Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi follow. For more on the series, check out our reviews of the Obi-Wan Kenobi premiere, Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 2, Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3, and Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 4.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has ticked off several Star Wars boxes so far: Tatooine, a princess prison break, and a Vader rampage. What next? The Empire Strikes Back, naturally. It is episode 5 after all – and it’s an entry that feels like a strong return to form, complete with a scene that makes the entire show worth it.
Yes, the episode’s first frame is a surprise – and a welcome one at that. A flashback takes us to pre-Attack of the Clones era Anakin and Obi-Wan engaging in a lightsaber lesson that soon turns into a feisty piece of foreshadowing. It becomes abundantly clear that student and teacher are set to walk down very different paths (“There are other ways to fight,” Obi-Wan snaps at a crestfallen Anakin) and it’s a great piece of character work that really drills down into what makes their relationship tick – and fall apart.
Wisely, the episode sprinkles the full scene throughout the episode, deploying moments at key junctures to magnify both Anakin’s downfall and Obi-Wan’s current state of mind. Even better, it gives Hayden Christensen a long-overdue prequel redemption arc; his character has gone from being maligned to beloved – and it’s heartwarming to see just how much fun he has in the scene.
It’s on Jabiim, though, where most of the action lies. Obi-Wan finally steps up as a leader – the death of the Jedi on Tatooine in the premiere clearly playing on his mind – and he makes plans to get those on the Path to safety. The Empire, though, is in hot pursuit, with Vader and new Grand Inquisitor Reva knocking at the door – a setup not too far removed from the Resistance’s getaway on Crait in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s like poetry. It rhymes.
This sort of last stand wasn’t going to come without sacrifice, however. Given what’s to come in the original trilogy, Tala was always favorite to fall, but it’s the episode’s only real letdown. As the Empire swarms the base, she sacrifices herself – swelling music and a fallen droid accompany her death, but it’s a moment of overt emotional manipulation that doesn’t quite land in the way that’s intended by director Deborah Chow or writer Joby Harold.
One thing Tala’s demise does do, though, is clear the deck for an Obi-Wan and Reva showdown. It’s here where one of the show’s first real fan theories comes true: Reva was present during Anakin’s rampage in Revenge of the Sith. Moses Ingram’s Inquisitor confirms she’s hunting Vader – and also expresses disappointment that Obi-Wan was never there to save the younglings. It’s a real lump-in-the-throat moment, and Ewan McGregor superbly sells the strange mix of disappointment, sadness, and betrayal that suddenly drops like a weight on his shoulders.
It’s also a moment that speaks to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s backwards-facing successes. As an audience, we’ve been so preoccupied with how the show fits into A New Hope that, in truth, the Disney Plus series has been more about re-examining Obi-Wan’s place in the prequels. It’s an adept sleight-of-hand and, when coupled with the Anakin flashback, it combines to paint a tragic picture of both Jedi Master and Padawan failing everyone around them.
Speaking of the pair: Anakin and Obi-Wan’s sparring isn’t the only great lightsaber battle in the episode. Reva, inevitably, turns on Vader. Even more predictably, the Sith Lord sees it coming and the two engage in battle.
As a piece of storytelling, it’s deftly handled, with several significant character beats being communicated through their movements alone. Vader first doesn’t take a weapon, not perceiving Reva as any sort of threat, then the pair are on even footing with a lightsaber each. Finally, Reva – having been defeated – is reduced to a scared child, her eyes flickering with the same sort of panic as the night of Anakin’s youngling massacre in the Jedi Temple.
The show truly understands that lightsaber battles aren’t just there to look cool. The pair of duels here are clashes of philosophy, each angry Anakin strike, Obi-Wan feint, and Reva struggle speaks to who they are. Star Wars has sometimes been panned for its clunky dialogue, but never quite praised enough for how it tells a story through action. Obi-Wan Kenobi, then, should cement the franchise – carbonite-style – as best-in-class at telling a story without saying very much at all.
After Reva falls, she is confronted by the returning Grand Inquisitor – Star Wars: Rebels fans, stand down – and is left to die by Vader. As a narrative arc, it’s surprisingly mean-spirited and cruel: Reva going from Jedi-in-training, to Inquisitor, to being mercilessly dispatched with little fanfare. She does, however, have one final trick up her sleeve.
In an episode that has mended canon and expanded our understanding of classic characters, she discovers Bail’s message to Obi-Wan, something that could potentially undo all that. All focus is placed on Luke, sleeping blissfully at the Lars homestead. The right move? Cynically, it could be a rushed way to tie everything up to the original trilogy in the finale but – if this episode is any indication – it’s going to be an intense race-to-the-finish that could tease out even more hard truths for characters we’ve spent decades with.
For more on Obi-Wan Kenobi, check out our interviews with Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen on their favorite memories filming the show and how their characters’ relationship has changed, as well as Christensen on why he didn’t speak to George Lucas before returning as Darth Vader and Moses Ingram on playing the galaxy’s newest villain, Reva.
For everything else coming soon from the galaxy far, far away, see our guide to all the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows.
4.5 out of 5
When the Obi-Wan Kenobi series was first announced, there were the kinds of episodes that we were expecting: a prequel-era character examination fused with hard-hitting action and driven by an emotional Ewan McGregor performance. The show’s best episode to date.