With the third episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi released in the span of one week, we’re officially halfway through the series. After so many years of build-up and anticipation, it almost seems like it’s happening too fast. Of course, that feeling vastly depends on how (and if) you’re enjoying the series.
“Part III,” which picks up immediately after its predecessor, threw a wrench into my unabashed love of the first two episodes. It’s a wrench I’m still trying to pull free from the machine that is my brain, and articulating my thoughts on electronic paper is the perfect way to settle this inner conflict and decide how I feel about this episode.
In the bay of a cargo ship, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is trying to contact his deceased master, Qui-Gon Jinn, through the Force. He’s just been informed that his Padawan Anakin Skywalker, previously thought deceased by Kenobi, is alive and well, and has taken up the mantle of the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Even though Yoda told Obi-Wan at the conclusion of 2005’s Revenge of the Sith that he could teach Obi-Wan to commune with Qui-Gon, it seems that it’s a skill Obi-Wan hasn’t yet mastered.
As Obi-Wan continues to try (perhaps he should embrace Yoda’s most iconic line), we get fleeting glimpses of Vader’s armor being assembled onto his body, as Hayden Christensen returns to physically portray the Dark Lord. When Vader is fully suited up, it’s Dmitrious Bistrevsky (an actor and stunt performer who had a small role in The Mandalorian series premiere) who plays him. Though I’m not the biggest Christensen fan, I do hope he gets time to shine aside from floating in a tank. Perhaps this is where a live-action Clone Wars flashback will come in handy.
Thankfully, veteran actor James Earl Jones returns to voice Vader, and his imposing vocals are exactly what we needed for Vader’s return. Another neat touch was that Vader’s eyes are tinted red, in-keeping with his slightly redesigned look showcased in Star Wars: Rebels and 2016’s Rogue One. He’s in his castle (first seen in Rogue One) on the lava planet Mustafar, where he seems to be spending most of his time. As he sits on his throne, a first in live-action, he contacts the Inquisitor Reva (Moses Ingram), who has been on a personal quest for Kenobi these past two episodes. Vader offers her the newly-vacant position of Grand Inquisitor if she succeeds in capturing Kenobi, which only incentivizes Reva further.
Based on the way they speak to each other, it seems that my theory about Reva being a “secret apprentice” to Vader (see: my “Part II” coverage) is not correct. Unless they’re playing the long game and being extremely secretive about their communications, Reva is just trying to please Vader, which makes sense if she’s trying to climb the ranks of the Inquisitorius. Sucking up to Palpatine’s right hand would be the right way to go in that regard.
Reva returns to their home base, Fortress Inquisitorius on the moon of Nur, to inform the other Inquisitors of her plans. She’s openly opposed by the Fifth Brother, who believes that he deserves the Grand Inquisitor’s position. Sung Kang (Fast Five), whose performance I wasn’t fully on board with in the first two episodes, has now completely won me over as the Fifth Brother. He brings just the perfect amount of anger and ruthlessness to a role that was barely fleshed out in Rebels. I’m glad to see him get more screen time here.
Obi-Wan and Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair) depart the ship on Mapuzo, a desolate planet that was once flourishing before the Empire took it over. While on the way to the rendezvous point set up by temporary ally Haja Estree, Obi-Wan gives them both fake names and backstories in case they’re spotted and questioned. Here, we get the sense that Leia is an optimist, choosing to believe in the kindness of people (even strangers), while Obi-Wan is much more negative and defeatist about putting faith in those he doesn’t know. Even when the rendezvous point appears to be a dead end, Leia still believes there’s hope. Her innocence and belief in everything is a direct contrast to Obi-Wan’s pessimism, which makes their pairing even more interesting. From the way that this episode ends, it seems like their shared story’s not over yet.
After a vision of Revenge of the Sith-era Anakin, Obi-Wan and Leia are picked up by a feckless transport driver by the name of Freck, voiced by Zach Braff (Scrubs, Chicken Little). Freck’s cheerfulness does not betray his Imperial allegiances, which Obi-Wan only realizes immediately before boarding his transport. After a series of tense moments involving a suspicious platoon of stormtroopers, they seem like they’re almost out of the woods. But, in typical dramatic fashion, they escape dance only to find themselves in more danger: Freck betrays them to a group of troopers at a checkpoint, and then Reva’s probe droid arrives and identifies Obi-Wan. It just doesn’t stop!
