“Is everything OK?” Imperial defector turned resistance fighter Tala asks Obi-Wan Kenobi in the fifth episode of the latter’s eponymous series.
“It will be,” the Jedi master says.
That’s not news to us; we’ve seen the original trilogy. From the start, Lucasfilm’s latest series has tried to thread a Stone Needle by conspicuously evoking classic Star Wars films while simultaneously obscuring the ways in which their existence dramatically lowers the stakes of Obi-Wan Kenobi. This delicate trick hasn’t always worked. Last week’s episode was the season’s low-water mark (so to speak), as a slapdash, abbreviated visit to a partly flooded Fortress Inquisitorius exposed the seams in a project that’s morphed from a film to a miniseries and seen its scripts marked up by a multitude of pens.
This week’s follow-up fares a bit better. It can’t quite make us forget that everything will work out in the long run, but it provides plenty of diversions, because in the short term, things are far from OK. The structure of Episode 5 of Obi-Wan apes the setup for Episode V of the Skywalker saga. But amid its homage to The Empire Strikes Back, the penultimate chapter—credited to showrunner Joby Harold and Andrew Stanton, with no trace of original writer Hossein Amini—gets around to revealing the answers to questions that the series has slow-walked for the past few weeks. Questions including: What’s Reva’s deal? Will the real Grand Inquisitor please stand up? And the big one: Was casting Hayden Christensen mostly a marketing move, or would he actually be seen outside of the suit, sans prosthetics?
Not content with merely mining its surrounding Star Wars trilogies for characters and themes, Obi-Wan Kenobi has repeatedly stolen their set pieces. The third episode’s Obi-Wan–Vader reunion borrowed beats from their Mustafar matchup and the Luke-Vader meeting on Bespin, while last week’s infiltration of and escape from Fortress Inquisitorius echoed (and foreshadowed) Episode IV’s Death Star sequence. This week, we might as well be back on Hoth, albeit with a warmer climate. Obi-Wan, Leia, and Tala—plus last week’s hastily introduced Path representatives, Roken and Sully—have flown back to the base on Jabiim. (NED-B, Haja, and Corran—the kid Haja helped make a costly escape from Daiyu—are also on the scene.) The Empire, following a signal sent from Leia’s restraining-bolted droid Lola, is hot on their hyperdrive. Vader, on the bridge of the Devastator—the same Star Destroyer he’ll later take to Hoth—pins a Grand Inquisitor insignia on Reva’s chest, an ostensible reward for finding the hideout. At the dark lord’s behest, Lola sabotages the base’s hangar doors and prevents the good guys from evacuating, which sets the stage for the Empire to take the fight to them. As General Rieekan—Roken? Rieekan? Eh?—once said, “Prepare for ground assault.”
But this week’s chapter doesn’t only look forward; it also looks back. Even before Reva’s audience with Vader, the episode opens with a long-awaited flashback. (No bacta tank required.) Anakin, still wearing his Padawan braid, gazes at the Coruscant skyline—toward a building that looks like Padmé’s—practicing the pose Vader will one day employ to survey the view from his fortress on Mustafar and from his flagship’s bridge. “Ah, there you are,” Obi-Wan says as he enters, speaking for every Obi-Wan Kenobi watcher who wondered whether that fleeting vision on Mapuzo was the only time we would see Christensen unencumbered by suit and scarred fake flesh. “Was beginning to think you weren’t coming, Master,” Anakin says—a response that reminds us both that Obi-Wan Kenobi took its time to reach the screen, and that the Vader of the series has been awaiting a rematch with his former master for a decade.
This encounter dates back a good deal longer than that: Anakin was knighted between Attack of the Clones and The Clone Wars (the 2008 film), which places this meeting at least three years prior to Order 66 and at least 13 years before Obi-Wan Kenobi. Some CGI de-aging, or perhaps heavy makeup, can’t camouflage the lines etched into Ewan McGregor’s and Christensen’s faces since Episode II, but the nostalgia is strong with this scene. The prequel-era sparring session, which seems to be on both the older Obi-Wan’s and Vader’s minds, serves as a preview of the confrontation to come; the back-and-forth between their younger selves, parceled out in several glimpses interspersed with the episode’s present-day developments, mirrors events on Jabiim. “Maybe I stand more of a chance this time,” Obi-Wan says to Anakin, alluding to being outdueled in a past practice session but also suggesting to us that he may not be as overmatched by Vader in Round 3 as he was two weeks ago. The two circle each other warily, as they will on Mustafar.
