This Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi review contains spoilers.
Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 6
Obi-Wan Kenobi is perhaps a dish best served in small portions. After five episodes full of cutting confrontations, episode six feels repetitive and contrived. Characters clash because they need to, when they need to. Glimmers of chemistry, and Star Wars tropes that come off as endearing rather than weak links, crop up here and there. But overall, the final adventure for Leia and Obi-Wan fails to tie the series together because it’s too busy trying to tie all of the franchise together. Even the Sequel Trilogy gets a visual echo.
At the start of “Part VI,” Obi-Wan, Leia, and the Path rebels are on the run. In order to give them time to escape, Obi-Wan plays on Vader’s sense of drama. It’s the Jedi he wants, so Obi-Wan baits him into a fight on a rocky planet. Since the Empire is attacking the rebel ship very slowly and ineffectively, this gives the others time to escape. Meanwhile, Reva goes to Tatooine to add Luke to her list of indirect vengeance. Someone tips Owen and Beru off, giving them some time to prepare while the wounded ex-Inquisitor searches for them.
Obi-Wan and Vader battle it out. They’re pretty evenly matched until Vader buries Obi-Wan in a rockfall using the Force. But the Jedi escapes and slashes Vader’s mask open, prompting a heart-to-heart in which Obi-Wan is both absolved (“I’m not your failure, Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.”) and cuts ties with who Vader used to be (“Then my friend is truly dead”).
Back on Tatooine, Reva corners Luke but can’t bring herself to kill him. She turns herself in to Obi-Wan instead, admitting that she didn’t want to become the Darth Vader who haunts her memories of being a child during Order 66. The finale wraps up with a crop of cameos and closed loops: Emperor Palpatine tells Vader to focus on the future, Obi-Wan and the Alderaan crew (including Leia, safe at home) look nervously toward what’s next for them, the Jedi Master briefly greets young Luke, and Qui-Gon’s ghost appears to lead his former apprentice into his contemplative desert fate.
The truth is that saying a franchise product relies too much on its source material isn’t even particularly novel criticism any more. But with Obi-Wan Kenobi, the last 20 minutes in particular devote the majority of their time to longing looks at the franchise’s past. One of the episode’s best moments, the reveal of Hayden Christensen’s scarred face behind Darth Vader’s mask, already happened in animation with Ahsoka Tano and Vader in Rebels. While that arc took place deep within the show’s questionable cameo era, it also mixed and matched characters in inventive ways. Maul attempted to mentor Ezra; Ahsoka mentored original Jedi Kanan Jarrus; the Inquisitors were still new. In Obi-Wan Kenobi, the pairings are exactly what you might expect.
The exception is Reva. Her choice is powerful but understated, a slow burn of conscience in which she decides not to become the monster haunting her own nightmares. It’s great to see the character make her own choice in her own way. It isn’t the same old trope where the hero steps in to save the villain — Reva saves herself.
We never fully learn when it sank in for her that Luke is Vader’s son, as none of the characters ever talk about it outright, but Moses Ingram has great chemistry with Ewan McGregor in the few minutes the two spend on the same side of the Force’s moral line. I do like that her decision follows on what Obi-Wan said to her at the Path base. However, her story also feels like it’s searching for a spinoff, and not in a good way. I’d have loved just one more flashback scene about what her dynamic with Vader was when she was younger, about how his hatred for Obi-Wan transferred to her or how her own festered.
Unfortunately, since we know Luke can’t die on this show, Reva is ultimately as toothless as the rest of the threats in this episode. Vader is the only one who really even poses the illusion of a threat, displaying more inventive uses of the Force to bury Obi-Wan underground. The pacing of the rest of the scenes makes the Imperials seem useless. Why does the Star Destroyer struggle so much to capture the zig-zagging Path ship? (Giving Obi-Wan several mournful goodbye scenes strains the big ship’s credibility.) Wounded by Vader, Reva struggles against Owen and Beru. But the plot also dictates she can’t actually kill anyone she’s after. And Beru’s insistence that the family stand their ground doesn’t work as a moment of fierce empowerment: the audience knows that Reva won’t kill the family, and that Beru’s later stand against the Empire will be completely ineffective.
I can forgive a lot when it comes to Star Wars. Hyperspace moves at the speed of drama. Relative power levels matter less than plot. Characters fighting against the inevitability of the story established in 1977 can still be great. Just look at Rogue One. Removing Leia from the majority of the finale saps the drama, though. Throughout, I wanted the action integrated more closely into the characters’ relationships. What if Vader threatened Leia? What if Reva had a change of heart but didn’t know how to express that, finding herself at the wrong end of a blaster for a crime she actually didn’t commit?
Another example of how “Part VI” was better at set pieces than integrating characters: Liam Neeson’s cameo as Qui-Gon Jinn’s Force ghost. Obi-Wan doesn’t reach any particular revelation in order to find his old master. Speaking to the dead isn’t relevant to the plot. Instead, it’s a convenient stinger, one last cameo. Likewise, Obi-Wan’s “Hello there” floats just above the actual circumstances, paying homage to the films in a way so shallow it actually weakens Luke’s story. So, the boy now has memories of seeing “old Ben” and being chased by a person with a red lightsaber. It’s easy to argue that he won’t remember any of it in a decade’s time, or that nothing strictly contradicts the film, but an argument does not a good story make.
What did I like about this episode? McGregor continues to excel at acting with his eyes. It’s a slightly more naturalistic performance than in the Prequel Trilogy and yet does not lose the operatic size a core Star Wars character must have. The final confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader had some good dramatic moments (Vader moving the earth, and I am not immune to Obi-Wan’s Prequel fighting style) when it did not feel like a fated (scripted) high noon standoff in front of a cardboard set. The Volume continues to show what it can do with the mix of flat backgrounds and flimsy rocks on the muddy-colored planet, but the seams still show.
Like all Star Wars stories, Obi-Wan Kenobi still manages to leave the viewer with a sense of potential despite what actually appeared on screen. Little Leia has more than proven her mettle. Little Luke is…fine? He has the Skywalker look down, showing an uncanny resemblance to Jake Lloyd. I’m curious about where Reva’s story goes next, especially if it allows McGregor and Ingram some more time with each other. Vader, though, can stay in the toy box for a little while. After this finale, I need to remind myself he can still be scary, and not just an echo from better days.