Here are my thoughts on the fifth episode of the Disney Plus Obi-Wan Kenobi series. For my thoughts on previous episodes, go here.
Warning! Spoilers under the cut!
When we last left our favourite down and out Jedi Knight, he had just managed to save little Leia from the clutches of Third Sister a.k.a. Reva with the help of Tala and the Path, though at the cost of the life of a redshirt named Wade. However, Reva (I’m going with her birth name from now on, since Third Sister is a title and also quite long to type over and over again) added a tracker to Leia’s droid Lola, so the Empire knows exactly where the fugitives are headed.
However, the episode opens not with Obi-Wan, Leia and the surviving members of the Path on the run, but with a flashback to Coruscant around the time of Attack of the Clones, where Obi-Wan and Anakin are engaging in a practice duel. When it was announced that Hayden Christensen would return as Anakin/Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, I assumed he would wear the Darth Vader suit. I certainly did not expect to see him as Anakin again, showing his face. And while Disney era Star Wars hasn’t been shy about using that creepy digital de-aging technology, it’s amazingly not used in this scene, which I for one liked a lot. Close-ups show that Hayden Christensen has of course aged in the almost twenty years since Revenge of the Sith, both he and Ewan McGregor do a good job playing their younger selves.
The flashbacks to the practice duel are interspersed with the main storyline, but they’re short enough that they do not get annoying, unlike the endless bacta-tank induced flashbacks in The Book of Boba Fett. Basically, the practice duel goes like you’d expect. Anakin is hot-headed and presses Obi-Wan and even seems poised to win at times, but Obi-Wan still has an ace up his sleeve and there is a reason he is a Jedi Master and Anakin is still a padawan at this point.
Anakin, who’s the one having the flashbacks, snaps back to the present where he’s on the bridge of his Star Destroyer, pursuing Obi-Wan, Leia and the Path thanks to the tracker Reva planted on Leia’s droid. Reva is there as well and Darth Vader promotes her to Grand Inquisitor for her success, as promised.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan, Leia, Tala as well as The Path members Roken and Sully land on Jabiim, which turns out to be a rocky red and orange world of little use for anything except hiding fugitives (though according to James Whitbrook at io9, Jabiim looked quite different, when it appeared in a Star Wars comic in the early 2000s). Come to think of it, the Star Wars universe has more inhospitable than hospitable planet or at any rate, we see more inhospitable worlds than hospitable ones. It’s definitely in keeping with the fact that the Star Wars universe is a terrible place for most of the people who live in it, regardless of who is in charge.
On Jabiim, they are met by a group of Force sensitives, most of them children with parents and grandparents, hoping to be flown to safety. The cargo loader droid from Mapuzo as well as Haja Estree are there as well. He survived his encounter with Reva on Daiyu, but is now on the Empire’s Most Wanted list, so his little fake Jedi racket is gone. Haja doesn’t seem to mind though, now he’s met a real Jedi. And even though Haja started out as a con artist, he genuinely did help people. Talking of which, the woman with a Force sensitive son Haja was meeting, when Obi-Wan found him is on Jabiim as well. Apparently, her son will grow up to become the main character in Michael Stackpole’s Rogue Squadron Expanded Universe novels, which is a nice Easter Egg.
Roken tells Obi-Wan that he can’t take Leia directly to Alderaan, but that he will fly out Obi-Wan and Leia along with the rest of the refugees. Like the safehouse on Mapuzo from episode 3, the walls of the hideout on Jabiim are covered with graffiti carved into the walls, which is full of Easter eggs and references to characters from the cartoons and Expanded Universe media. There’s also a box with discarded lightsabres and Jedi robes.
However, the respite is short-lived, for the Empire in the form of Darth Vader and Reva aboard a Star Destroyer is bearing down on the hideout on Jabiim. And in order to make sure that the Force sensitives can’t escape before the Empire gets there, Reva orders the droid Lola to sabotage the sliding cargo bay doors, making it impossible for Roken to launch his ship. The fugitives are stuck.
Obi-Wan gives a stirring speech, telling the Fugitives that they only need to hold off the Empire until the bay doors are fixed, then they can all escape on Roken’s transport vessel. Stirring speeches are more of a Star Trek (where holding stirring speeches is the basic qualification for a Starfleet captain) than a Star Wars thing, but it works well here, since it shows that Obi-Wan is increasingly turning back into the man he once was, the Jedi Master and Clone Wars General.
