The issue with prequels is you know how they’ll end. There can be a thrill in that. The Star Wars prequels ran into this conundrum. For many fans, knowing that Anakin Skywalker would turn into the imposing Darth Vader didn’t detract from the enjoyment of, say, Revenge Of The Sith, because his plot arc felt like shading in the humanity the iconic villain had needed to shed ahead of A New Hope. In the case of a film like Rogue One, knowing that the ragtag of makeshift heroes we met would succeed (but at what cost?) made that breeze of a heist flick enjoyable if only because the stakes truly were high at the broad franchise level but grounded in some great character work.
But in both cases, you sort of find yourself always anticipating the moment when its ending will suture itself onto the story we already know. Not coincidentally, Obi-Wan Kenobi, like those two other properties finds itself coloring in a story before the film that began it all: A New Hope. All Star Wars roads lead to it, it seems (hey, even Solo, though the less we talk about that film, the better). Going into this final episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi we knew a couple of things would need to happen: Obi-Wan, Leia, Luke, Owen, and Beru would all survive. As would Darth Vader. Our titular Jedi would become a hermit. Oh, and the secret of Luke and Leia’s parentage would remain as such. Which is to say we’d end up roughly where we first began.
If as a narrative gamble that sounds rather dull, you would be correct. But then again, there was only so much ambitious artistic license one could take with these characters once you decided this was the story you wanted to tell. I still wonder what Obi-Wan Kenobi would’ve been like if these six episodes hadn’t revolved around Leia and Vader and instead had centered on a more probing character exploration of Obi-Wan’s lonesome years in Tatooine. But maybe that just doesn’t sounds very exciting. As soon as Disney/Lucasfilm decided they’d give us Vader/Kenobi face-offs and a sassy tiny Leia, it was clear what we’d get was everything we’d gotten time and time before: Indeed, as I’ve noted in many of these recaps, this limited series has felt, at times, like a rerun of Star Wars hits. And this finale was no different. An implausible escape from the Empire in all its might? Check. A Jedi and a Sith battling it out on a rocky, remote planet? Check. Civilians fending off a powerful Sith with just blasters? Check. Even a certain ghostly cameo at the end felt less like a fan-serving surprise (though it was) than an expected narrative necessity of a Star Wars ending.
When you boil it down there were two things happening in this episode: Vader was trying to finish Obi-Wan, and Third Sister was trying to kill Luke. Again, we all knew how both those stories would play out. Except, of course, what would happen with Third Sister (but more on that in a little bit).
The Vader vs. Kenobi showdown was, I’ll admit, thrilling to watch. Give me the silhouette of a Jedi and a Sith battling it out in an inhospitable landscape, and I’m in. (The scene was aided, in large part by Natalie Holt’s haunting and dramatic score.) And the moment when Vader’s helmet is torn, revealing the ravaged “Anakin” underneath made for quite a striking image—a man broken who has clearly armored himself so as to avoid thinking himself weak. Also, it’s the one moment where the Frankenstein casting of Hayden Christensen and James Earl Jones actually pays off as you see Vader/Anakin as truly a man divided in ways both literal and figurative: “Anakin’s gone,” he may say. “I’m what remains.” But it’s hard to not see some of Anakin there still even if those lines and that sight are what eventually convince Obi-Wan that his former Padawan is a lost cause: Only an actor of Ewan McGregor’s caliber could pull off the heightened dramatics he’s called to play here.
On the other hand, the Third Sister half of the episode was, let’s just say it, a tad underwhelming, partly because the sense that she’s being fueled by revenge feels played out by this point. But it’s also because, for someone who we’ve seen deploy cruelty with such ease, Third Sister felt rather tame here as she sought out Luke. I mean, what was stopping her from killing Owen and Beru other than the story requires them to survive so we can meet them years later when A New Hope begins? I’ve long felt like Obi-Wan Kenobi was a much more fascinating story when seen through her story—a tale of revenge-turned-atonement that mirrored and inverted Vader’s rather than Kenobi’s own—but this final episode hamstrung her narrative so much that she felt almost superfluous. Especially because we’re not really given any sense of what happens to her. The final scenes show us what Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan, and Vader are up to and where and how their stories will unfold (which we knew already! We’ve seen the films, folks!). Yet the one character whose future we have no knowledge of is left in the dust. One wonders if maybe there’s a spin-off in the works? Moses Ingram deserves one, honestly.
I won’t even ask whether any of us needed this six-episode mini-saga. That question feels unnecessary in our IP-saturated media ecosystem. What I will say is I doubt whether the show’s highs (Ewan, Moses, some of tiny Leia’s quips) were enough to warrant its existence. For every time I found myself giddy at seeing certain sights or enjoying a great plot twist, I ended up just as disappointed with some narrative choice or character beat. Perhaps Vader was talking both to Obi-Wan Kenobi and about Obi-Wan Kenobi: “Your strength has returned. But your weakness remains.”
- “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” Again, if we can’t love our Star Wars stories when they spout such deliciously and unintentionally self-serious campy dialogue like this, then what are we doing? (See also: “Who you become is up to you.”)
- Speaking of dialogue, so much of it in that final scene was doing some heavy lifting to make sure all Ts were crossed and Is dotted. How else could you explain Obi-Wan telling Leia, “No one must know or we could endanger us both” after telling her she could reach out to him should she ever need his help? It’s a way of letting us know why she knew to call on his help (“you’re my only hope”) when she’s endangered but it also makes it clear why their relationship was almost nonexistent/left implicit in that original film. Also, it was Kenobi who gave her the holster? I know the gesture was supposed to make me grin but it mostly just made me roll my eyes. Sometimes you don’t need every detail to have been planted somewhere else explicitly: Not even her most distinctive piece of wardrobe was of her own making!
- Considering we got cameos from the Emperor and Qui-Gon’s ghost (Liam Neeson!) I’m surprised the creators of the show couldn’t find time to squeeze in other fan favorites for no other reason than they could: Where was our glimpse of Jar Jar Binks? A hint of what C3PO and R2D2 were up to? (Though honestly, it just also made me wonder whatever happened to Lola? If we know one thing about droids is they are resilient! R.I.P. Lola, wherever you ended up!)
- Where will the Star Wars franchise go from here? I can’t imagine we’ll get a second season of Obi-Wan Kenobi (though, really, I wouldn’t put it past Disney/Lucasfilm to find yet another way to extend this story in ways that feel both needless and lucrative). Til then, may the force be with all of us!