Vader makes the first strike in the flashback, and he does the same on Jabiim, sending Reva and a contingent of stormtroopers and Purge Troopers to knock nicely on the front door of the base. That door—along with every other entrance—has been barred by Reva, who worries that the defenders could hold out for days if they aren’t broken, but Vader assures her that “it is not them we need to break.” It’s Obi-Wan—and, perhaps, Reva herself, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Obi-Wan knows the attack is coming, and that Vader doesn’t have the patience for a siege. How does he know? Well—cue the flashback!—he’s fought him before.
“You grow too aggressive, Anakin,” past Obi tells past Ani. “Be mindful. A Jedi’s goal is to defend life, not take it.” Anakin, who’s probably pretty sick of being told to be mindful, responds with a one-handed slash. “Mercy doesn’t defeat an enemy, Master,” he says, as the two stand back to back. “Which is why you’re gonna lose.” A decade-plus later, Vader is no Jedi, and defending life isn’t on his agenda.
In the base, Obi-Wan sifts through relics of the lives that the Path delivered to freedom; the Jedi who visited the Star Wars equivalent of Ed the Disappearer and shed the trappings of their former lives left their lightsabers and cloaks behind in big boxes o’ belongings. They also left written calling cards. “The light will fade, but it is never forgotten,” an inscription says on another wall festooned with names and other fodder for the audience’s Aurebesh sleuths. Obscure Expanded Universe figures Corwin Shelvay and Tiberus Anderlock are the most prominent new names to be transported into the current continuity; Pablo Hidalgo or another Lucasfilm fan of the old EU is really going to town on resuscitating formerly Disney-decanonized survivors of the Jedi Purge. (Djinn Altis and Roganda Ismaren, whose names adorned the secret room on Mapuzo, also signed the visitors’ book on Jabiim, evidently determined to telegraph their survival to the hunters on their trail.)
Obi-Wan does his best to reassure and rally the nervous crowd of noncombatants, all of whom expect the Imperial Inquisition. “We just need to hold them off long enough to get you all out,” he says, adding, “If we defend our position together, then by the time they get inside, we’ll be gone.” There’s never a planetary ion cannon around when you need one. The problem this time isn’t avoiding an Imperial blockade; it’s raising the roof that was sealed by Lola. Roken’s only plan appears to be pushing the “open hangar” button and grunting when it doesn’t work. He pooh-poohs Haja’s suggestion to find out why the roof won’t open—“I’m a little too big to be crawling around in the vents”—and then, when Leia asks for a ladder, says, “It’s not playtime right now, Princess.” Profiles in leadership! It doesn’t speak well of the Inquisitors that they couldn’t catch this guy, who’s always good for a facepalm or two per scene.
Not that Roken is the only leader making questionable decisions. Obi-Wan excuses himself to view a transmission from Bail, who’s blowing up his secret holoprojector. “I know we said no communication, but your silence worries me,” Leia’s adoptive dad says. Oh, well, in that case; you can’t expect someone to maintain strict radio silence if that silence seems worrisome. Not only does Bail risk blowing Ben’s cover, but he helpfully goes on to spill all of the secrets he’s worried will get out: “If he’s found you, if he’s learned of the children … If I don’t hear from you soon, I’ll head to Tatooine. Owen will need help with the boy.” Walk me through your thinking, Bail: You’re stressed because something could have happened to Obi-Wan, so you leave him a message alluding to Vader’s incognito kids and then announce where one of them is, just in case his possible captors haven’t tortured that info out of him yet. Why not draw them a map to the Lars farm? Sure, his fear for his friend and his daughter could be clouding his thinking, but come on, man—try to act like one of the founders of the future Rebel Alliance. Leaving Luke at his uncle’s house didn’t seem wise in the first place, but this message marks a new low for the Obi-Wan–Bail cabal.