Fixing the cargo bay doors has its own share of problems, since it requires crawling into a very small space. Roken and Haja are arguing that both of them are too big to fit in, when Leia says, “I’ll do it.” Roken won’t hear anything about it, but Obi-Wan tells him to let Leia try. He also tells Haja to keep an eye on her and goes to organise the defence. And so the siege of Jabiim begins.
Obi-Wan is distracted when his holo-communicator beeps and finds a message from Bail Organa who is worried that he hasn’t heard from Obi-Wan and declares that he will go to Tatooine to help Owen and Beru protect Luke, since the Empire will be coming after him next. We’re sure Owen Lars will be thrilled to welcome an Imperial senator to his humble moisture farm, especially considering he was trying to keep a low profile. Never mind that even if Bail is half-frantic with fear for his daughter, sending this message and given both the name of the planet as well as the target is incredibly stupid and will of course come back to bite him and everybody else in the arse.
Tala tells Obi-Wan about the experience that turned her against the Empire. She was sent to round-up some people who were not paying taxes. But those people turned out to be not tax evaders, but families with Force-sensitive members. They were all killed and Tala could do nothing, which is why she turned against the Empire and started working for the Path. She also shows Obi-Wan the notches on her blaster that symbolise the people she saved.
Coincidentally, the fact that the Empire is actively hunting Force sensitive children also provides another reason for why Owen Lars is so determined to keep Luke on the farm and away from Jedi or other troublemakers and doesn’t want him to go to the Academy either. After all, Owen knows that Luke is Force sensitive. If Owen had allowed Luke to go to the Academy, it’s very likely that he would have been found out and killed.
Once the Empire arrives on Jabiim, we get a nice Leni Riefenstahl inspired shot of Reva marching along rows of lined up Stormtroopers, which is somewhat marred by the fact that one Stormtrooper is standing out of line. If Vader rather than the very single-minded Reva had been the one to march along that row of Stormtrooper, the one fellow who stands out of line might well have found himself Force-choked.
Since the doors to the hideout are closed, the Stormtroopers bring in some heavy weaponry to blast them open. Once the doors can’t hold much longer, Obi-Wan declares that he’ll talk to Reva to stall her. So Obi-Wan and Reva talk through the barricaded door and we finally get Reva’s backstory.
Obi-Wan realises that there is no way Reva would know that Darth Vader’s real name is Anakin Skywalker, unless she knew him before. Initially, I suspected that the reason Reva knew Darth Vader was Anakin was because they were having a clandestine relationship and Anakin told her during a session of pillow talk. However, in Disney era Star Wars no one is allowed to have sex, let alone a romantic relationship ever.
Instead, the reason Reva knows that Anakin is Vader is because she was one of the young padawans who got slaughtered by Anakin on the night of Order 66, which also explains why the series opens with a flashback to that terrible night. Only that Reva was not slaughtered. She survived by playing dead, buried under a pile of bodies slowly growing cold. Once Obi-Wan realises all this, he also realises that Reva is not in fact serving Vader or trying to impress him. She’s hunting him, trying to avenge her murdered friends. And she’ll do anything to achieve that goal. It’s a neat, if not entirely unexpected twist, as Daily Dot reviewer Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out, and should shut up the Reva haters. Though knowing toxic fanboys, they’ll find another reason to complain that a black woman managed to invade their all-white-boy fantasy Star Wars universe.
Obi-Wan offers Reva an alliance – work together to stop Vader. However, Reva will have none of that. She’s not a team player anyway and she doesn’t trust Obi-Wan. After all, Anakin was his padawan and Obi-Wan failed to see what was happening to him. Besides, Reva also doesn’t trust Obi-Wan to actually kill Anakin, if he has the chance. Worse, she’s probably right. After all, Obi-Wan did not kill Anakin on Mustafar (which would not have prevented the rise of the Empire, but would have prevented the birth of Darth Vader and all the crimes he personally committed) and it’s questionable if he would do so now.
Which brings me to my main problem with the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, namely the lack of tension. We know that no matter what she does, Reva won’t kill Darth Vader and neither will Obi-Wan, because he won’t die until Return of the Jedi. We also know Obi-Wan won’t die, because he dies in A New Hope. We also know that Luke and Leia, Owen and Beru Lars or Bail and Breha Organa won’t die here, because we know what will happen to them and where and when they’ll die. Of course, we have no idea what will happen to the characters we haven’t seen before, characters like Reva, Tala or Roken. And the show does try to milk some tension out of this, with mixed success.
