This Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 3
What kind of monster is Darth Vader? This week’s Obi-Wan Kenobi presents Vader as both terrifying and vulnerable. While Part III doesn’t always nail the visuals, the confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader brings back classic Star Wars thrills.
Obi-Wan and Leia head to Mapuzo, a once-pastoral planet the Empire is now strip-mining. He’s trying to reach Qui-Gon through the Force. Instead, he’s confronted only with memories and visions of Anakin and the other tragedies in his life. Leia is more hopeful, but knows little about the Force or how evil the Empire can be. On the Imperial side of things, the Third Sister calls Darth Vader himself. The Inquisitors are still fighting among themselves. The Third Sister and Fifth Brother clash over who gets to bring Obi-Wan’s location to Vader. And in one of the episode’s most gruesome sequence, we watch as Vader’s med droids pack him into his life-sustaining armor on Mustafar.
On Mapuzo, the contact who was supposed to lead Obi-Wan and Leia to safety doesn’t appear. Instead, a miner named Freck (Zach Braff), who is sympathetic to the Empire but supposedly kindly, picks them up. This turns out to be a trap, and Obi-Wan takes down stormtroopers at a checkpoint in a firefight. He’s almost overwhelmed by Imperial forces when his real contact arrives: Tala Durith (Game of Thrones‘ Indira Varma), an Imperial officer now part of a Jedi equivalent of the Underground Railroad.
She attempts to take Leia to safety, but Obi-Wan stays behind when he sees Vader has arrived on the planet. This kicks off a long-awaited confrontation between master and apprentice. Anakin is full of hate for Obi-Wan, saying, “I am what you made me” and throwing Obi-Wan into a pile of burning slag so that Obi-Wan can feel what it was like for Anakin on Mustafar. Obi-Wan narrowly escapes through a combination of Vader’s own desire to kill him slowly and Tala’s intervention. However, Tala going to help Obi-Wan means no one is there to stop the Third Sister from capturing Leia.
Obi-Wan’s characterization comes through deftly this episode, shown in actions as much or more so than with words. He’s focused on running and hiding, even when confronted with his old-friend-turned-rival. This Obi-Wan is also a far cry from the one who called blasters “uncivilized.” His casual willingness to use a gun for dirty tricks also shows how far he’s fallen from Jedi pride. The one glimmer of hope he has is when he describes to Leia what the Force feels like. It’s a beautiful description, and thoroughly sets up a contrast between the two characters. Leia still feels there’s good in people. While Obi-Wan will undoubtedly come out of this series with some of that optimism rubbed off on him, it’s still a nice addition to the dynamic. Leia’s presence also helps the show feel like a seamless extension of the Original Trilogy. Vivien Lyra Blair continues to be excellent in this role.
The star of this episode, though, is inevitably Vader. His presence isn’t all that scary at first, the armoring scene providing visual detail unmatched by the bland dialogue in the conversation between him and Reva. By the time he confronts Obi-Wan, though, he’s firing on all cylinders. James Earl Jones sounds almost pitch-perfect when delivering the villain’s threats, just like he did 40 years ago. It’s almost like Jones’ voice hasn’t aged at all — whether or not that’s due to Disney audio magic, it’s a treat.
Some of the action here is muddy, both too sterile and dark to reach the Original Trilogy’s much-copied heights. In particular, I found the beginning of the Vader fight distractingly dark until the lightsabers were lit. Once the two legendary rivals were cast in neon, though, the scene earns its darkness. The colors here are classic Star Wars iconography, making the fight look like a living movie poster. It’s just begging for fanart. Then director Deborah Chow goes in for the kill with the gold of the fire Vader casts Obi-Wan into. If there was any doubt this episode was a Revenge of the Sith role reversal redux it’s gone now, with shots paralleling Anakin burning before Obi-Wan. Vader’s inventive, ironic cruelty puts him firmly back on the pedestal as a great movie monster.
There’s also some great directorial flair elsewhere. The cuts between Reva and Vader make it feel like the heroes are truly surrounded. I especially liked the brief beat in Natalie Holt’s score matching Reva’s footsteps as she approaches Leia’s hiding place.
Some other choices didn’t work as well: the first-person lightsaber scenes reminded me of the much cheaper look of the Halo TV series, and some overhead shots look unmoored since the setting is so bland. Overall, though, the character work and the thrill of seeing the Prequel actors in live action again makes this episode a standout. Vader will surely appear again in a finale, but the show pulled no punches with his mid-series fight.
The bickering between the Inquisitors continues to be a highlight, too. We don’t get much more detail about Reva’s motivations here; instead, the script nicely clarifies the way the Inquisitors are all jostling for Vader’s powerful favor.
As for the good guys, the atmosphere on Mapuzo is pure Star Wars. The miner being a literal mole alien is so goofy that it circles around to being great, as is the scene of the stormtroopers buying Obi-Wan’s feeble lies. It helps that Ewan McGregor really sells the grief in his voice; Leia may have made up the story about going to visit the spot where her fictitious father met her fictitious mother, but she also knows she’s adopted and that Obi-Wan has some connection to her family. It’s reasonable, and heart-wrenching, when she asks him whether he’s her real dad. It also continues the trend of evoking not only Anakin’s tragedy, but Padmé’s.
Despite questionable lighting and floaty action, “Part III” solidifies Obi-Wan Kenobi as the most entertaining Star Wars TV show since The Mandalorian. This one requires more prior knowledge, too, drawing heavily on both the Prequel and Original sagas. Right now, that’s a good thing.