By Matthew Moorcroft
Part III – Strong Recommendation
Part IV – Solid Recommendation
- Directed by Deborah Chow
- Starring Ewan McGregor, Moses Ingram, Vivian Lyra Blair, Hayden Christensen
Star Wars has a Vader problem.
This is less so an indictment against the character, far from it. I enjoy his presence well enough and when he’s done right there is a reason he remains one of the all time great movie villains. The black cloak and shadow illuminated in the light, the only thing visible is the silhouette of your doom. The best and most striking images of the franchise tend to be ones involving him, but overuse that and you run the risk of making him less of a threat and more of a standard. The comics have been struggling with this for some time, with many runs unable to really grasp just how to use Vader. And of course, Rogue One‘s now famous hallway scene which, while fun, set a bad precedent for the future of the franchise. Fanservice is the rule now, not a fun side effect.
So it comes to my surprise that while this middle section of Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t perfect – it feels rushed in areas and the the production values are straining to keep up – the one thing it does nail is Vader himself. He’s used effectively here, never the main focus but when he does show up stealing the show with ease. Vader is less of a character in this and more of a force of nature, barreling his way through random no name extras and named characters with ease and his final confrontation with Obi-Wan at the end of Episode 3 is, while clearly not as huge as other fights in the series, effective and scary. As Obi-Wan is dropped into the fire, Vader remarks that “I am what you made me” which hints that Vader blames Obi-Wan to an extent for what happened to him, which he has a point there. Obi-Wan left Vader to die and now that past is literalized, coming back to haunt him.
Obi-Wan’s past coming back to haunt him is a reoccuring motif in these two episodes and when he does start to overcome it in Part IV, it’s a powerful moment. A lot of the show is thematically reminiscent of Jedi: Fallen Order and if you are gonna crib, it’s good to crib from one of the best recent Star Wars stories. There is one big difference though, and it comes down to how Obi-Wan’s reluctance to use the Force characterizes the entire show. The moody atmosphere of the first two episodes have remained intact, with lots of focus on quiet, intimate moments, particularly between Obi-Wan and Leia. The best moments of the show are with them as they navigate Mapuzo and then Nur, slowly building a connection admist their troubles.
And then there is Reva, who continues to be a standout here. While her motivations are still mostly shrouded in mystery, it’s clear her purpose is meant to be a reflection of the people that Obi-Wan feels he’s failed. The show has smartly avoided straight exposition in regards to her origins and instead trusted viewer intuition in piecing the dots together themselves, and it makes Reva easily the most interesting antagonistic force on the show. If Vader works as simply a vehicle for action sequences, Reva is there as the actual threat.
If there is anything holding the series back right now though it’s, ironically, it’s indeed that desperate attempt to avoid straight exposition. Part IV in particular feels trimmed down to a fault – it’s fast and single-minded which makes for a great heist but much of the emotional heft is non-existent or not even on it’s mind. There is a death that is meant to register in the last bit of the episode that doesn’t even work because of a lack of setup, even if the performers and direction are giving it their all. Deborah Chow is truly the unsung hero of the piece, bringing the show together in all of it’s separate elements despite some of it feeling clunky.
But Star Wars has always been a bit clunky, even in it’s better parts, and Obi-Wan Kenobi so far has managed to bring an interesting perspective on a character that, while having a ton of time in the spotlight already, highlighting a time in his life that we know little about. I’m actually mostly surprised the show has indeed played it’s cards mostly to it’s chest at this point, relying more on storytelling then fanservice, though this could change if Vader and Obi-Wan face off again as we near the finale. Overusing the image of the black suit could end up against the show in the long run, but so far his effective use is one of it’s strongest attributes.
Star Wars as a whole has a Vader problem, but thankfully this does not.