I still think there are far too many bland side characters overshadowing the main conflict we all want to see, but at least the Vader/Obi-Wan stuff was handled with care. I’m still not a huge fan of the Leia storyline, but it’s here to stay … so, there’s no use complaining. It was pretty cool to see Hayden Christensen briefly appear as Anakin — time heals all wounds (just ask Tobey Maguire).
I still maintain Star Wars has no place on the small screen, but Disney is plowing forward regardless. As a TV show, Episode 3 was entertaining. There’s plenty to nitpick and criticize, but I’m trying to keep a positive perspective.
Odds and Ends
- Allow me to rant for a sec. Disney Star Wars has lumped fans into two categories: those who want Empire Strikes Back levels of greatness and those who are happy to get anything new. I fall somewhere in the middle because my love of Star Wars runs so deep I want to love everything that comes from the franchise. Except, much of Disney’s efforts feel very half-baked. That said, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the new products, and there’s equally nothing wrong with criticizing said products when they fall short of expectations. Are our expectations perhaps a little too high at times? Sure, but this is Star Wars! Not some run-of-the-mill fantasy series. We’ve seen how high the franchise can fly when placed in the right hands, and it’s a shame Disney keeps trying to morph George Lucas’ epic saga into a Marvel-styled product rather than treating it with the care it deserves. If Netflix can shell out $30M per episode for Stranger Things, shouldn’t the Mouse House follow suit with our favorite galaxy far, far away?
- Reva is going to become a good guy at some point, isn’t she? That’s why she’s not decked out in makeup, wearing a mask, or boasting some sort of physical deformity. My guess is that she was amongst the younglings we saw running for cover during Anakin’s Jedi Temple raid. She somehow escaped and became angry with Obi-Wan for abandoning her lot. Reva looks and behaves like a good guy trying really hard to be a bad guy, which might be the point of her character. Time will tell.
- George Lucas should have killed Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith and left his fate undetermined. Lord Vader should not have appeared until A New Hope, thus attaining the surprise reveal in Empire Strikes Back. This approach would have helped Obi-Wan Kenobi as well, as Ben thinks Anakin is truly dead and has no idea who Darth Vader is until the big guy reveals the truth. As is, Obi-Wan — and Yoda — heard the name Darth Vader prior to the events of the series; and considering the simplistic manner in which Reva discovered the truth, it’s likely everyone in the galaxy knows that Anakin Skywalker is still alive, which makes Empire’s big reveal a bit, ah, underwhelming. We need time machines.
- Not so bold prediction: Leia will use the Force at some point in this series. Her powers will then vanish like R2-D2’s rockets.
- Did all the droids from the Clone Wars just evaporate? We’ve seen old Clone Troopers and even ships from the great conflict, but have yet to see a droid appear following the whole Order 66 thing. Did I miss something?
- I fully expect the Emperor to show up in Obi-Wan Kenobi along with Ahsoka Tano. I bet the next episode has Darth visiting with his master on Coruscant (a local he hasn’t appeared on in live-action), while Ahsoka will probably bump into Ben on Jabiim. Episode 4 will mostly serve as filler, but the cameos will be enough to hold our attention. Also, I still fully expect Qui-Gon to appear. They’re drawing far too much attention to the character that it would be a crushing disappointment to not see Liam Neeson return at this point. Also, where’s Commander Cody? Is he still with Ahsoka? I know it’s cheesy, but I’m all for the animated world and live-action material joining forces. We need a Jar Jar cameo too.
- Where does the series go from here? Reva has Leia. I suppose she can bring the young kid to Vader without causing much fuss. The two characters have a history, at least according to their brief exchange in A New Hope. Still, the more Disney messes with established lore, the more screwed up it becomes.
- It’s weird how little impact Obi-Wan Kenobi has on a show titled Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the first episode, a faux Jedi helps him and Leia escape; and Reva kills the Grand Inquisitor just before he captures Ben. In Episode 2, Leia flags down the vessel they use to ride across Arizona, Tala kills the Stormtroopers at the checkpoint and ends up saving Ben from Vader; and subsequently carries him away to Jabiim. What’s the point of having Obi-Wan Kenobi on this show if he’s not going to actually do anything worthwhile? Everyone else seems more than capable of handling the task at hand. If anything, Ben is causing more problems because Vader is following his every move. Is there going to be a point where Ben stops running from the battle and becomes the hero we all know and love?
- It was weird to have Ben take a hostage. During the whole checkpoint fight, he grabs the sloth guy — an Imperial supporter — and holds a gun to his head. That just seemed like a weird thing for a hero to do.
- I want more of Sung Kang’s Fifth Brother. This guy deserves to do more than stand around and deliver empty threats.