Obi-Wan Kenobi Goes On a Rescue Mission in Part IV

Here are my thoughts on the fourth 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, Obi-Wan had just gotten his arse kicked by his former pupil Anakin Skywalker a.k.a. Darth Vader and sustained severe burn injuries. And Leia had been kidnapped by Third Sister – again.

Part IV (I guess they’re not calling them episodes in order to avoid confusion with the movies) opens with Obi-Wan in a bacta tank. And since bacta seems to have the previously unknown effect of generating flashbacks, Obi-Wan sees snatches of his fight with Anakin Skywalker a.k.a. Darth Vader. Worse, the Force also connects him to Vader, who is soaking in a bacta tank of his own. It appears the psychoactive properties of bacta have been severely underestimated until now.

The combination of flashbacks and unwanted mindlinks with Darth Vader cause Obi-Wan to prematurely emerge from the bacta tank, before he is fully healed. Does this mean that the Obi-Wan we saw in A New Hope has heavy burn scars on his shoulder and arm? I guess it’s possible, since his robe would cover up the scars.

Tala is not happy that Obi-Wan emerges from the bacta tank before he is fully healed, but Obi-Wan is determined to rescue Leia and tries to enlist the aid of The Path, all four members of it. The leader Roken doesn’t want to help and would prefer not to have Obi-Wan on his planet (Is this Jabiim? Or still Mapuzo? Or some other planet, cause I don’t think it’s ever named and all we see is a cave) at all, because Obi-Wan is too high profile a fugitive Jedi. Obi-Wan tries to tell Roken that he doesn’t know what the Empire is capable of – a line that got an eyeroll from me, because dude, these people are part of an underground railroad type network that smuggles former Jedi and other Force sensitives to safety, so you can bet they know exactly what the Empire is capable of. And indeed, Roken cuts Obi-Wan down by saying that his wife was a former Jedi, that he always knew what she was and that they did their best to hide from the Empire, but the Empire found and killed her anyway. Touché.

Luckily, The Path does have some information on the Fortress Inquisitorius (Ah, the joys of bad Latin in SFF), the pyramid-shaped stronghold of the Inquisitors, where Leia is being held. The Fortress is located on a water-logged planet in the Mustafar system. The Path also have handy schematics of the place rendered in the early CGI line-art style that has been associated with Star Wars since 1977. I guess many Bothans died to bring those plans to The Path. Sorry, if I sound a bit snarky here, but I only just realised that there is zero information given about how The Path came by what has to be top secret plans. io9 reviewer Germain Lussier makes the same point. How exactly does The Path, which literally seems to be four people in a cave, know all this, including that Darth Vader is still aboard his ship en route to Mustafar?

Obi-Wan is determined to infiltrate the Fortress and Tala is determined to go with him, using her security clearance as an Imperial officer to get in. Methinks Tala has taken a liking to our broken Jedi, even though we all know that this won’t go anywhere and not just because Disney era Star Wars does not do romance period. Though I hope they won’t kill off Tala, if only because this is probably my favourite Indira Varma role to date. Here is a nice interview with her at The Guardian BTW.

While Obi-Wan is trying to organise a rescue mission, little Leia is facing down Third Sister in an interrogation room (standard interrogation for now, not the enhanced sort) at the Fortress Inquisitorius. Leia may be only ten years old, but we see all the tactics she will use on Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin ten years later on display here, starting with “I’m a princess and my father is a senator and you can’t hold me.” It’s the first of many callbacks to A New Hope, as Guardian reviewer Andy Welch points out.

Third Sister is a skilled interrogator, more skilled than Darth Vader who tends to resort to histrionics, Force-choking and torture, when things don’t go his way.  And so she tells Leia that Obi-Wan and that no one is coming for her and that The Path are not her friends, but Leia still refuses to neither believe nor budge and even asks how exactly Obi-Wan died.

Since her initial approach doesn’t work, Third Sister changes tactics, puts her hand on the side of Leia’s face Vulcan mind-meld style and tries to use the Force to dig what she wants to know out of Leia’s brain. However, this doesn’t work, since Leia blocks her. “Is this a staring contest?” Leia asks with feigned innocence. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Little Leia is wonderful, particularly since you can already see the woman she’ll grow up to be one day in this little girl.

