Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 4 Review
A beautifully shot episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi takes the fight to the Inquisitors but doesn't quite stick the landing.
This Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 4
After some empty-looking landscapes last week, Star Wars is back to thoroughly convincing science fiction hallways in “Part 4” of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The setting certainly helps add tension to an episode that fizzles a bit emotionally in the second half. But overall, Ewan McGregor continues to prove himself essential to the galaxy far, far away as his show reaches the final stretch.
Leia has been captured by the Empire and brought to Fortress Inquisitorius, a name at least one person says with a very straight face. To rescue her, Obi-Wan and Tala enlist the help of the proto-rebels on Jabiim, including an operative named Roken (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr). Fans hoping for more Legends canon tie-ins on the planet won’t get them here. Instead, Obi-Wan sees only a few rooms in the base and the inside of a bacta tank. While healing, he relives his duel with Darth Vader, whose parallel healing bath provides yet more highly-effective angst as these estranged brothers share the pain of burning alive.
Obi-Wan and Tala sneak into the fortress using her officer clearance codes. Meanwhile, Reva interrogates Leia, who resists the Third Sister’s attempts to both threaten and cajole. Out of patience, Reva sends Leia to an interrogation room for physical torture (plus does something we later realize is planting a tracker on Leia’s droid). Before Leia can be hurt, though, Obi-Wan fights his way into the room while Tala stages a fake confession to distract Reva. The Inquisitor isn’t buying it, but the good guys keep running her around with distractions, this time Obi-Wan drawing the attention of stormtroopers. Obi-Wan uses the Force to get the good guys out of a flooding underwater tunnel. At the last minute, just as our heroes are surrounded by the might of the Empire, the crew from Jabiim swoops in to save the day, losing one of their pilots in the process.
“Part 4” never quite returns to the potent mix of history, character, emotion and world-building provided by that opening bacta scene. At least it’s using the bacta tank to much better effect than The Book of Boba Fett did. While I’m not particularly interested in ranking the TV shows (especially two with such different lengths), Obi-Wan Kenobi does pull off its Imperial base infiltration sequence a bit more competently than the one in The Mandalorian season 2.
And this episode has plenty of confidence. Director Deborah Chow, cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, and the rest of the crew go off when it comes to the episode’s lighting (to use a professional term). Every scene in which Obi-Wan ignites his lightsaber casts beautiful neon glows and shimmering reflections. They know they have a good thing going with the use of a lightsaber in the dark and use it to great effect in this episode, at one point casting Obi-Wan as the monster in the shadows, taking down scared stormtroopers one by one. The water in this episode also looks great, full of greens and whites. The base itself doesn’t quite feel like a real place yet, but it’s getting very close. Look at that sea creature stuck to the door of the underwater entrance.
It’s almost impossible to imagine this show without Ewan McGregor. His performance is stellar, his expressions and body language alone selling how haunted his character feels. But it’s also his presence that makes a difference. He provides an effective visual bridge between the Original and Prequel Trilogies, his costume, makeup and affect all arguing against that much-discussed subject of Star Wars recasting. At the same time, it retroactively justifies putting him in as a younger Alec Guinness in the first place.
That The Mandalorian episode I mentioned earlier, “The Believer”? Forcing Din Djarin to take his helmet off near the end of that episode helped the emotional arc land. Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn’t quite do that. By the time the green water started rushing into Fortress Inquisitorius, the script puts character beats aside in favor of action. Sacrificing one of the charming proto-rebel soldiers to the cause doesn’t raise the stakes for Obi-Wan or Leia personally enough. Tala mentions that Obi-Wan might have to forget some of his past to get Leia out alive, but the specter of Vader never really comes back to haunt him. Instead, Vader seems to have missed the whole adventure by a minute, appearing conveniently later to threaten Reva.
The script does give the Third Sister more to work with. Moses Ingram nails a mix of threatening evil and almost intentional awkwardness as little Leia snarkily resists her interrogation. It’s easy to believe that Reva is trying to get her own bitter self-sufficiency to sink into Leia, as if she believes it’s possible to come out of this with the two of them as friends. Their scenes together needed to come off as frightening but not terrifying, revealing but restrained, and I think they worked. Although the show doesn’t go quite so far as showing Leia actually being tortured, it very effectively threatens her. (I also particularly enjoyed Ingram’s delivery of “Was it worth it?”)
The one-off rebels are also fun, a diverse band that manage some characterization in a few lines. Their inclusion at the end still took too much away from what could have been a major decision point for Obi-Wan, but Star Wars continues to excel at making you wonder what adventures the minor characters have just off screen.
Tala uses her Imperial air of authority to bluff her way inside the base. Her efficiency and trained refusal to take no for an answer are fun to watch. However, I wish the script provided some more specificity as to when and why exactly she became disillusioned about the Empire. Indira Varma has two potential traps to fall into — generic Imperial and generic fierce person — and wavers around them in this episode. It’s fun to watch her use what the Empire taught her against it, though.
Vivien Lyra Blair continues to shine, her own royal-trained authority first delighting and then breaking. I don’t think it strains belief that a smart, extraordinary 10 year old who’s been aware of her own importance all her life would do or say anything she does here. This does circle back to my major let-down about this episode, though, with Leia taking Obi-Wan’s hand at the very end in one of those understated moments with which Star Wars tends to handle operatic grief. I’m thinking in particular of Leia comforting Luke after Ben’s own death in A New Hope, and the way Leia is never shown mourning her destroyed home planet. This episode, like the saga as a whole, excels at bringing different characters’ action-heavy plot threads together into a whole that progresses both plot and character beats. But when it has to drop something, it drops the latter.