Here are my thoughts on the third episode of the Disney Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For thoughts on previous episodes (well, there only are two), go here.
Warning! Spoilers under the cut!
When we last left our down and out ex-Jedi Master, he had just freed little Princess Leia from her kidnappers and escaped the planet Daiyu on an automated cargo ship.
Part III begins where part II left off, with Obi-Wan and Leia aboard the transport ship. Obi-Wan, who has just learned that his former padawan Anakin Skywalker is still alive, is obviously distraught and calls the Force ghost of his old master Qui-Gon Jinn for help. But once again, Qui-Gon does not answer. Instead, Obi-Wan gets a wrong Force connection (So the Force works like a telephone exchange now?) and connects with Anakin a.k.a. Darth Vader, which also gives us the “Darth Vader getting dressed/armoured up” scene no one particularly asked for, though it serves as a nice reminder for the extent of the injuries Anakin received at the hands of Obi-Wan.
Obi-Wan’s meditation is interrupted by Leia, who asks the time-honoured question all little kids on a road trip ask, namely “Are we there yet?” The answer is “not yet”, though Obi-Wan has used the journey to repair Leia’s beloved droid pal Lola. The automated transport takes them to the mining planet Mapuzo, which looks uncannily like the California desert. Because the cargo port (actually just a dusty mesa) is staffed only by droids and not the smarter kind of droids either, so Obi-Wan and Leia are able to sneak off.
The rendezvous point that Haja Estree had mentioned is some way off, so Obi-Wan and Leia have to walk. In the distance, they see Stormtroopers overseeing the locals doing mining work and Obi-Wan notes that the Empire has decimated Mapuzo and is exploiting the planet and its people. “But I thought the Empire were the good guys,” little Leia notes. Obi-Wan hedges that some people, like Leia’s (adoptive) father try to make things better, but that many others don’t, which certainly is one way of putting things.
When Obi-Wan and Leia finally reach the rendezvous point, no one is there. Leia assumes that their contact is just late and wants to wait, but Obi-Wan immediately assumes that they have been set up and wants to get away as soon as possible. Leia asks why and Obi-Wan replies that people are not always good. Throughout this episode, there is a nice contrast between Leia’s openess but also naivety and Obi-Wan’s being suspicious of everybody.
Leia also once again takes the initiative and flags down a transport driven by an alien named Freck (voiced by Zach Breff of Scrubs fame, who’s also down a lot of voice acting in his career). Freck has the Imperial crest painted onto his battered transport and generally is a big fan of the Empire, because “What’s wrong with a little order?” You’ll find people like Freck in any authoritarian state, people who don’t mind the lack of freedom, because order and safety are what they crave. So far, Star Wars hasn’t really shown us the presumably many, many people in the galaxy who don’t particularly object to the Empire, since at least it brought order and safety. Mostly, we see either Imperial true believers or rebels or outlaws who would be at odds with any system.
“Oh, we love the Empire”, Leia lies to Freck, as she climbs aboard the transport and Obi-Wan has no choice but to follow. Obi-Wan also gives Freck a story that they’re Orden and his daughter Luma, two farmers from Tawl who were visiting family on Mapuzo and get lost. Freck is a tad suspicious – why exactly did they got lost in an open field in the middle of nowhere? – but initially goes along with it.
But then Freck, the Imperial sympathiser, stops to pick up yet more passengers in the form of a squad of Stormtroopers whose transport is late. Obi-Wan is just about as uncomfortable in the presence of a whole squad of Stormtroopers as you can imagine, especially once the Stormtroopers start questioning him, who he is, what he’s doing on Mapuzo and if he’s seen any Jedi around and if he’s really sure that he hasn’t seen any Jedi. Obi-Wan also messes up and accidentally calls Leia by her real name, whereupon the Stormtroopers immediately demand to know why he’s called his daughter Leia, when he just said her name was Luma. Obi-Wan tells them that Leia was the name of the girl’s mother, who died, and that sometimes, when he looks at the girl, he sees her mother (though Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin notes that Leia as portrayed here shares as many traits with Anakin as with Padme). The Stormtroopers are satisfied with this explanation – for now – and get off when their stop comes up.
Leia, on the other hand, realises that not everything Obi-Wan told the Stormtroopers was a lie. And so she tells him point-blank that she knows that he knew her biological mother, which Obi-Wan neither confirms nor denies. But Leia isn’t finished yet and asks Obi-Wan if he is her biological father, which – to be fair – is a logical assumption to make when faced with someone who clearly knew her mother and gets misty-eyed, when looking at Leia. This time, Obi-Wan does reply and says, “No, I’m not, but I wish I were.”