The battle of wills between Leia and Third Sister is highly compelling, even though it’s only two people in a barren room, but as AV-Club reviewer Manuel Betancourt points out, “sometimes all you need to make a solid SW scene sing is a great pair of characters sitting in a room with crackling dialogue.”  Betancourt also explains what it is that makes Third Sister such a compelling and chilling villain (though of course the usual racist fanboy arseholes have problems with the fact that she is played by a black actress, Moses Ingram), namely that she’s a different type of villain from the usual Star Wars villainy. She doesn’t have the histrionics or the casual cruelty of Darth Vader, the Emperor or Grand Moff Tarkin. Instead, Betancourt says that “Third Sister moves through the world like an immovable object who will bulldoze everything and anything in front of her until she gets what she wants”, which is a very accurate description of her character. What makes her even more intriguing is that she we still don’t know just why she does what she does and why she is so obsessed with Obi-Wan Kenobi.

When her questioning of Leia doesn’t yield results, Third Sister graduates to enhanced interrogation tactics and has Leia dragged to a torture chamber, which reminded me of the final scene in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, which came out two years after Return of the Jedi.

Now we know that torturing prisoners is something the Empire does, since we’ve seen characters tortured in Star Wars before. Hell, we’ve even seen Leia tortured before – twice, once at the beginning of A New Hope and once near the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Nonetheless, the torture scene is disturbing, because here we have the Empire about the toture a ten-year-old girl. Of course, we also know that the Empire kills children – after all, we have seen the slaughter of the padawans at the Jedi Temple in Revenge of the Sith. However, while torture and child murder were always a thing in Star Wars, the torture scenes in the original trilogy were remarkably subdued. In both Leia’s torture in A New Hope and Han’s torture in The Empire Strikes Back, we see Leia or respectively Han strapped to a board and we see the torture droid with various instruments and syringes approaching, then the scene cuts away. Empire Strikes Back also gives us a few screams, but the rest is left to the imagination.  And while it’s been a while since I’ve seen Revenge of the Sith – I don’t always include the prequels in my annual Star Wars rewatch – I don’t recall the murder of the padawans being actually shown on screen either. Obi-Wan Kenobi does go further in actually showing Imperial cruelty than the Star Wars films, so it feels more disturbing.

While all this is happening, Obi-Wan and Tala are executing their rescue mission. Tala lands her shuttle in the main hangar and walks in through the front door, pretending to be on a secret mission and pulling rank on a suspicious officer at the access gate. Over the course of the episode, we will see Tala pulling rank and pretending to be on a secret mission a lot.

Meanwhile, Obi-Wan goes in through the backdoor. Since the Fortress Inquisitorius (stupid name, that) is surrounded by water, we see him swimming under the sea in his regular Jedi robes (I guess Neoprene wetsuits are one of the inventions that exist in our world, but not in the Star Wars universe), using the same breathing device he used on Naboo way back in The Phantom Menace. Obi-Wan then enters the Fortress through the moon pool (no, not this one). Why does an Imperial fortress have a moon pool and why is it not better secured and not even equipped with an alarm system? This is one of the many questions the episode never really answers.

Though the moon pool is guarded by a lone Stormtrooper, who quickly winds up taking a plunge into the moon pool, while Obi-Wan sneaks into the Fortress proper, his Jedi robes mysteriously dry. Maybe quick drying clothes is a Force power we haven’t yet seen, though it’s more likely just a continuity error. Not that blatant continuity errors don’t happen, but they normally don’t happen in a production of the size and scale and budget of a Star Wars series. Throwing the Stormtrooper into the moon pool is not a bad way to dispose of an inconvenient body, but I still wonder why Obi-Wan didn’t just borrow the Stormtrooper’s armour as a disguise, like Luke and Han did in A New Hope and Din Djarin did in season 2 of The Mandalorian. Of course, Obi-Wan also sneaks around the Death Star in his Jedi robes in A New Hope, but that Obi-Wan is a lot more confident in his Force abilities than the down and out version from this series.

The bulk of this comparatively short (only about 35 minutes runtime) episode is given over to Obi-Wan sneaking through the corridors of the Fortress Inquisitorius, dodging seeker droids and Stormtroopers, using his patented “Make a noise somewhere else to distract them” technique, while Tala access a computer terminal and directs Obi-Wan via one of those handheld com-links we saw C-3PO use in A New Hope.

