Until Part 3 of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the vast Star Wars corpus contained only two encounters between Kenobi and Darth Vader, counting the one in which Obi-Wan wound up with the high ground. Last week’s episode upped that total by 50 percent, which automatically made it momentous for fans of the first two trilogies. So how does Part 4 follow that up? By laying the groundwork for the next confrontation, of course—the one that will double the duel count as it stood before this series. That clash can’t come for another week or two, though, which puts Part 4 in the thankless position of being a bridge between climaxes. The latest episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi boasts its entertaining set pieces, movie references, and emotional moments too, but the obligatory reset shifts focus away from the broken bond between Kenobi and Vader, which has driven the narrative ever since Reva notified the former that the latter was alive. The machinations needed to set up the next traumatic run-in places extra pressure on the shortest episode of the series so far, and its storytelling—like the windows on the detention level of Fortress Inquisitorius—springs some leaks.
“We’re wasting time,” Tala barks early in the episode, setting the tone for a chapter that moves at a much more hurried pace than Part 1’s leisurely look at Kenobi’s incognito routine on Tatooine. When we left Ben, he was burned inside and out by his ineffectual fight with his former apprentice. Allowed to escape by a bored Sith lord who’d hoped his prey would provide more of a challenge, he’s spirited to Jabiim, the last stop on the Path that ferries Force sensitives to safety. Leia isn’t as lucky: Despite the world-class sprinting skills she showed off in the first two episodes, she can’t outrun Reva, who holds her captive at Inquisitor HQ. Obi-Wan’s gotta get back on his feet, infiltrate the fortress, liberate Leia—proving for the second time in this series that he can save a Skywalker—and escape, all in roughly 30 minutes of screen time. Good thing the Force is with him, as are Tala and a trio of new allies.
If Part 3 was an homage to the Cloud City lightsaber battle from The Empire Strikes Back, Part 4 almost too faithfully echoes the Death Star escape in Episode IV. (They rhyme.) But before he can get down to the daring rescue, Obi-Wan has to heal, at least a little bit. The beginning of the episode, like the end of Part 2 and the start of Part 3, employs visual parallels between Obi-Wan and Vader. We see Obi-Wan being carried on a stretcher, looking like the supine Vader as he was escorted to surgery in Revenge of the Sith. We linger on his charred skin—unlike Vader or Monty Python’s Black Knight, his physical complaints really are limited to just flesh wounds—and we see through his unfocused eyes as he stares upward, mimicking the POV shot from Episode III in which Vader watches his mask descend for the first time. In case those allusions weren’t obvious enough, we observe Vader in the present, marinating in his bacta tank as Obi-Wan thrashes in his. They’re both grievously wounded in more than one way, and they’re both suspended in prisons partly of their own making. One wouldn’t mistake this for a subtle scene.
Even as his outward wounds heal, Obi-Wan’s spirit is tortured, though now his nightmares of Anakin feature recent events. Kenobi’s convalescence doesn’t last long: Before he’s fully recovered—and before any Book of Boba Fett–style flashbactas can kick in—he awakens to find Tala ogling his nearly naked body. (Tala may not be the explicit love interest for Obi-Wan that she was in one version of the script, but hey, she has eyes.) She tells him he’s safe, but it’s not his own safety he’s concerned about; “Where’s Leia?” he asks.
Unfortunately for her, she’s on Nur, where she’s regaling a pair of silent Stormtroopers with the first draft of the protests she’ll deliver to Vader after he hunts her down nine years later on the Tantive IV. When Reva arrives, she’s equally unmoved by the princess’s protests. This time, Leia isn’t hiding the Death Star plans, but just as in Episode IV, she does refuse to divulge the location of a rebel base. She trusts Obi-Wan to help her, though her lower lip trembles when Reva tells her he’s dead.
Crucially, Reva calls him Obi-Wan, not Ben, which conclusively answers the question of whether Leia knows his real name—and, just as conclusively, establishes that we can’t explain away Leia’s impersonal plea to Obi-Wan in Episode IV by claiming that she never realized “Obi-Wan” was her savior. Why, then, does Leia lead with “Years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars” instead of “Remember me, the girl you fairly recently rescued multiple times and gradually grew fond of?” And why doesn’t she appear to mourn for her old friend after he sacrifices himself?