Once again, this rings true, for even though I don’t think Obi-Wan ever had any romantic feelings for Padme, he certainly had platonic feelings for her. Plus, Obi-Wan was the one who held Padme’s hand as she gave birth to the twins and died and Obi-Wan was the first person to hold Luke and Leia after they were born. And at the end of Revenge of the Sith, when Obi-Wan delivers baby Luke to Owen and Beru Lars, it always seems to me as if he would have loved to keep the baby, only that Luke will be much safer with Owen and Beru than with the galaxy’s most wanted Jedi.
Obi-Wan also opens up to Leia about his own family from whom we was taken as a small child like all padawans. He talks about fragmented memories of his mother and father and of a baby he believes was a younger brother, which may be a reference to the fact that Owen Lars was initially supposed to be Obi-Wan’s brother rather than Anakin’s stepbrother. I liked this quiet heart to heart between Obi-Wan and Leia a lot, especially since it is one of the very few times – in fact the only example not involving Anakin – that Star Wars acknowledges that the Jedi miss the families from which they were taken and also that separating children from their families and never letting them see them again is wrong.
Because Leia is an inquisitive little girl and permanently curious, she also asks Obi-Wan about the Force and what it feels like. Of course, Leia probably already knows what the Force feels like, though she doesn’t know what it is. Nonetheless, Obi-Wan answers that the Force is like turning on a light when you’re afraid of the dark. It’s a lovely explanation, probably the best explanation for the Force I’ve yet heard in Star Wars, to the point that I wonder why Obi-Wan didn’t use it with Anakin and Luke. Yeah, I know, because George Lucas, who is not the world’s most gifted writer of dialogue, never thought of it.
Interspersed with Obi-Wan and Leia’s adventures on Mapuzo are scenes of Darth Vader in his citadel on Mustafar. And yes, I get that Darth Vader really likes the Snake Mountain vibes of the place, but would he honestly stay on the planet where he was near fatally maimed? Especially since he has a whole galaxy to choose from?
Just as Obi-Wan can sense Anakin, Anakin can sense Obi-Wan now and is even more determined than ever to capture him. And luckily, he has a most devoted inquisitor at his command with Third Sister, who for as of yet undisclosed reasons of her own is just as obsessed with capturing Obi-Wan as Anakin himself. Darth Vader (still with the iconic voice of by now 91-year-old James Earl Jones, though the suit is now filled by Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) promises Third Sister the position of Grand Inquisitor (which is currently vacant, since Third Sister killed the previous Grand Inquisitor), if she succeeds in bringing in Obi-Wan. Should she fail, Darth Vader will kill her. In short, Third Sister faces the usual way of advancing through the ranks in the Imperial Forces.
Emboldened by this, Third Sister pulls rank on her fellow inquisitor Fifth Brother, who clearly hopes to take over the vacant position of Grand Inquisitor himself. She notes that the automated frighter on which Obi-Wan and Leia escaped was carrying mining equipment according to its manifest and has extrapolated a number of likely destinations where the freighter might be headed. Third Sister then orders probe droids dispatched to those likely destinations.
This is yet another example where the Star Wars universe is significantly less technologically advanced than our own (obstretic care is another – note how no one noticed that Padme was carrying twins literally until the moment she gave birth). Because in the real world, when two fugitives escape aboard a freighter, it takes a phone call to determine the destination and have someone waiting for the fugitives there. Nor is this new technology – Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen and his lover were arrested upon arrival in Canada after murdering Crippen’s wife and attempting to escape Europe way back in 1910. Furthermore, not only is it easy enough to tell the destination of any freighter – no, you can also track the vessel’s route via GPS, sometimes even online, and – if necessary, e.g. when dealing with a dangerous fugitive like a Jedi knight – airlift a special forces team in en route. In short, jumping aboard a random ship to escape prosecution hasn’t been a thing since 1910 and it certainly isn’t a thing in 2022. However, if a Star Destroyer has intercepted the automated freighter carrying Obi-Wan and Leia, it would have been a very short episode.
As it is, Obi-Wan and Leia dodged a bullet when Freck gave the Stormtroopers a lift, but their luck runs out, when Freck reaches a checkpoint manned by yet more Stormtroopers and pretty much sells out his suspicious passengers to the Stormtroopers. Worse, the Stormtroopers are accompanied by one of the probe droids Third Sister sent out. When the probe droid begins to scan Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan shoots it and the Stormtroopers, too. One Stormtrooper grabs Leia, but Obi-Wan shoots him, too. Of course, their cover is completely blown now and a transport with even more Stormtroopers, accompanied by an officer arrives. It looks as if Obi-Wan and Leia are screwed, but then the Imperial officer suddenly shoots her own troops.