I hate to be the guy who nitpicks plot points, but Obi-Wan Kenobi can be painfully clumsy when it comes to pushing its pieces across the board. It’s not often subtle in explaining how its protagonists and antagonists are thinking and feeling, either. In the next scene, Tala explains what caused her to defect. It’s roughly what one would expect: While stationed on Garel, she was instructed to round up some supposed tax cheats. They were actually four families of Force-sensitives—14 folks in all, including six kids—whom the Inquisitors summarily executed. A “Wait, are we the baddies?” epiphany follows, which convinces her to turn on the Empire and attempt to balance the scales. Now she makes a mark on her blaster holster every time she saves someone. (If it’s any consolation, there appear to be at least 14 ticks.) “You’re right, Ben,” she says, picking up a thread from a similarly tell-don’t-show chat en route to Nur last week. “Some things you can’t forget. But you can fight to make them better.” Having imparted this wisdom to Obi-Wan, she’s free to die—but again we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Last week, Roken pivoted from dead set against assisting Obi-Wan to all in on allying with him in less than a minute of screen time. This week, it takes one scene for him to flip-flop from condescendingly dismissing Leia’s offer to totally abandoning his brilliant button-pressing plan and leaving the base’s fate entirely in a 10-year-old’s hands. Obi-Wan, seeing that salvation isn’t coming from the local leaders, proposes a palaver with Reva, who’s set up outside with a big blaster cannon and—judging by the credits—the California garrison of the 501st Legion, some members of which were last seen on screen supplying muscle for Moff Gideon on Nevarro. (Natalie Holt’s score references the Imperial March as the troops debark, though my ears were craving the real thing.)
Obi-Wan’s tête-à-tête with Reva through the not-soundproof door yields two twists, one of which is legitimately semi-surprising. Obi-Wan, piecing together the same clues that the audience did at the end of Episode 2, realizes that Reva must have been at the Temple after Order 66 and seen Anakin killing her fellow younglings. (“Somehow, you survived,” Kenobi says, treading perilously close to a notorious piece of Star Wars exposition.) Another flashback shows those events from young Reva’s POV, as present-day Reva narrates. “We thought he was there to help us,” she says. “I tried to help them, but I couldn’t. I was too weak. When he left, I played dead. Hid with the bodies. Felt them grow cold. They were the only family I knew, and he slaughtered them.” Her description of the carnage—set in a school of sorts, no less—brings to mind horrific, recent, real-world events, which likely accounts for the content warning that precedes the episode: “There are certain scenes in this fictional series that some viewers may find upsetting.”
The hatred in Reva’s voice—when is there not hatred in Reva’s voice?—alerts Obi-Wan (and us) that she hasn’t been currying favor with Vader because she was angling for a promotion. She was trying to get close enough to kill him. “You’re not serving him, are you?” Obi-Wan asks. “You’re hunting him. Let me help you.” Reva wonders why she would trust him; Obi-Wan tells her they want the same thing, which Reva understandably doubts. “Do we, Obi-Wan?” she asks. “Do you really want Anakin dead?” It’s a reasonable question: Obi-Wan had a chance to kill Vader a decade ago, but he left him alive. Then she twists the knife: “Where were you while he was killing my friends? He was your Padawan. Why didn’t you stop him? Why didn’t you save us?” Obi-Wan has asked himself those questions during a lot of long nights on Tatooine.
Reva, like Tala, is a double agent, though she was never under any illusions about the Empire and doesn’t seem interested in saving any innocents. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) Nor is she interested in Obi-Wan’s help—or anyone’s. “You won’t stop him alone,” Obi-Wan says, which prompts a chilling retort: “You have no idea what I’ve done alone.” On the one hand, hunting down Jedi to get revenge on Vader for his hunting down Jedi isn’t the most morally or logically consistent scheme. On the other hand, revenge is rarely logical, and witnessing trauma at an early age and undergoing Inquisitor training are liable to send one down the dark path. Plus, this seems consistent with some of what we’ve seen. As I noted after Episode 3, Reva’s reaction to the Jedi crest on Mapuzo hinted at her turmoil; she reflexively reached toward the symbol of her old Order and then angrily pulled her hand back, possibly bitter that neither Obi-Wan nor any other Jedi put her on a Path to a better life.
After twisting a figurative knife in Obi-Wan’s gut, Reva plunges her lightsaber into the blast door and quickly cuts the lock (which makes one wonder why she bothered with the cannon). Some vintage Star Wars confined-corridor fights ensue; evidently the budget didn’t allow for a full-scale redo of the Battle of Jabiim, or even the Resistance’s last-ditch defense when cornered on Crait. Stormtroopers die in droves, but the good guys suffer a couple of casualties: A terminally damaged NED-B parks itself in front of an injured Tala and powers down forever, forming a droid shield. Tala uses that time to sacrifice herself via thermal detonator, much to Obi-Wan’s dismay. The scene smacks of IG-11’s sacrifice in the Season 1 finale of The Mandalorian, as well as Obi-Wan’s end in Episode IV. It’s a tough one for the Obi-Wan–Tala shippers, though, as well as those who hoped to see her in Andor.
