By Josh Reilly B.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is officially half way through after today’s third episode. The highly anticipated launched to enormous fan reception at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim last week in a world premiere that included popcorn and soda given to lucky audience members.
Episode 3 is one that, despite not airing at the convention, is certain receive similar, if not more, beloved reaction from fans at home. The previous episodes saw Obi-Wan take on a mission to rescue Leia, briefly leaving his home on Tatooine and watch over a young Luke Skywalker. The Inquisitors, Reva in particular, attempt to draw him out, and this intense confrontation ends with Obi-Wan finding out that Anakin Skywalker lived from their battle on Mustafar and still rules the galaxy as the villainous Lord Vader.
The cliffhanger at the end of part 2 saw Darth Vader return as he sensed Obi-Wan’s presence for the first time in a decade, and from that it was clear that the Dark Lord was coming in and set to play a massive role in the series going forward. This came to fruition perhaps earlier than expected, particularly later in the episode.
Before that, though, Obi-Wan and Leia arrive on the planet they fled to, looking to meet an ally that would take them to safety. Very quickly, though, these plans are thrown out as the Empire’s presence is too wide reaching to ignore. After a battle with stormtroopers and probe droids, the duo finally unite with their ally who promises to send them to freedom, having already saved countless Jedi and Force sensitive children in the past. Interestingly, it’s in this scene that Obi-Wan discovers that Quinlan Vos is still alive and helping Jedi in this Star Wars version of the Underground Railroad. Vos garnered a cult following from fans during the prequel years and appeared in The Clone Wars series.
Obi-Wan opts to protect Leia by sending her off to safety while he attempts to distract Darth Vader, who arrived on the planet with no mercy as he hurt and killed many of the local villagers. It’s arguably the most brutal Vader has been (besides his infamous Rogue One scene of course) and the danger to this series’ heroes is clear. Reva and the rest of the Inquisitors are threatening, but Darth Vader and his connection to Kenobi means that he’s the ultimate villain to the iconic Jedi first played by Alec Guinness.
The two have a rematch that ends with a reversal of their battle on Mustafar as Obi-Wan is badly burned on his arm and shoulder. Vader’s cruelty in this scene, to want to destroy his old Master and father figure in the same way that he was, was extremely haunting.
Once again, this episode is carried by the performances of Ewan McGregor and Vivian Lyra Blair, with the latter going from strength to strength as she truly embodies a young Princess Leia. McGregor is at his very best as the Jedi Knight he portrayed in the prequels, and it’s quite possible that this is the best performance in Scottish actor’s already illustrious career, even better than his role in Trainspotting (the film widely regarded as his breakthrough role).
This series has also given fans arguably the best of Obi-Wan Kenobi as a character. Alex Guinness was iconic when he portrayed the Jedi in the original trilogy and McGregor was perhaps the best part of the prequels, but the character really excels here. The tragedy of his life and his relationship with Anakin, once a younger brother or even son to Kenobi, is emphasized more than ever in this series. From what was initially thought to be a story that exists purely for fans to see McGregor back in the franchise, this series has quickly become necessary viewing with an impact on canon and these characters almost akin to a film in the Skywalker saga.
This episode has a number of strengths, but it does unfortunately suffer from more negatives than the first two parts. Most of these negatives revolve around or involve the aesthetics of the episode, something that is a noticeable weakness early on in the outing as the planetary setting is visually dull and disinteresting. Just as The Rise of Skywalker suffered from including yet another desert planet in the form of Pasaana, Obi-Wan Kenobi could have done with a more unique location to situate the episode on. With Tatooine already in this series and so many other sand planets seen, such as Jedha and Jakku, it’s a classic Star Wars trope that could do with a bit of restraint and reigning in this case. This planet also appeared to be too visually akin to Earth and the real world, as the setting looked eerily similar to the California desert that the episode was filmed in.
Despite that negative, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s meeting was intense, epic, and unexpected given how early it is in the season. Vader’s attempts to burn Kenobi was one of the most innovative and exceptional ideas of the franchise in recent memory, and McGregor is excellent as a worn down Jedi who lacks the fighting skills he once had. After all this time, it would make sense, but the power of Vader only increases the stakes as the Sith Lord only needs to use one hand to put Kenobi on the back foot. Again, despite the fact that this series is sandwiched in between two films and the fate of these characters is already known, Obi-Wan Kenobi adds so much to the title hero and Vader/Anakin and the emotion in every scene is so palpable, a real testament to the excellent writing of the series thus far.
Although this encounter was epic, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been, particularly as the show’s budgetary constraints were clear for audiences to see. Despite the money put into all Disney+ series, it doesn’t quite equate to the budget of a feature film, but clever writing and directing can mask this to the point of one not being able to tell the difference. This was largely the case in Part 2, where Alderaan and Tatooine were so huge in scale and scope.
However, in part 3, the directing and set design let the Vader vs Obi-Wan sequence down at times. Obi-Wan runs into an empty field of sorts where Vader is waiting for him, and the two move a few feet to the right to battle in large and tall piles of what appears to be coal or another fine substance. When they return to another location, this time to the other side of these piles, it’s abundantly clear that this is the same exact set as just a few minutes prior. It’s implied that there’s several near identical mining ports that are next to each other, but there’s no aerial or establishing shot to make it clear, meaning that it appears cheap and convenient.
The same can be said for the moments after Kenobi’s burn, where the Jedi is hurt but protected by the flames that Vader won’t walk through. However, given the set design and the direction of the scene, it remains unclear why the villain couldn’t have walked around the fire to get to Obi-Wan that way, especially as the Jedi was essentially immobile and passed out from his injuries.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s third episode isn’t as strong as the previous two parts, but is still an excellent entry in the Star Wars franchise. Despite some questionable directing and set design, the character work and excellent performance by Ewan McGregor stand out once again.