It’s all very thrilling stuff, however, it’s also highly familiar, because we’ve seen it all before. Rescuing someone from an Imperial detention facility is a stock Star Wars plot along with infiltrating a secured location or trying to escape a planet under siege. And so we’ve seen daring rescues like the one in this episode pulled off in The Mandalorian, The Force Awakens, Return of the Jedi and most famously in A New Hope, where the subject to be rescued is even the same one as here, namely Princess Leia, albeit ten years later.

The parallels to A New Hope are really glaring, as many reviewers including The Guardian‘s Andy Welch, io9‘s Germain Lussier and The Daily Dot‘s Gavia Baker-Whitelaw all point out. At one point, a suspicious officer even questions Tala what she is doing there and forces her to abandon the terminal, leaving Obi-Wan’s voice echoing out of the com-link lying on the desk in a scene very reminiscent of the scene in A New Hope, where C-3PO and R2-D2 have to bluff their way out of an encounter with some Stormtroopers and almost get Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie squashed in a garbage press in the process. Thankfully, Obi-Wan avoids garbage chutes and presses, while Tala doesn’t bluff her way out of the situation, but takes out the Imperial officer maybe five meters from two other officers who fail to notice anything at all amiss.

Which brings me to another issue: The rescue mission may be thrilling, but it’s also incredibly badly planned or rather there is no real plan at all, as Tor.com reviewer Emmet Asher-Perrin points out. Not that Star Wars in general isn’t known for its meticulously planned rescue mission and indeed most of the daring rescues we’ve seen in Star Wars over the years only succeeded due to a combination of luck and glaring security oversights on the side of the Empire. However, it is a bit depressing that Luke Skywalker, an untrained farm boy from Tatooine, could come up with a better rescue plan than Obi-Wan and Tala, a Jedi master and former general and an Imperial officer turned proto-rebel.

At one point, Obi-Wan wanders into a corridor which is lined with glass-fronted cabinets holding the bodies of Jedi and other Force sensitives pickled in formaldehyde. I immediately assumed that we were probably expected to recognise some of those pickled Jedi and indeed, one is a minor supporting character from an episode of the Clone Wars cartoon, while another is a kid, obviously one of the padawans from the Jedi Temple. “This isn’t a fortress, it’s a tomb,” Obi-Wan mutters and indeed I wonder just why the Empire is keeping pickled Jedi in some underwater corridor deep inside the Fortress Inquisitorius? Is is just a macabre trophy gallery?  Or are they conducting cloning experiments like the one for which Moff Gideon and Werner Herzog wanted capture poor Baby Grogu?

Obi-Wan finally located Leia, when he hears her screaming. Yes really, he locates the very person he’s looking for in a giant fortress by chancing to hear her scream, which makes just as much sense as everything else about this whole rescue.

However, the torture chamber is guarded by Stormtroopers and Third Sister is there as well, so Obi-Wan calls Tala and asks her to create a diversion, which Tala promptly does. Tala demands to speak to Third Sister, claiming to be a double agent who has important information about the path. Third Sister is no fool and so she is sceptical of Tala and her motives. Interestingly, so is the viewer, because it is entirely possible that Tala is truly a double agent and working for the Empire after all. The fact that Indira Varma is mostly known for playing ambiguous and sometimes downright treacherous characters – remember Suzy Costello from Torchwood? – certainly helps to create that little seed of doubt.

But whoever she really is working for, Tala does interrupt the interrogation, giving Obi-Wan the chance to rescue Leia. The scene where the lights go out in the torture chamber and Obi-Wan’s lightsabre lights up the darkness, as he dispatches of the Stormtrooper guards is legitimately great.

Obi-Wan rescues Leia, but the corridors are still swarming with seeker droids and Stormtroopers. Obi-Wan does his best to dodge them, but he also has a terrified ten-year-old girl in tow and so eventually he and Leia are spotted. The alarm is raised and Third Sister sets off in pursuit, unwisely leaving Tala alone with only two Stormtroopers to guard her. The Stormtroopers are no more match for Tala than for anybody else and so Tala manages to escape and come to the aid of Obi-Wan and Leia.