Vader, still in orbit, orders Reva to stand down, declaring, “Kenobi is already ours.” He expects Obi-Wan to surrender to save the civilians. Back at the Temple (and back in time), the sparring rages on, as the exchange of blocked blows approaches Revenge of the Sith’s intensity. “There’s no way out, Master,” Anakin says, delivering prequel-esque dialogue as he hacks at and overpowers Obi-Wan, just as he will on Mapuzo years later. “Admit you are beaten.” (Those don’t look like low-powered training sabers. Seems dangerous!) On Jabiim, the older Obi-Wan says “It’s over”(which we’ve heard him say before) and hands his holoprojector, blaster, and lightsaber to Haja. “He’ll keep coming,” Roken says. “That’s why I have to stop him.” Roken doesn’t think that can be done without a weapon, but Obi-Wan assures him, “There are other ways to fight.” (Which sounds a lot like the older Obi-Wan’s, “There are alternatives to fighting.”)
One way is to enlist Reva’s aid; if she could be turned, she would become a powerful ally. Obi-Wan appeals to her à la Luke talking to Vader on Endor’s forest moon; where Luke says, “That’s why you won’t bring me to your emperor now,” Obi-Wan informs her, “You’re not bringing him to me. I’m bringing him to you.” Also like Luke, Kenobi appeals to whatever remains of his adversary’s better nature: “There are families back there. Children. Are you going to let him do it again, what he did to you?” He ends his appeal with a Vader-esque offer to team up: “We could end this together.”
Reva is almost swayed, but she has a slight reservation: “What makes you think he won’t see it coming?” Obi-Wan, whose powers of persuasion are formidable even without a Jedi-mind-trick multiplier, rests his case with a one-line summation: “Because all he’ll see is me.” That turns out not to be true, but it’s enough to sell the Grand delusions-of-grandeur Inquisitor. She sends him back into the base in the dubious custody of two soon-to-be-disarmed stormtroopers, neither of whom questions the inexplicable order or seems to suspect that they’re being set up. I’d love to know what was going through their heads as they marched away from safety, escorting a Jedi who’s clearly capable of killing them. Stormtroopers may not be much use in combat, but they’re pros at taking orders.
In surrendering his weapon and pursuing an indirect approach, Obi-Wan is repeating a pattern from the Temple training session—and so is his former apprentice. After more furious fighting, Anakin knocks the saber out of Obi-Wan’s hand and, with a satisfied smile, pronounces, “There. Your weapon’s gone. It’s over.” But he doesn’t have the high ground, and Obi-Wan doesn’t give him the approval and validation he believes he deserves. “Your need for victory, Anakin. It blinds you,” he says. Anakin’s smile crumples; he’s hurt and resentful, deprived of the affirmation he wants from his mentor. It’s a poignant moment that’s well-acted by Christensen, which makes one wonder what he could have been capable of in the prequels had his director paid more attention to the quality of his cast’s performances.
The episode’s climax arrives with a series of cuts that come almost as quickly as Obi-Wan and Anakin’s slashes and parries. Vader stalks into the base, heading for the hangar. Leia removes the restraining bolt from Lola, reopens the roof, and reunites with Obi-Wan, and the refugees begin boarding a transport. As Vader reaches the hangar, a ship tries to make like the Millennium Falcon and fly away. But he grips it with the Force and wrestles it to the ground; size matters not, and a transport is a flyspeck compared to the Star Destroyer Starkiller grounds in The Force Unleashed.
But in his renewed need for victory, Vader has been blinded again. As he tears apart the first transport, a second takes off; the first one was a decoy, and our heroes, who boarded the one Vader missed in his moment of triumph, are no more dead than Chewbacca is when Rey destroys what she thinks is his shuttle in The Rise of Skywalker. A final flashback confirms that Vader has fallen prey to old habits: At the end of the sparring sesh, Obi-Wan disarms a wildly lunging Anakin, cementing his apprentice’s defeat. “You’re a great warrior, Anakin, but your need to prove yourself is your undoing,” Obi-Wan says. “Until you overcome it, a Padawan you will still be.” Anakin looks like a sad puppy, even after Obi-Wan softens the blow by clapping him on the shoulder. We don’t really learn anything new about Anakin and Obi-Wan from revisiting their past tussle, but nostalgia aside, the flashbacks provide an effective framing device. Vader may have been mulling over this confrontation, but he hasn’t internalized the lesson or heard the words he wanted from Obi-Wan. (He’s still “but the learner.”) Maybe the Republic toppled because Obi-Wan withheld the praise that Palpatine proffered.