The Imperial officer introduces herself as Tala and she is the person who was supposed to pick up Obi-Wan and Leia at the rendezvous point, only that she was late and they were already gone. So Haja Estree came through after all. Tala is played by Indira Varma, who has quite a sizeable list of genre and genre-related credits, including the lover of Mandalorian-to-be Pedro Pascal in Game of Thrones and John Luther’s ex-wife in Luther. But the role I will always associate her with is the murderous agent Suzy Costello in the first season of Torchwood, back when that show was actually good. The Guardian has an interview with Indira Varma about her role in Obi-Wan Kenobi here, by the way.
We learn that even though Tala apparently voluntarily joined the Imperial Forces, she has long been disillusioned by the Empire and so she is part of “The Path”, a sort of underground railroad to smuggle Jedi and Force-sensitive children to safety. Now a sort of underground railroad to smuggle Jedi, Force-sensitive children and others targeted by the Empire to safety is not really something I ever considered, though once again it makes complete sense that something like this exists, especially considering that clandestine networks trying to get endangered people to safety tend to exist in most totalitarian regimes, whether it’s the original underground railroad of the 19th century or networks hiding Jews in Nazi Germany and occupied territories and trying to get them to safety or networks organising escapes from Communist East Germany. There’s no mention that Tala’s group is affiliated with the Rebellion that we know, though it is likely.
Tala takes Obi-Wan and Leia to a safehouse behind a droid repair shop that is manned by a non-verbal loader droid. Once again, little Leia shows her affinity for droids and introduces not just herself but also her little pal Lola. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan notes messages scribbled on the walls of the safehouse, including one from an old acquaintance named Quinlan. According to io9 reviewer Germain Lussier, this is a reference to one Quinlan Vos, a character who appeared in the Clone Wars cartoon. Meanwhile, Jabiim (which I have to admit I misheard as Yavin), the planet that is the final destination of the Jedi underground railroad, is a reference to a Dark Horse Star Wars comic.
However, Obi-Wan and Leia’s respite at the safehouse is shortlived, for the probe droid managed to contact the Inquisitors before Obi-Wan shot it and now the Empire is closing in. And if the Jedi Inquisitors alone weren’t trouble enough, Darth Vader himself is along for the ride.
Obi-Wan senses this while Tala is leading him and Leia through an underground tunnel that leads to the spaceport, where a pilot will fly them out. That is he not just senses that Anakin is on Mapuzo, he receives a Force shock that almost knocks him out. Once he has recovered, Obi-Wan tells Tala to get Leia to safety and goes to confront or at least stall his former padawan and friend, because he cannot risk Anakin getting his hands on Leia and realising who she is.
Meanwhile, Darth Vader struts through the streets of this Mapuzo mining town, Force-choking, torturing and murdering random citizens in order to draw Obi-Wan out, while his iconic breathing echoes from the soundtrack. I was initially sceptical about including Darth Vader in the Obi-Wan series and not just because of the continuity issues with A New Hope, but also because I would prefer to see a new, never before seen villain than Darth Vader yet again.
Fact is that Darth Vader suffers from the same problem as many other iconic villains – e.g. Skeletor, Cthulhu, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Magneto, Dr. Doom, Blofeld, etc… – namely overexposure. You’ve seen these characters so often, both in films, TV shows and comics, as well as on all sorts of merchandise from t-shirts via action figures to Funko Pops and plush toys that it’s easy to forget why they were scary in the first place. Until a movie/TV episode/comic comes along and reminds you how fucking scary these villains can be.
Skeletor and to a lesser degree Hordak from Masters of the Universe are two excellent examples. We’ve seen both of them come up with increasingly silly plans to conquer Eternia/Ethiria/the Universe and inevitably fail so many times over umpteen episodes of the original He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, not to mention that we’ve seen them parodied, turned into memes, toys and t-shirts that it’s easy to forget that why used to be scary. However, Masters of the Universe Revelations gave us Skeletor stabbing He-Man/Adam in the back, murdering the Sorceress, zombifying half the population of Eternos, snuffing out the souls of Fisto and Clamp-Champ, torturing Man-at-Arms and exploiting and abusing his lover Evil-Lyn, while the 2002 Masters of the Universe cartoon gave us Skeletor throwing a vial of acid in his brother’s face, torturing King Randor and throwing him into a bottomless abyss, threatening to throw Prince Adam, who is only sixteen here, into a lava pit and torturing Man-at-Arms again and reminds us just why Skeletor can be damned scary and how he became such an iconic villain.
The scene near the end of Rogue One where Darth Vader cuts down scores of rebel troops reminded us just how scary and deadly he can be. And Darth Vader strutting through the streets of Mapuzo, Force-choking, torturing and murdering random people left, right and center, while his heavy breathing echoes from the soundtrack, once again reminds us how truly scary Darth Vader can be, even if Hayden Christensen, who wears the iconic costume, is more associated with whiny Anakin than with scary Vader. Andy Welch makes a similar point in his review at The Guardian.