Obi-Wan and Leia have been cornered in an underwater corridor and so Obi-Wan has to protect Leia, while blocking Stormtrooper shots with his lightsabre. Unfortunately, one of the blaster shots goes wide and cracks the glass walls on the corridor. Why do Stromtroopers use weapons that can crack walls in an underwater base? You’ll have to ask the Empire, cause I certainly have no idea. Though it makes for an impressive sequence, as Obi-Wan uses the Force to hold the glass together and the water back, while deflecting blaster shots with his lightsabre.

Luckily, Tala arrives in the nick of time and so Obi-Wan and Leia escape through a glass door, while the pursuing Stormtroopers are caught in the water break-in and presumably drown. Once again, one would expect the Stormtroopers to have some kind of breathing apparatus built into their helmets, but the scene of the dead Stormtroopers floating in the flooded is genuinely creepy.

Now, Obi-Wan does don an Imperial uniform as a disguise, though it’s not Stormtrooper armour, but an officer’s uniform consisting of a cap and an oversized trenchcoat. Have we seen Imperial officers wearing khaki trenchcoats before? I can’t recall any examples outside earlier in this episode, though the rebels do have khaki trenchcoats. But unlike the more tailored black long coats we’ve sometimes seen Imperial officers wear, the trenchcoat does offer the space to hide Leia underneath, since a ten-year-old girl will stick out like a sore thumb on an Imperial military base.

Not that Obi-Wan with Leia stuffed under his trenchcoat does not stick out like a sore thumb, because he does. For starters, Imperial officers are all clean-shaven – the only bearded officers we ever see in Star Wars are rebels – but Obi-Wan not only has a beard, his beard is also not very well kempt. Not to mention the fact that his trenchcoat is too big for him and has a child-sized lump on one side. And yes, I know that “disgusing yourself as your enemy” is a common trope, in Star Wars (in fact, A New Hope was where I first came across this trope and found it oh so clever) and elsewhere, even though the result often isn’t all that convincing, whether it’s Luke being too short for a Stormtrooper, Din Djarin literally not knowing what to do with his face, when he’s forced to take the helmet off, Indiana Jones borrowing an ill-fitting Nazi uniform without the shirt and getting caught, He-Man disguising himself as a Horde Trooper and getting caught because a lock of blonde hair sticks out of the helmet in The Secret of the Sword or He-Man disguising himself as a visiting Horde Inspector in an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power and miraculously not getting caught, even though he looks nothing like the man he’s impersonating and his only disguise is a borrowed uniform and a fake beard. Obi-Wan’s Imperial officer disguise is about as convincing as He-Man with a fake beard or shirtless Indiana Jones in a Nazi uniform jacket, i.e. not convincing at all.

io9‘s James Whitbrook actually likes the trenchcoat disguise, because – as he points out – rescue missions in Star Wars are usually badly planned affairs and the suspense generated by the characters almost getting caught is a big part of the fun. But while I’m willing to accept Han and Luke dressing up in Stormtrooper armour and escorting Chewie to the detention block in order to rescue Leia or Din Djarin and Migs Mayfield infiltrating an Imperial mining outpost in order to get some vital information (and note that neither mission goes as planned and the characters have to improvise and are discovered), the rescue mission in Obi-Wan Kenobi is a bit too absurd for my taste.

Somehow, Tala and Obi-Wan with Leia stuck under his borrowed coat make it past the checkpoint at the entrance to the hangar deck and are halfway across the hangar, when Third Sister shows up with a whole lot of Stormtroopers in tow and all hell breaks loose. Obi-Wan, Leia and Tala try to make a run for it, but they’re cut off from the shuttles.

But just when it seems that all is lost, two Snow Speeders or rather the vehicles we know as Snow Speeders, since there obviously is no snow on the Inquisitors’ planet, show up, piloted by two of Tala’s pals of The Path. They fire at Stormtroopers and one Snow Speeder takes Tala, Obi-Wan and Leia aboard. It must be really crowded inside that thing, because the cockpit was barely big enough for two in The Empire Strikes Back.

Both Snow Speeders make a triumphant escape, but one – piloted by a redshirt named Wade – is shot down. Miraculously, there is no pursuit, because – as Emmet Asher-Perrin notes in their review at Tor.com – security at the Fortress Inquisitorius is abysmal with no gun turrets, TIE-fighters, force fields, tractor beams or any other kind of security measures.