The first (and only) transport is away, but there’s still the small matter of Reva to sort out. As Vader watches Kenobi & Co. disappear, she tries to stealthily saber her boss from behind. As I explained on The Ringer-Verse a few weeks ago, though, Vader has survived a litany of assassination attempts by rivals and enemies inside the Empire—including a couple of Inquisitors—and he’s completely prepared for this one.
Reva’s thoughts betray her, and he restrains her without moving or activating his blade. “He was wise to use you against me,” he says, before ruining Reva’s shit. Belatedly taking a page out of Kenobi’s book, he uses her aggression against her, efficiently sidestepping and Force-blocking, then slowing her spinning blade and snatching it from her hands. He snaps it in half, tosses one blade at her feet, and quickly outclasses her in a duel, winding up with both blades as Reva awaits her end on her knees. (The scenery—and some of the cinematography—on Jabiim leaves a lot to be desired, but this fight choreography rules.) Vader stabs Reva, just as he did at the Temple, and again he leaves her alive. “Did you really believe I did not see it, youngling?” he taunts. “You are of no further use.”
That’s the still-living, legitimate Grand Inquisitor’s cue to come out and do some sneering and gloating. He’s presumably logged some bacta-tank time since his skewering in Episode 2, and he looks as good as new. “Revenge does wonders for the will to live, don’t you think?” he asks. He and Vader used Reva to hunt Obi-Wan, knowing about her betrayal all along. You’d think his own survival from a similar injury would have taught him the value of finishing off an opponent, but he opts for poetic justice instead. “We will leave you where we found you,” he says. “In the gutter, where you belong.”
It’s convenient that the vengeful Vader, who typically kills at the slightest provocation, chooses this instance to spare someone who from his point of view has earned a brutal death. It’s also convenient that the holoprojector that Haja dropped on his way to the transport fell within crawling distance of Reva. The ex–Third Sister, down but not out, watches Bail’s message and learns that Anakin’s kid is with her old acquaintance Owen on Tatooine. Obi-Wan, speeding into space—though not into hyperspace, because in time-honored Star Wars fashion, the transport’s hyperdrive is down—senses her discovery. Kenobi has abandoned Reva to Vader once again, and the scene is set for a finale return to Tatooine, where the series started—and where an unsuspecting Luke sleeps peacefully, perchance to dream of Tosche Station.
By all accounts, Obi-Wan will tell a complete story—though not one that necessarily precludes a second season—which means that there’s a lot on the to-do list for next week, and many more questions to answer. How will Roken’s ship elude the Devastator? (Zero fighters against a Star Destroyer?) Given that Vader can’t learn about Luke and Obi-Wan on Tatooine, how and where will the Sith and the Jedi have their final confrontation before Episode IV, and can it possibly live up to audience expectations? If the lesson of this week’s episode is that the only winning move is not to play, is it conceivable that they won’t have a final confrontation—and how big would the disturbance in the fan base be if the series ended without one? How many frequent-flier parsecs will Obi-Wan rack up delivering Leia to Alderaan and then jetting back to Tatooine? Will Reva try to kill Luke in a final bid for revenge against Vader, subscribing to Anakin’s policy that “Mercy doesn’t defeat an enemy”?
If so, how will she be thwarted? Will Owen somehow best her, getting payback of his own for being held at lightsaber point in the premiere? Or will Obi-Wan coax her back to the light by showing her that killing Luke would turn her into the same sort of monster as Vader? If she does stand down, could she join up with the Path, or—like Legends character Ferus Olin—help Obi-Wan (and perhaps Haja?) watch over Leia? Would that be enough to cement Obi-Wan’s connection to Qui-Gon? And what steps will the writers take to smooth out any perceived continuity problems caused by the unanticipated, inter-trilogy meetings of Obi-Wan and Vader and Obi-Wan and Leia?
Hoth, the setting that partly inspired this week’s action, is where Obi-Wan’s Force ghost gives guidance to Luke. Next week, Luke will need the flesh-and-blood Ben by his side—and Obi-Wan will have to face down his demon, Darth Vader, again, even though the only way to defeat Darth is to lay down one’s weapon instead of trying to outduel dominance personified. “He’ll keep coming,” Obi-Wan says. “That’s why I have to stop him.” Of course, he can’t stop him—not now. But if the finale fires on all cylinders, it may make us forget that the outcome is predetermined until the credits roll.