Reva’s and Obi-Wan’s heart to heart is cut short, when Reva decides there’s been enough talking and uses her lightsabre to cut through the barricaded door. Reva and the Stormtroopers storm the base and there is a pitched close quarters blaster fight. Obi-Wan uses his lightsabre to deflect blaster shots, but even he can only do so much. Several of the refugees and Path members are wounded, including the mother whom Haja Estree helped escpae Daiyu.
Tala takes a shot in the abdomen and her mute cargo loader droid (apparently his name is NED-B) shields her with his own body, taking a lot of damage in turn. Obi-Wan wants to rescue Tala, but the mortally wounded Tala pulls a detonator out of her pocket and blows up herself, NED-B and a bunch of Stormtroopers, heroically sacrificing herself for
the Rebellion the Path.
The deaths of Tala and NED-B affected me more than I expected, considering we haven’t seen all that much of either of them. I also certainly would have liked to see more of Tala (and NED-B), maybe in the upcoming Cassian Andor series, which should be set a few years after Obi-Wan Kenobi. io9 reviewer Germain Lussier is also sad to see Tala go so early.
Though come to think of it, like her former Torchwood co-star Burn Gorman (who should be a much bigger star than he is, because he’s a fantastic actor, but not conventionally handsome), Indira Varma rarely survives till the end of the movie/TV show. Indira Varma dies in Torchwood (twice actually, since she comes back after the first time), Luther, Game of Thrones and now in Obi-Wan Kenobi, though she did survive a guest role on an episode of Bones. Burn Gorman dies in Torchwood (twice – what was it with that show and killing off the best actors? They also killed off Gareth David-Lloyd, another actor who never had the career he deserved), Game of Thrones, The Expanse, Forever (where he plays an immortal, so I thought they can’t possibly kill him and then they do) and Enola Holmes, though amazingly, he does survive both Pacific Rim movies as well as narrowly an episode of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (where he first caught my eye). Though a show killing off Indira Varma isn’t a dealbreaker for me, whereas killing off Burn Gorman usually is. At any rate, I stopped watching Torchwood, The Expanse and Game of Thrones around the time they killed Burn Gorman. And when he was still alive at the end of Pacific Rim (both movies) I audibly cheered.
Obi-Wan and the other refugees fall back into the inner docking bay, but the Stormtroopers are still trying to get in and Leia still hasn’t managed to repair the bay doors. So Obi-Wan comes up with the brilliant plan to surrender to the Empire to give the others time to escape. He also gives Haja Estress his lightsabre, blaster and the communicator via which he can reach Bail Organa. Haja and the other surviving Path members are not at all happy about Obi-Wan’s plan, probably because – as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out – it’s not much of a plan at all. Of course, Obi-Wan knows Anakin and knows how impatient and consumed by the desire to win he is. Indeed, this is the moment where we get the last part of the flashback to that long ago duel, where Anakin had already disarmed Obi-Wan, but Obi-Wan won anyway – even sans lightsabre. Of course, there always is the chance that Anakin has matured and grown more patient since that long ago duel. On the other hand, it’s Anakin we’re talking about here and he never really changes.
So Obi-Wan surrenders to Reva and whispers to her that he is bringing Anakin to her, as she slaps him in handcuffs. But instead of waiting for Darth Vader to finally land on Jabiim (and what’s taking him so long anyway?), with Obi-Wan under strong guard and constantly in sight, Reva sends him back into the antechamber of the cargo bay with only two Stormtroopers to guard him, even though Reva of all people should know how dangerous Obi-Wan can be. So of course the inevitable happens: Obi-Wan easily takes out the two Stormtroopers (we know Stormtroopers are not particularly smart) and escapes.
Now this would have made some kind of sense if Obi-Wan and Reva were working together to bring down Darth Vader, but Reva explicitly wants nothing to do with Obi-Wan and will not collaborate with him. Which makes the whole thing even more puzzling, because sending the extremely dangerous Jedi Knight inside with only two guards is the sort of mistake that would make me roll my eyes, if Skeletor or Hordak were to do it in an episode of a He-Man or She-Ra cartoon. It’s not that I expect meticulously plotted heists and escape plans from Star Wars – that’s not what you watch it for. But I expect a plan that is more thought out than an evil genius plan from a kids’ cartoon. And frankly, even Skeletor, Hordak, Dr. Claw, Ming the Merciless, the Purple Pie Man, Gargamel, Pinky and the Brain and their ilk do have better plans at least part of the time.
