Hey, look, it’s Anakin Skywalker! Alive and well and still rocking that Padawan rat-tail! It’s so nice to see old friends, isn’t it?
If you’re a Prequel-head like I am, the return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin—he’s featured in flashbacks throughout the episode showing a friendly sparring session with Obi-Wan that turns emotional when Anakin gets angry—probably put a smile on your face. Elsewhere in the episode, though, smiles are in short supply.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 5 (“Part V”) concerns the refugees and handlers of the Force-sensitive relocation project the Path, trapped on a planet called Jabiim as the Empire, with Darth Vader at the helm, moves in on them. Not all of our main characters survive the siege: Tala, the rogue Imperial officer, gets badly wounded and suicide-bombs the oncoming stormtroopers with a thermal detonator to stop their advance. It works for a moment, little more. (At least young Princess Leia is able to turn her little droid LOLA back to the Light by removing the restraining bolt that forced it to do the Empire’s bidding.)
The real mission of the Imperial forces here isn’t to shut down the Path, though that’s certainly a bonus. At least as far as Vader and the newly (and briefly—more on that in a moment) minted Grand Inquisitor Reva are concerned, the only true target is Obi-Wan Kenobi, who’s trapped among the undesirables. (These now include Haja, the fake Jedi who now has the real Empire breathing down his neck.)
Ah, but a double-cross is in the offing! The real real target of Reva isn’t Obi-Wan at all—it’s Vader, whom she quite accurately blames for the massacre of the younglings in the Jedi Temple, which she barely survived as a kid. (This explains why she knew Vader was Anakin, though it’s still hard to figure out why the mention of the name “Vader” seemed to alarm Obi-Wan so badly when he hadn’t made the connection yet.) By capturing Obi-Wan, she can lure Darth Vader out in the open, where he’ll be easier to kill.
Of course, if you think Vader will fall for it, I’ve got some nice real estate on Alderaan to sell you. Obi-Wan escapes from his stormtrooper guards almost immediately—not to beat a dead Star Wars horse, but man the stormtroopers are incompetent in this thing—and Vader turns on Reva, stabbing her and revealing that the original Grand Inquisitor has been alive all along.
But in the end, Vader and the Grand Inquisitor leave Reva alive—despite the fact that Darth Vader’s entire existence is a testament to the folly of leaving your defeated enemy alive—presumably to suffer over her failure. Something tells me she won’t stay down for long.
Why? Because she finds something Obi-Wan missed: a discarded device housing a hologram message from Leia’s Senator father Bail Organa. In the message, Bail laments Obi-Wan’s radio silence, and says if he doesn’t hear from him soon, he’ll travel to Tattooine to help Owen Lars protect “the boy.” That, of course, would be none other than Luke Skywalker, shown here as a sleeping child to close out the episode.
Overall, it’s hard to look at the episode as a success from a suspense perspective, though when you think about it, that’s nothing new. Star Wars has always been about characters we know aren’t gonna die anytime soon, with rare exceptions; its great trick was in constructing action set pieces so gripping that they make you forget. (Seriously: No one on the planet thought Luke Skywalker was going to get shot down during the attack run on the first Death Star, but if your knuckles don’t still whiten at least a little bit every time you watch it, I don’t wanna know you.)
But a prequel show that features Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia as main characters faces an extra challenge, just as the prequel movies did: We know, for a fact, that these characters survive, since we’ve seen their future adventures. For that reason, the action must be doubly exciting and inventive to maintain audience investment.
Does the show deliver on that score? No, I don’t think it does. It’s true that there are occasional moments of menace or awe, like when the Grand Inquisitor sweeps back in to gloat, or when Darth Vader uses his incredible Force powers to stop an entire transport from taking off. (It’s a decoy transport, but still.) And of course there’s that nostalgic duel between Obi-Wan and pre-Vader Anakin.
But the battle between the Path folks and the stormtroopers is indifferently blocked and shot—it’s just a bunch of people shooting guns at each other and somehow missing despite the fact that they’re like four feet apart. The Imperials are so bad at this that Obi-Wan’s lightsaber-twirling presence on the side of the good guys is barely needed. The fight between Vader and Reva, at least, is supposed to be a one-sided affair, driving home Vader’s superior power, and on that count it succeeds.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has just one episode to go to wrap up its story and restore the Leia/Luke situation to the status quo ante—young people being raised on different planets by guardians determined to keep them hidden from their true father. But the show has thrown quite a few monkey wrenches into that status quo, even though we know, based on A New Hope, that it has to be back in place in time for Luke’s fateful meeting with an aged Obi-Wan in the desert years later. Can it get there in one episode, and will the journey be an engaging one? You’d have to be a Grand Inquisitor to know the answer just yet.
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