Against all expectations, the third episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi gets down to business from the get-go and amps the core interpersonal drama.
While last week’s two-episode debut spent all the time it needed to properly set up the main conflict and explore Obi-Wan at his lowest, episode 3 marches forward with decision and promptly brings Vader into the picture. In the third chapter, Obi-Wan’s emotional pain and anxieties grow more intense than before, and his relationship with Leia becomes deeper as they learn about new unexpected allies. Meanwhile, Reva takes over the Inquisitors’ efforts to encircle the Jedi master for Lord Vader.
On the other hand, the overall presentation of Disney Plus and Lucasfilm’s biggest Star Wars series of 2022 continues to be uneven, with flat directorial choices and rough editing often becoming too distracting. Moreover, Natalie Holt’s original score has been underwhelming so far, and classic musical themes that could elevate some key moments are nowhere to be found.
Episode 3 starts out strong, with Obi-Wan meditating on the terrible truth he has learned (and fixing LOLA) while — what remains of — Anakin puts on the iconic Darth Vader outfit (as well as the machines that keep him alive) after a bacta bath. The zone that surrounds Vader’s Castle in Mustafar looks way fierier than it did in Rogue One, and Lord Vader’s own throne room is both slick and menacing, fully embracing a brutalist style that feels 100% fitting for the enraged Sith Lord.
As soon as the episode opens and we see (and hear) Vader telling Reva to take over the hunt for Obi-Wan after the Grand Inquisitor’s apparent demise, we know he’s a different Vader than the one we’ve seen before in live-action; the further you go back in time, the closer you get to his “death” in Mustafar and to the loss of Padmé. He wastes no time sitting around and wants Kenobi as soon as possible, later showing up alongside the Inquisitors on Mapuzo.
Anakin’s presence looms large over the entire episode, with Obi-Wan getting distracted at a certain point and seeing his old friend in the distance — it’s the second not-Qui-Gon curveball the show throws at fans, too. Most of us are expecting a flashback to the Clone Wars at some point during Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it was a nice surprise to get a fresh look at the Chosen One in hooded Jedi attire this early on.
A good chunk of this episode is spent with Obi-Wan and Leia walking (and then hitching a ride) across the plains of Mapuzo. And much like in the two previous episodes, the script takes full advantage of the quieter moments to explore Obi-Wan’s trauma and self-inflicted pain. In the same way, little Leia starts to wonder about her past more than the old Jedi would enjoy. Perhaps the biggest revelation in this episode came from Obi-Wan’s description of his long-forgotten family, including a brother — we were fully expecting Obi-Wan Kenobi to go deep, but this left me staggered for a bit and immediately raised many questions inside my head.
Part III also brings forth the first live-action appearance of Fortress Inquisitorius. As the Third Sister (Reva) arrives on the moon Nur, we get several wide shots that showcase the best of practical plus digital sets the show has presented so far. Everything looks straight out of Jedi: Fallen Order too, massive underwater windows included. As Reva claims control of the Jedi-hunting operation, tensions with the Fifth Brother, who was already on edge, escalate. Even though we know Reva is the series’ third most important character, Sung Kang’s Fifth Brother may end up playing a larger role than anticipated if their personal conflict is going somewhere.
The “charming alien” of this episode is a mole-man-like trucker — who sounds like both Seth Rogen and John C. Reilly, but could be Zach Braff after all — that helps Obi-Wan and Leia save some time getting to the nearest town after their secret contact doesn’t show up on time. However, the Imperial-loving alien soon snitches on them when they reach a stormtrooper-run road outpost. We had already seen Kenobi holding his ground with a blaster in episode 2, but here he goes full lone gunman on the unsuspecting Imperials with quite a lot of style. It was a nice, unexpected touch for the Jedi who once deemed guns as “uncivilized.” By the way, the bit with the poor stormtrooper falling on top of the laser barrier and getting cut in half might be the meanest moment in live-action Star Wars in quite a while.
It’s at this point that Indira Varma’s character (Tala) is introduced. We knew for a fact she was playing an Imperial officer, but her allegiance remained unclear in rumors. Well, it’s not even a small secret in the actual series, since she shows up shooting fellow stormtroopers in the back to save Obi-Wan and Leia. Later in the episode, she saves the Jedi master once again, so she seems fully committed to Haja’s cause, which is revealed to be the Star Wars version of the Underground Railroad — right under the Empire, they’re moving Force-sensitive children across the galaxy to safe locations. Look out for a cool little Quinlan Vos nod too; we now know he’s out there at this point in the canon timeline.