It’s possible that Obi-Wan will wipe her memory at the end of the season, like Bail wiped C-3PO’s, to safeguard himself and protect her from further interrogation. It’s also possible that she didn’t want to reminisce about old times in a message that might be intercepted, and she didn’t state outright that they hadn’t met. As for why she doesn’t react like Luke to Obi-Wan being struck down—well, she’s made of sterner stuff than her farm-boy brother, she’s already lost her whole planet, and she’s preoccupied with the plight of the Rebellion. (Are you buying any of this?) At least this would explain why she doesn’t miss a beat when Luke tells her “I’m here with Ben Kenobi,” and why she names her son Ben.
That continuity question will keep for the next two weeks. For now, we return to Jabiim, where Obi-Wan is asking for help from a local leader named Roken (O’Shea Jackson), who’s not very hospitable for someone who’s used to hiding Jedi who have head shots on the Inquisitorius Ten Most Wanted. In another indication of the compressed plotting and character introductions of Part 4, Roken pivots from “That’s not my problem” to “If you want my help, you got it” in 55 seconds of screen time, despite Obi-Wan making a major faux pas by telling the widowed ex-husband of a murdered Inquisitor target that he has “no idea what the Empire is capable of.” (Dude, read the room: It’s probably been a while since you’ve talked at length to anyone except a 10-year-old, a Jawa, and your unresponsive former master, but why would these people be taking great risks to oppose the Empire if they didn’t know what it was up to?) Granted, Roken has a reason for changing his mind—Leia knows about Jabiim, so she could blow their cover—but his change of heart still seems a bit abrupt, like a lot of this episode’s plotting.
Speaking of which: Roken and his colleagues, Wade (Ryder McLaughlin) and Sully (Maya Erskine)—who were probably recruited from the Fenway Park bleachers—have somehow gathered good enough intel to know that Leia is on Nur and Vader conveniently isn’t. (Why wouldn’t Vader be involved in questioning the kid who was traveling with his hated nemesis? Is the bacta tank on his ship so special?) In roughly one more minute of screen time—even General Dodonna didn’t work that fast—Obi-Wan and Tala form a plan to breach the “impenetrable” Fortress Inquisitorius using Tala’s officer clearance, a desperate Plan B after Sully and Roken reject Obi-Wan’s request to borrow their T-47s for a run at the stronghold under cover of darkness. (“We’re not soldiers,” Sully says.) Will that clearance still work after Tala seemingly deserted her post on Mapuzo? Come on. You might as well ask whether the shuttle Tydirium’s older code will check out, or whether Migs Mayfeld’s years-old clearances and protocols will work on the internal terminal on Morak. The Empire’s password hygiene has never been strong.
On the trip to Nur, Obi-Wan practices telekinesis; his urgent mission, his brief bacta bath, and Roken calling him “general” have begun to bring his mojo back. “Your body is not the only thing that needs to heal, Ben,” Tala tells him, explaining what he and we already know. “The past is a hard thing to forget, and you just need time, that’s all.” Obi-Wan answers, “Some things can’t be forgotten.” But for Leia’s sake, he’ll try to put them out of his mind for the moment. Leia, meanwhile, is trying to keep Reva out of her mind, first by maintaining that she knows nothing about the Path and later by pulling a Rey and resisting the mind probe that worked so well on Haja. (“Is this a staring contest?” is Leia’s best line since she clapped back at her cousin with “Then I guess I don’t need manners when I’m talking to you.”)
Reva tells Leia, “The braver you seem, the more afraid you are,” which evokes another Leia line from Part 2: “You think the less you say, the less you give away. But really it’s the opposite.” In this case, Leia says little and gives away nothing, though Reva drops some hints about her own past, noting that she learned the lesson about bravery and fear “at a very young age” and that she, like Leia, had a droid taken away from her, “like everything else.” If she was one of the younglings in the first scene of the series, she could be talking about her Order 66 experience; then again, she might also be alluding to the Jedi separating her from her family.
Later, she tells Leia, “I know what it’s like being alone. The people you’re trying to protect, they are not coming for you. … The only person that can save you now, Leia, is you.” It sounds as if Reva is reliving her own childhood choices and projecting the same scenario onto Leia; if she is an ex-youngling, she may have concluded that the Jedi had left her to die, and joined the Inquisitors to save herself from execution. But Reva is wrong, just as Obi-Wan was when he told Leia no one was coming to meet them on Mapuzo. Kenobi has a point that people are not all good, but they aren’t all bad, either. And now he’s proving the point by embarking on what Roken called a suicide mission.