The surviving Snow Speeder with Obi-Wan, Tala, Leia and pilot Sully on board makes it back to a spacecraft piloted by Roken, who clearly had a change of heart. He’s initially enthusiastic, too, until Tala tells him of Wade’s death, which clearly affects Roken and Sully deeply. I would have liked for the sacrifice of poor Wade to affect me, too – and note that deaths of underdeveloped or one-of characters can affect you, see Porkins for a Star Wars example or Zak from the original Battlestar Galactica for a non-Star Wars one. Alas, Wade is no Porkins and so his death is literally the death of a random redshirt.

Darth Vader finally arrives at the Fortress, just as Obi-Wan, Tala and Leia have made their escape. And since Darth Vader really does not like failure, he promptly proceeds to Force-choke Third Sister, leaving her hanging suspended in the air to the obvious delight of Fifth Brother. However, Third Sister is able to stave off her execution by informing Darth Vader that she placed a tracker on the escapees, which will lead them to Obi-Wan, The Path and all the escaped Jedi. So that’s where Darth Vader got the idea from.

Coincidentally, the tracker plan might also explain why there was no attempt at pursuit or shooting down the escapees – just like the half-hearted chase with four TIE-fighters in A New Hope. Indeed, this may also be via Leia saw through the ploy with the TIE-fighters at once, because she literally experienced this whole situation before.

The final scene shows Leia taking Obi-Wan’s hand in the hold of Roken’s spaceship, while Tala comforts Sully about the loss of the late lamented Wade. The camera pans open to reveal a sinister red light glowing in Leia’s pocket. It’s her little droid Lola, now equipped with an Imperial tracker.

I may sound overly critical, but don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this episode, while I was watching it and there are some genuinely good moments. However, even by Star Wars standards, this was an ill thought out rescue plan. Hell, I’ve seen better thought out rescue plans in cartoons aimed at children.

But my biggest issue is that in spite of the thrilling action and great visuals, it also feels like something we’ve seen before, because the beats are borrowed almost one to one from A New Hope.

A large part of Marvel‘s success, which is keeping the franchise fresh even after more than twenty movies and TV shows, is that it tells a variety of very different stories that just happen to be set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and feature superheroes. Marvel movies and TV-shows can be action thrillers, epic fantasy, gonzo space operas, retro war movies, heist movies, teen dramas, X-Files type paranoia,multiverse spectaculars, family sitcoms, time travel adventures, Christmas movies and much more.

Meanwhile  Star Wars, the other big franchise Disney acquired in their bid to rule to universe, keeps telling the same story over and over again, even though their universe is as big, if not bigger than Marvel, and offers an unlimited potential for telling stories, so why do we always get the same story remixed and retold. And yes, we we all loved that story back in the day, but maybe it’s time to tell a different story. It’s certainly no accident that the best of the Disney era Star Wars stories – The Mandalorian, Rogue One, The Last Jedi (which was a good movie viewed in isolation, it just didn’t fit in with the other two) – are those which at least try to do something other than telling the same damned story over and over again.

So far, Obi-Wan Kenobi has offered a fine remix of the classic Star Wars story. I just wish it would do more.

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2 Responses to Obi-Wan Kenobi Goes On a Rescue Mission in Part IV

  1. Steve Wright says:

    The Fortress Inquisitorius does have TIE fighters – we see them hanging from the ceiling in the very shuttle bay they arrive in and escape from. Apparently, those TIE fighters are just for decoration, though.

    We may now add “a punch to the face from Indira Varma” to the long, long list of Things Stormtrooper Armour Offers No Protection Against. Honestly, I don’t know why they even bother with the stuff. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen ordinary street clothes in Star Wars stand up better against blaster fire. Maybe the Empire fights and wins all its battles on Casual Fridays.

    • Cora says:

      Well, TIE fighters make a nice ceiling decoration for your shuttle bay, though purely decorative TIE fighters won’t stop any fugitives.

      The Stormtroopers are truly very unimpressive in this show, even more so than usual. Though maybe Indira Varma’s punches are special. After all, she managed to bring down the immortal Captain Jack Harkness, though only for two minutes or so.

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