It appears Tala has been doing this for a while. Like Han Solo, she stopped working for the Empire when she saw too much injustice. Inside a safehouse, we’re introduced to NED-B, a loader droid that cannot talk but serves Tala and those she brings. Ever since this droid showed up in the trailer for Obi-Wan Kenobi, fans speculated he could be O’Shea Jackson Jr.’s mystery character, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. With Jabiim teased as the next stop in Obi-Wan’s journey, we might finally see him there.
In the final third of the episode, the stakes are raised to the highest they’ve been in the series, but I feel like both Deborah Chow’s direction and Natalie Holt’s soundtrack weren’t up to par. After an Imperial probe got a glimpse of Obi-Wan during his brief shootout earlier, the Inquisitors and Darth Vader himself show up unannounced to lure out and capture the Jedi. Here, we see Vader at his most savage, executing and torturing random civilians to make his friend-turned-enemy show up. It’s a terrifying sequence, and Vader looks (and sounds) amazing — James Earl Jones makes a return once more — but the flat lighting and choice of shots, plus an unnerving but forgettable soundtrack, rob the scene of much of its intended power.
This remains a problem for the remainder of the episode, with a poorly staged first re-match between Kenobi and Vader in the middle of an Earth-like mining facility. I get why their first encounter after so many years isn’t an epic duel — Obi-Wan is barely connected to the Force, and his fighting skills are too rusty — but Obi-Wan Kenobi keeps missing its shots with the larger set pieces. This has been a common complaint with the first two episodes, and it has only become more apparent this week. It might very well have been an issue with the work of the second unit, as it only seems to affect action sequences, but it’s disappointing to see the overall visuals drop so much in a matter of minutes, especially in such an important Star Wars series. A particularly outrageous moment has Ewan McGregor exiting the frame to the right and immediately emerging from the same spot in a shot which looks almost entirely like the previous one; it’s a confusing and embarrassing instant which perfectly exemplifies how wonky the editing has been as well.
A big positive is the ongoing use of practical lightsabers ever since The Force Awakens was shot — they bring an amazing sense of physicality to the duels and help shape the surrounding lighting in a natural way that looks really nice on-camera. I just wish everything around the characters was more interesting or at least shot in an attractive way… Also, I’m not sure I can get behind the overuse of shaky over-the-shoulder shots during this encounter. Hayden Christensen claimed the lightsaber duels in Obi-Wan Kenobi were closer to those of the prequels. At this point, I choose to think he was referring to scenes yet to come.
Inversely, I think the script remained pretty solid throughout the entire episode. Vader is effectively portrayed as this relentless killing machine that only spares Obi-Wan so he can torture him and make him feel a fraction of the pain he went through in Mustafar. I loved the blazing conclusion to the duel, with the Sith Lord igniting a full container’s worth of space rocks with his lightsaber, grabbing Obi-Wan with the Force, and throwing him in the middle of the flames. It’s not something you’d see the Vader from A New Hope doing, but at this point in his life, he’s much less restrained and simply looking for revenge. There are a couple of stunning shots in there, too.
As I mentioned before, Tala saves the day alongside NED-B once again, sniping an explosive container to shield a heavily injured Obi-Wan from Vader and his stormtroopers, and gaining just enough time to get out of there. Meanwhile, Reva cuts off Leia’s escape route through the tunnels, which are also shot in a confusing way and never feel like a labyrinth nor a linear path. Plus, leaving her unattended in the middle of an Imperial assault is yet another lazy contrivance to get the little princess into trouble again — this was easily the worst part of this episode’s script, and I hope it stops being a thing sooner rather than later.
Now past its midpoint, Obi-Wan Kenobi continues to play out like an additional Star Wars story worth caring about in spite of how audiovisually uneventful it feels at times. We could argue the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on its production, but The Book of Boba Fett was shot under even worse circumstances and still managed to look amply better and create more than a couple of stunning action sequences, plus its Mandalorian-centric episodes were among the best Star Wars television we’ve had so far. So that’s not a valid excuse.
With The Mandalorian veteran Deborah Chow at the helm and Oldboy cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon behind the cameras, I expected much more. Hopefully, the series’ second half will give the notable writing the grandeur it deserves.
Come back next week for our in-depth review of episode 4 and more news regarding the Star Wars series arriving soon.