There is a neatness to “Part V” of Obi-Wan Kenobi that eventually won me over. There has been—rightfully, I’d suggest—reason to complain that the show has mostly served as a way to rehash old Star Wars tropes and storylines and characters in the service of keeping this ever-growing galaxy far, far away afloat, all while keeping it (ironically!) needlessly small. Why, after all, if you have such a vast universe do we constantly just keep following the same old characters (and planets) over and over again? (Don’t answer that; we all know that’s a rhetorical question). This means that the moments you’re blown away by rarely come from novelty but from an ingenious way of being forced to look at the old stuff anew.
Take, for instance, a practice fight between a still hopeful Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his brooding-if-still young Padawan, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). The scene, which yanks us back to the prequels, is a simple one. It illustrates the two men’s contrasting if not complimentary ways of fighting: Obi-Wan, bleeding heart Jedi that he is, puts defense at the center of his skillset. Meanwhile, Anakin’s fiery personality leads him toward aggression as his main and perhaps only mode of approaching a conflict. “Your need for victory; it blinds you, Anakin,” Obi-Wan warns the young Jedi-in-training. His relentlessness is not, in fact, an asset. It opens him up, instead, to being defeated—or, at the very least, to costing him the sweet victory he so craves. Using this moment between the two as a way to structure our penultimate episode is a particularly simple gamble: Not only does it spell and flesh out the conflict that’s been at the root of why Obi-Wan and Anakin could never reconcile their conflicting sensibilities, but it helps us anticipate just how their current confrontation will pan out now that they have both become hollowed out versions of who they once were.
Every time we flashed back to that brightly-lit (how novel!) scene between the two, I snapped to attention. Every line felt weighted with the full force of what we’re supposed to be taking away from their respective character arcs: “Mercy doesn’t defeat the enemy, Master,” Anakin tells Obi-Wan, and you could very well stitch that unto Vader’s outfit as his own personal motto. Indeed, images of him later all but destroying a transporter with his bare hands (aka the Force) not to mention the flashes of memories we get of the night Order 66 went into effect, show us a man who has no use for mercy.
If the episode is structured as a fight between Obi-Wan’s careful defense and Vader/Anakin’s careless aggression, what ends up tilting if not outright spoiling that neat dichotomy is the third element in the present tense of our story. Back then it was just two men. Here, we have Third Sister (Moses Ingram), newly appointed Grand Inquisitor, a wild card that throws the balance between the Jedi and the Sith.
Over the past four episodes, we’ve gotten hints as to who Third Sister may be and we finally get the chance to have her backstory revealed to us, albeit in a choppy and rather implausible moment of intimacy between her and Obi-Wan as they chat across from one another in the middle of a door that’s about to give out. Obi-Wan helpfully spells it out for all of us: “You are not serving him. You are hunting him!” As exposition goes, it’s as clunky as you can get. But it helps reframe how we’ve been thinking about Third Sister and sets up a thrilling triangular conflict where each of the corners is playing the two other to get what they want.
Given that we know which two survive long enough to be heavily featured in an Oscar-winning 1977 film, it’s perhaps not a spoiler to say who ends up on the losing end of this particular cat-and-mouse game. Nevertheless, the mind games that Obi-Wan, Vader and Third Sister play with one another was enjoyable to watch unfold, especially as her own brand of vengeful wrath felt like an echo of Vader’s own. Except, as she’s reminded at the end of her fight with Vader (who fought using nothing but the Force and, eventually, both of her sabers!), her rage has stopped being useful; it is now only tiresome. Then again, she’s proof that revenge does help you cling to dear life. She may have been impaled by her own saber but, true to form, she’s still well enough to find the message from Leia’s father Obi-Wan had been fretting over earlier in the episode. This sets us up for a final climax that’ll take us to where it all began: Tatooine, of course. The place where a young Luke is sleeping peacefully, all too unaware that a season finale showdown is coming his way.
- Just as last week I wrote about how there was something quite thrilling about seeing Ewan’s face lit up by the blue-hued light of Obi-Wan’s lightsaber, I was reminded yet again that there are few images as striking in the Star Wars universe than that of a row of Stormtroopers lined up ready for attack. Their design remains sleek and imposing all these decades later and sometimes that’s all you need to remind us of the sheer manpower (well, clone power) of the Empire.
- I had been waiting for the scene where we’d finally see Hayden Christensen as Anakin. After all, the powers that be couldn’t possibly have cast him if he was to spend the entire time buried under Vader’s costume, right? And the flashback here didn’t disappoint, even if it did remind me of Anakin’s horrid hairstyles.
- Let us mourn Tala (Indira Varma) now, who got to live out her martyr moment shortly after (how convenient!) she explained to Obi-Wan how conflicted she’d become about what the Empire and the Grand Inquisitor had kept requiring of her as an instrument of that most fascist of galaxy governments: “Some things you can’t forget. But you can fight to make them better.” She and Third Sister made for helpful narrative foils, the two trying to find ways of making up for what remains a traumatic approach to hunting and killing Jedi—though obviously following very different paths.
- Okay, small quibble (the kind I try not to get too bogged down on when dealing with Star Wars stuff): If everyone in this makeshift hanger were truly just waiting for the hatch doors to open so they could escape right away…why weren’t they already in the ship ready for takeoff rather than scattered around like sitting ducks?