Meanwhile, Leia is still struggling to figure out which of the many, many cables she needs to reattach to fix the cargo bay doors, when she suddenly finds Lola inside the same duct. “What are you doing here?” Leia asks and realises that Lola’s eyes are glowing an evil red. Leia also notes that there’s something on Lola that doesn’t belong there, Reva’s tracker, and removes it, so Lola promptly becomes her friendly, helpful self again and even shows Leia which cable to reattach. The cargo bay doors finally open and everybody rushes to board the ship. In the rush, Haja Estree drops Obi-Wan’s communicator, the one with a message from Bail Organa, which will tell the bad guys exactly where to find the other kid who’s vitally important to the fate of the galaxy. Oops.
The cargo bay doors open just as Darth Vader finally lands on Jabiim. The camera follows Vader as he struts throught the base on Jabiim in a sequence that is very similar to Vader strutting through the Rebel base on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. Guardian reviewer Andy Welch points out that every episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi so far has mirrored the Star Wars movie with the same episode number, i.e. episode 1 mirrored The Phantom Menace, episode 2 was Attack of the Clones, episode 3 was Revenge of the Sith, episode 4 was A New Hope, which would make episode 5 The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a lot of merit to this theories and the parallels are really notable, particularly in this and the previous episodes.
Like the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back, the transporter with the fugitives lifts off just as Darth Vader struts into the docking bay. Vader raises his hand… not to rage but to grab the transport with the Force in order to keep it from taking off. He succeeds, too, and manages to pull the transport back into the docking bay and rip it apart in a display of Force powers that’s stronger than anything we’ve ever seen in Star Wars before. This is truly Darth Vader at the height of his powers.
However, Vader still hasn’t learned the lesson Obi-Wan tried to teach him during that pivotal duel so long ago and so a second transporter launches, just as Vader is busily ripping apart the first. The first transporter was just a decoy and Vader no longer has enough Force juice to stop his real quarry. Though, as Emmet Asher-Perrin points out, there is still a Star Destroyer waiting in orbit and Roken’s old transport is no match for it.
However, first we get the great showdown between Darth Vader and Reva, which mirrors that long ago duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin in another way. For here, the hot-headed Reva is in the Anakin role (and Reva is a lot like Anakin in many ways, a parallel also pointed out by AV-Club reviewer Manuel Betancourt), while Darth Vader takes the prescient and patient Obi-Wan part. For not only did Darth Vader know all along what Reva was up to, but left her pursue her goals, because she was useful, he also faces her unarmed and still beats her by taking her own lightsabre from her and running her through with it. The outcome is not unexpected – after all, we knew that Reva would not kill Darth Vader, because he survives until Return of the Jedi – but it’s still a blow.
To twist the knife – or lightsabre – even further, the Grand Inquisitor, supposedly killed by Reva with a lightsabre to the abdomen in part II, shows up again as well to take back his badge and tell Reva that they’ll leave her where they found her, in the gutter. I guess certain people who were very upset that the Grand Inquisitor dies here, even though he is alive in the animated Star Wars: Rebels show, will be pleased now. Though personally, I wonder how it comes that no one dies from lightsabre wounds anymore, a point also made by Emmet Asher-Perrin. Because the Grand Inquisitor just survived a lightsabre through the abdomen, while Darth Maul survived getting cut in half by Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, only to reappear in Solo. And – surprised – Reva is not dead either. She crawls across the floor of the docking bay, only to find something gleaming in the dust. It’s the communicator Haja Estree dropped. Reva activates it and receives Bail Organa’s message, which tells her exactly where to go next and who to look for.
The episode ends with a shot of little Luke lying peaceful in his bed and dreaming of grand adventures, while the dark clouds of the Empire gather above.
All in all, this was a good episode with plenty of twists, some of them not entirely unexpected (it was clear that Reva was hiding something) and some genuinely surprising such as a decoy transporter. It was also nice seeing Hayden Christensen sans mask once again, especially since Christensen got a lot of crap for the many problems with the prequels, though very little of it was his fault.
However, my biggest problem here is that the plot only works, because everybody – Obi-Wan, Reva, Bail, Darth Vader – behaves like a complete and utter idiot. I mean, honestly, if your plans make the likes of Hordak and Skeletor look smart by comparison, you have a problem. This episode was the textbooki example of an idiot plot.
Now I don’t expect intricately plotted heists and rescue plans from Star Wars, because the franchise has always relied on coincidences and improvised on-the-spot plans, which somehow work out. But while I’m willing to suspend my disbelief a lot – see the (excellent) Mandalorian episode “The Believer”, whose premise makes very little sense – Obi-Wan Kenobi really stretches my suspension of disbelief past the breaking point.
Crappy plans thrown together on the spot may be a Star Wars trope, but if your plan wouldn’t pass muster in a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at kids, maybe it needs to go back to the drawing board.