Naturally, Roken was wrong about that, which we learn as we watch Obi-Wan and Tala’s plan progress, interspersed with scenes of Leia’s resistance and eventual consignment to a torture chair that’s heartbreakingly big for her. (And with at least twice as many needles as her Episode IV interrogation droid.) Speaking of pivots, it doesn’t take long for Reva to change tacks from cajoling the 10-year-old to torturing her, though that concession to the episode’s running time also reinforces her willingness to do anything to apprehend Kenobi and curry favor with Vader. Tala, living the truth of Reva’s line about bravery and fear, blusters her way past a security officer who questions her clearance. Once at a console, she opens an underwater entrance for Obi-Wan, who swims inside with the same fine form he showed on his approach to Otoh Gunga.
After surfacing inside, Kenobi takes out the first of a passel of Stormtroopers and Purge Troopers who’ll get in his way (and pay the price pretty brutally, by Star Wars standards). He proceeds to sneak around the facility, skirting seeker droids and Stormtroopers, in a preview of his efforts to disable the Death Star’s tractor beam nine years later—right down to using the Force to project a sound that makes two suspicious troopers head off in a different direction. Tala, who’s communicating with him via comlink, incapacitates an inquisitive Imperial too.
As Kenobi nears Leia’s location, he discovers a grisly scene: a display of embalmed bodies, à la serial killer Kurt Caldwell’s corpse collection on Dexter: New Blood. The bodies, arrayed in glass cases like exhibits in a natural history museum, presumably belonged to Jedi or other enemies of the Empire. One of them looks like Tera Sinube, a former master and council member who appears in The Clone Wars. (Another could be Coleman Kcaj or Pablo-Jill.) Not that all of them could have qualified as threats: The most chilling of the figures is a frozen youngling. “This place isn’t a fortress,” Obi-Wan says. “It’s a tomb.” (Can’t it be both?) Maybe they’re morbid trophies; maybe they’re part of the Emperor’s cloning experiments; or maybe they’re there to ensnare Order 66 survivors, like the late Luminara Unduli’s body, which was used by the Grand Inquisitor to lure Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger into a trap on Rebels.
As he stares at the youngling in horror, he hears Leia cry out for help; the princess is not in another fortress. He tells Tala he needs a distraction—the sort of distraction he’ll stage on the Death Star to allow Luke and Leia to leave. Escape is not his plan in Episode IV, but this time his duties to the twins necessitate his survival. Tala draws Reva away by pretending to be a triple agent who knows where to find the Path; after Reva reluctantly postpones the torture sesh to talk to Leia, Tala tries future Leia’s “They’re on Dantooine” gambit (substituting Florrum—where Hondo Ohnaka once captured Obi-Wan and Anakin—for Dantooine), with a similar lack of success. The meeting, and Tala’s interrogation, is interrupted by an alarm, which Reva intuits must have been caused by Kenobi.
Remember the exchange last week that was prompted by Leia’s question about what using the Force feels like?
Obi-Wan: Have you ever been afraid of the dark? How does it feel when you turn on the light?
Leia: I feel safe.
Obi-Wan: Yes, it feels like that.
This week, Kenobi ignites his saber in a pitch-dark room—a move straight out of the trailer for The Force Unleashed II—and by turning on that light, he makes Leia feel safe. The same can’t be said for her two guards, whom he hacks and slashes effectively, if not efficiently. (It takes him four swings to fell the first one.) In Part 3, Vader was the one whose blade loomed out of the darkness; now it’s Obi-Wan’s turn, though he’s using his abilities to free her from a high-security Imperial detention center (not for the last time). And that isn’t the extent of his rediscovered facility with the Force: He’s back to blocking blaster bolts in confined spaces in Phantom Menace fashion, and twirling his saber in Soresu form like it never went out of style. The redirected bolts mostly find the right targets, save for one wayward energy burst that cracks the transparisteel window and threatens to submerge one hallway while our disconcertingly dry hero is still in it. Yet his resurgent powers are up to the task again, as he holds back the water until he can channel it toward the troopers and hightail it the other way. As players of Jedi: Fallen Order will recall, this isn’t the first time a Jedi has used a flood at the Fortress Inquisitorius to his advantage. (Maybe it’s time to reinforce those windows; if The Abyss and Deep Blue Sea taught me anything, it’s that building a base underwater can be a bad idea.)