Of course, we knew beforehand that Hayden Christensen would be returning as Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, but most of us expected that a physical confrontation – if there would be one at all – would happen in the series finale, as io9 reviewer Germain Lussier points out. However, to mine and I guess everybody else’s surprise, the long awaited Darth Vader versus Obi-Wan Kenobi rematch happened at the half-way point of the series in a quarry of all places. Of course, we all know that thirty percent of all planets in the galaxy look just like quarries (of the remaining seventy percent, thirty percent look like the California desert, thirty percent like British Columbia and the remaining ten percent look like Tunisia, Iceland or are CGI), but quarries doubling as alien planets is a visual that is more connected to Doctor Who and low budget science fiction series from the UK and Canada (even British Columbia has quarries) than a multi-million dollar per episode property like Star Wars. It’s not that the quarry duel is not good, it’s just as if Obi-Wan and Darth Vader had wandered into an episode of Doctor Who by mistake. Both io9’s Germain Lussier and Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw note that a quarry is maybe not the best location for such an iconic rematch. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw also points out that the sets of Obi-Wan Kenobi look oddly cheap in general, even though Disney has more money than God.
That said, the night time quarry lit up by Obi-Wan’s blue and Darth Vader’s red lightsabre does look suitably atmospheric and when they clash in the darkened quarry it’s everything you hoped it would be. As for the duel itself, it’s quite short. We’ve already seen in the first two episodes that Obi-Wan has become rusty in the Force and of course Darth Vader immediately notes that Obi-Wan is no longer the Jedi he was. “The years have made you weak”, Darth Vader notes, “You should have killed me while you had the chance.” He’s right, too, because a lot of drama and millions of deaths could have been averted, if Obi-Wan had just finished the job on Mustafar. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan is horrified to see what his padawan and friend has become, since this is the first time he actually sees Anakin as Darth Vader. “I am what you made me”, Darth Vader replies.
However, Darth Vader isn’t just satisfied with killing Obi-Wan, though he probably could have. No, he wants to torture him and explicitly tells Obi-Wan that he will now suffer like Vader has suffered. And so Darth Vader Force-chokes Obi-Wan, leaving him dangling in the air. Then he ignites the ground of the quarry – don’t ask how, maybe sand is flammable on Mapuzo – and drags Obi-Wan’s body through the flames, which like Obi-Wan abandoned the wounded Anakin to the lava and the flames on Mustafar. This was also the moment where I realised that the reminder early on of the extent of Anakin’s injuries was important after all. Because even with the advanced medical tech of the Star Wars universe, Darth Vader is probably in constant pain due to the burn injuries he sustained on Mustafar. And now he wants to give Obi-Wan a taste of that pain. Because – as io9 reviewer James Whitbrook points out – Anakin has always been a drama queen at heart.
Meanwhile, Tala and Leia are heading through a tunnel towards the spaceport and the ship that will get them out. However, Leia tells Tala that she’s a big girl and can go on alone and begs Tala to go back and help Obi-Wan. Tala agrees, gets a hug from Leia and returns to the town, just in time to fire at Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers and save Obi-Wan from getting burned to a crisp. However, Obi-Wan has sustained significant burn injuries and Tala declares that they must take him to Jabiim to heal.
While all this is happening, little Leia has reached the end of the tunnel and the spaceport, only to find Third Sister waiting for her. “Are you the pilot who’s going to fly us out?” Leia asks, unaware of who this woman is. “He couldn’t make it”, Third Sister says and the camera pans open to reveal the dead pilot lying on the ground.
As I said before, I’m not entirely sure what I had expected from an Obi-Wan Kenobi series, but an intergalactic roadtrip with a down and out Jedi and a pint-sized princess was not really it. And since the series only has six episodes and we’re at the midway point already, I suspect that “Obi-Wan rescues Leia, dodges Vader and Third Sister and returns Leia to her family” is exactly the plot we’re going to get. Which is fine, though not at all what I expected.
Furthermore, “grumpy loner rescues cute Force-sensitive child and is redeemed” is also exactly the plot of The Mandalorian and much as I enjoyed that series, I’m not sure if I want to see the same plot rehashed in every Star Wars series from now on. And indeed, AV-Club reviews Manuel Betancourt notes that Obi-Wan doesn’t really give us anything we haven’t seen in Star Wars before.
That said, I’m enjoying Obi-Wan Kenobi so far and the relationship between Obi-Wan and little Leia is the best thing about it. Though I still wish that a Star Wars series would take us into new territory for once, then perpetually sticking to the same well-worn grooves.