During the fight that breaks out, a stormtrooper falls from a tower and gets bisected by the laser that guards the checkpoint, in a glimpse of some extreme (albeit still bloodless) violence that Star Wars is able to get away with on television. The Mandalorian has dipped its toe into this well too, but somehow I don’t believe the theatrical films would dare to go in that direction. Perhaps it’s the more “kid-friendly” nature that the films have established, but I’ve always found the brutality of the Star Wars galaxy to be fascinating whenever we’re able to take a peek behind that curtain. I don’t know exactly what that says about me, but maybe I’m just looking for the more mature side of Star Wars as I myself get older.
Haja’s ally, an Imperial officer named Tala Durith (played by Game of Thrones’ Indira Varma) rescues them, and takes them to a nearby settlement where a pilot will take them off-world. Tala tells them that they’ve been operating this rescue system for quite a while now, in one of the many early stages of what will eventually become the Rebellion. Obi-Wan notices writing on the wall that indicates the former presence of Quinlan Vos, a Jedi who never appeared in live-action, but had multiple storylines in The Clone Wars (which ran from 2008 to 2012, with a brief revival in 2020) and a host of spin-off novels, one of which revealed his eventual fate in tandem with Clone Wars character Asajj Ventress. His storylines are fascinating, and while the reference in Obi-Wan Kenobi is just that, hopefully it will inspire some to look back at Vos’ other canon appearances, many of which are worth checking out.
Before the escape can go off without a hitch, the Inquisitors arrive with pitch-perfect timing. They’re led not by Reva, and not by the Fifth Brother, but by Lord Vader himself, who is perhaps the most intimidating we’ve ever seen him (bar the hallway scene from Rogue One). Without saying a word, he strides down the street of the settlement, pulling random people out of their houses with the Force and ruthlessly murdering them in an effort to draw Obi-Wan out.
One thing I’m loving about this series is that it shows the street-level cruelties of the Empire in ways that the Original Trilogy, and even the animated series, never did. Earlier in the episode, Leia questioned Obi-Wan about the Empire’s true exploits, which she’s never witnessed firsthand. To her, the Empire is a shining light, but Vader’s rampage is a harsh reminder of the truth that the films have largely avoided.
I will admit, Vader’s appearance had me cackling like a madman. His fleeting minutes in Rogue One had me stoked, but to see him appear again in an even larger role can only be described as not just a treat, but a full-course meal. We’re living in an age where everything is possible, and it could be that’s excellent and emotional (Spider-Man: Far From Home), cringeworthy and disappointing (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) or anywhere in between. While the character of Vader is being used for his surface-level story duties, it’s still awesome to have him back, and I could watch him slaughter villages all day. I said what I said.
When Vader and Obi-Wan finally meet face-to-face, it’s truly something to behold. The most important question I was asking myself, though, is if it breaks the strict canon established by A New Hope. I went back to their fight scene from the 1977 film and, sure enough, Vader tells Obi-Wan “We meet again at last. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” This doesn’t betray any sort of timeline or outwardly deny that they encountered each other in the years since, meaning that their meeting in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope is entirely within the realm of possibility.
Tala goes back to rescue Obi-Wan and leaves Leia on her own to escape — a harebrained decision if ever I saw one — which leads the young princess right into Reva’s hands. And then…the episode was over. The ending was very abrupt, which in my mind is different from a cliffhanger: a good cliffhanger is built up with tone, while Obi-Wan transitions to the credits as if it were moving on to another scene, with no prior indication that that would be the end. It all feels incomplete, and while I understand that’s the point of a television series, the ending didn’t feel earned in the slightest.
Even now, my mind still hasn’t been made up. I know I haven’t written much about my qualms, but “Part III” of Obi-Wan Kenobi is generally a fine episode of television that starts off subtle, then builds up to excellence, delivering on nearly every single promise made about the series. It’s not as good as the first two episodes, but seeing Obi-Wan haunted by the revelation that his former apprentice lives is a brilliant direction for the series to go in, and their later confrontation is the best (and objectively the most gorgeous) scene the series has offered so far.
Upon my re-evaluation of the series at the halfway mark, I’ve realized that many of my problems lie with the writing. Some scenes and storylines convey different tones than the rest, creating an uncomfortable disparity, and much of the dialogue is very formulaic and cliché. That’s nothing new when it comes to Star Wars, but with the budget and scale afforded to these series, you’d think that a certain level of quality would be guaranteed. The Book of Boba Fett tipped us off that that’s not always the case, but Obi-Wan Kenobi still has a chance to prove otherwise.
I didn’t love “Part III,” but I didn’t hate it either. Sometimes it’s frustrating when I can’t make up my mind, but then again, only Sith deal in absolutes, so perhaps I’m doing myself a favor in this instance.