Given that Obi-Wan didn’t tap back into the Force for the first time until Part 2 and looked incredibly weak in Part 3, his return to some semblance of his old self in Part 4 may seem to have skipped an extended training montage or two. But it makes some sense that he’s bounced back quickly—not only thanks to
muscle midi-chlorian memory, but because he’s been reenergized both by his attachment and commitment to Leia and by the reminder that some folks aren’t sitting on the sideline and resigning themselves to the dark times. His quasi-daughter is in danger, he doesn’t have to hide, and he’s breaking down the barriers that have blocked him from the Force. Call it an example of hysterical strength.
Plus, if you’re looking for implausible plot points, Obi-Wan Kenobi soon supplies a few that strain credulity more than a master regaining some of his mastery. First—in a stunning display of incompetence even by Stormtrooper standards—an unarmed Tala frees herself from two guards by simply slapping or pulling on their helmets, which discomfits them so much that she’s able to disarm one and shoot them both. Then she and Obi-Wan walk to the hangar with Leia hardly hidden under his bulging coat, looking less convincing as a single person than Vincent Adultman. Finally, deus ex Sully bails all of them out, as the two T-47s—with no apparent signal from Obi-Wan or Tala—arrive just in time to strafe the hangar, distract Reva, and airlift a tightly packed Tala, Leia, and Obi-Wan to Roken’s ship. At least one mouse droid was harmed in the making of this episode. Sadly, so was Wade. RIP, Wade; we hardly knew ye. “Guess you’re soldiers now after all,” Tala tells Sully and Roken, though considering their job description, they were extraordinarily lucky not to have seen any kind of combat before.
When Vader belatedly lands, he’s displeased to find the Fortress in disarray, Leia gone, and Obi-Wan in the wind once more. Some serious Force-choking is in store for Third Sister, and true to form, Fifth Brother is thrilled, thinking that Reva is finally going to get the comeuppance he forecasted. Also true to form, Fifth Brother is wrong. “You were warned what defeat would bring,” Vader says. “I will tolerate your weakness no longer.” But Reva gasps that she let the trio go, having placed a tracker on their ship that should lead the Empire to the proto-rebel base and Kenobi alike. Vader, impressed, changes his tune even more rapidly than Roken and releases Reva. “It seems I have underestimated you,” he says, filing away this nifty tracker trick for Episode IV.
On the ship, Leia takes Obi-Wan’s hand, and the two share a smile: For 45 years we thought Obi-Wan was Luke’s mentor, but perhaps he’d developed just as rich a relationship, if not an even deeper one, with Leia all along. But the tenderness of the scene is soon dispelled by the blinking red eye of Lola, who’s sadly been turned, morphing from Leia’s friend to Third Sister’s spy.
The fourth of Obi-Wan’s six episodes is the most rushed and dispensable to date, but it does set the stage for a climactic last two installments, which could answer several pressing questions. Are the Jabiim bunch connected to anyone we know, such as Bail or Ahsoka? When will Reva reveal her backstory and cop to her grander-than-Grand-Inquisitor ambitions? “This is never who I was,” Tala tells Reva when the Third Sister accuses the ex-officer of betraying her training; might Reva experience some personal epiphany too? How and when will the Grand Inquisitor return, and will he have revenge against Reva? Where will the inevitable next showdown with Darth occur? (It’s hard not to notice that our heroes are still in the Mustafar system.) How will Leia ever stay safe if she’s privy to Path secrets and Vader knows she can be dangled as Obi-Wan bait? Will Qui-Gon (who went without mention this week) grace Obi-Wan with his incorporeal presence? Is there still time for one more Leia kidnapping and rescue?
Most important, perhaps, is whether Obi-Wan’s arc will have the room to land the way we want it to, considering the continuity and screen-time constraints. The first duel between Kenobi and Vader ended in dismemberment; the last ended in death. The third, like the second, can’t end in either. (Unless Vader is going to have some synthetic parts replaced.) But it could be cathartic nonetheless. Maybe “Ben” will go back to Tatooine a changed-enough man to make the series satisfying. And maybe Star Wars fans will be changed enough by his journey that Episode IV will never seem the same again.