In the season finale of Obi-Wan Kenobi—and possibly the series finale, though let’s not kid ourselves—characters from old trilogies take turns quoting Star Wars at each other. “I will do what I must,” Obi-Wan says, again, as he prepares to duel Darth Vader, again. “Then you will die,” Vader answers, again, as he readies himself to fight a former friend, again. (He also repeats that he must face that friend alone.) Many parries, rolls, and slashes later, Obi-Wan bids goodbye to his ex-apprentice with the words, “Then my friend is truly dead,” echoing another hero who will one day try to redeem Darth Vader. The 10-year-old Luke of Obi-Wan Kenobi is a long way away from delivering a version of that line—though he does double down on declaring, “I’m not afraid”—but he (almost) mutely flits through the finale long enough to trigger an obligatory third invocation of Kenobi’s catchphrase. Whaddya know? Another trilogy.
There’s undoubtedly a market for this kind of thing. But as I watched the last act of Kenobi (for now) reduce itself to a legacy act tailor-made for DiCaprio pointing or “He said the thing” memes, I felt like Kenobi as he stared at his old friend’s ruined mask. Tragedy draws power from repetition, true, but there’s a difference between retreading old territory for dramatic effect and doing it for lack of new ideas. To regurgitate an old line myself, there is still good in this series—but it’s buried in self-reference, rushed characterization, and egregiously implausible plotting, as characters repeatedly make confounding choices and inexplicably leave each other for dead to ensure the ship lands at a predetermined point dictated by canon. From my point of view, Star Wars has rarely seemed so ossified—such a prisoner to its protagonists’ pasts and a captive to their futures.
In its 51-minute running time, not counting credits—the second-longest in the series after the premiere—the finale had a lot of plot points to tick off. Extricate Obi-Wan from a seemingly inescapable pursuit by a Star Destroyer; engineer another showdown with Vader; make Kenobi come to terms with his past; rescue Luke and redeem Reva; deliver Leia to Alderaan; bring back Qui-Gon Jinn. It accomplishes all of those goals, but does so by constantly cutting corners and insulting the intelligence of its characters and audience alike. The moments that land—and there are a few—are mostly a testament to Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, and the history we have with their characters.
The episode opens on Tatooine, where the series started and where all roads in Star Wars lead. Reva, unsurprisingly, is looking for Luke via Owen. If there’s one thing we can credit Obi-Wan with, it’s keeping our time on Tatooine to a minimum, and this establishing scene soon cuts to space beyond Jabiim, where Roken’s transport—bearing Obi-Wan, Leia, and the remnants of the Path—is fleeing Darth Vader’s flagship. What ensues is the longest-lasting space chase we’ve seen since the First Order’s flagship trailed the Resistance’s fleet in The Last Jedi.
This time, though, the pursuit doesn’t make a single lick of sense. Vader’s Star Destroyer, the Devastator, proves incapable of destroying or devastating an unarmed and unaccompanied transport. Nor does Vader’s command crew activate a tractor beam (as they would nine years later to trap Leia in the Tantive IV) or disgorge a single starfighter. They’re content to putter after the transport, taking potshots as Roken does his darndest to fix the hyperdrive. This was the first of five times that I wrote “Come on” in my notes. At least there’s one nice moment, when Obi-Wan watches the budding diplomat Leia comfort the refugees with the help of her droid. “They’re scared,” Leia explains. “She keeps their minds off of it.” Obi-Wan, his face filled with a mixture of tenderness and dread, jokes, “Maybe I should borrow her too.”
After another brief cutaway to Tatooine, in which Owen learns that Reva’s back in town, Obi-Wan realizes that this situation isn’t sustainable; sooner or later, perhaps, the Star Destroyer will succeed in disabling the transport’s seemingly indestructible shields. His proposed solution is to board an escape craft and lead Vader away. “You’ve spent 10 years protecting the Jedi,” he declares. “This is my chance to return that favor.” Fair enough, but neither Leia nor Roken approves of the plan, maybe because Obi-Wan’s “You’re the future! You’re what needs to survive!” makes him sound like he’s fixing to sacrifice himself. “But we’re so close!” Roken protests, even though, like literally a minute ago, he told Obi-Wan that fixing the hyperdrive would take more time than they had. Obi-Wan is resolute; “You must promise me that you’ll get her home, Haja,” he says, entrusting Leia to a promising character that the series set up and then squandered (though he’ll probably be back). Nice knowing you for a few minutes, man.
Exterior: Tatooine. Owen, knowing Reva will be after Luke, makes a beeline for the farm, where he briefs Beru. “Ben is gone,” he confesses, to which Beru retorts, “Whose fault is that?” (It’s really Reva’s fault, but Beru’s husband didn’t help.) Owen wants to hide, but Beru doesn’t see the point; nor does she want to endanger anyone else by asking for assistance. She opts for the DIY approach of fighting off a Force-wielding, lightsaber-swinging ex-Inquisitor with a couple of blaster rifles. It’s not the worst move anyone makes in this episode, but that’s only because the competition in the bad-idea department is so deep.
Back on the galaxy’s best-shielded transport, Obi-Wan gifts Leia Tala’s holster—empty, to the Princess’s great regret—bids her a fond farewell, and promises to return. Then he has another one-way convo with Qui-Gon. “I have to face him, master,” he says. “Whether he dies, or I do. This ends today.” This season of Obi-Wan Kenobi, yes; the saga of Obi-Wan and Anakin, no. Roken—his last name, evidently!—isn’t over either. He’s still trying to talk Obi-Wan out of parting ways with the transport; “We can still fix the drive,” he insists, waffling once more. Remember, this is the man who went from “that’s not my problem” to “If you want my help, you got it” in less than a minute in Episode 4, and he’s still in fine flip-flopping form here. At least Roken has the self-awareness to know he’s not the main attraction, saying, “It’s not about us, is it? … It’s about you and him.” Exactly, so let’s end this unnecessary scene, even though the Star Destroyer is still taking its sweet time turbolaser-wise.
Before Obi-Wan excuses himself, he shares a quick tribute to Roken’s off-screen leadership skills. “People follow you,” Obi-Wan says. “Don’t stop.” Roken, in perhaps the most dismaying sentence spoken in this series, says, “Just getting started.” Is Disney dropping bread crumbs for a Roken spinoff? Will Roken reappear in Andor? Does anyone want more of him? Memo to Lucasfilm: If you want us to care about Roken, you can’t just tell us he’s a hero. Thus far, we’ve seen him do two things: Try and fail to fix things, and frequently contradict himself. I have deeper feelings for Wade. (Is it possible that Obi-Wan has secretly been Jedi mind-tricking Roken all along? That would explain why he can’t seem to make up his mind. One way or another, he must be weak-willed.)
Finally, Obi-Wan disembarks in the dropship and peels away from the transport, which forces Vader to make a call. The Grand Inquisitor, who doesn’t understand Vader’s desires as well as Reva did, argues in favor of staying on course and taking out the transport and the resistance network on board. Vader predictably decides to go after his nemesis instead. Of course, there’s no reason he has to choose one or the other; he could go after Obi-Wan in his own ship, or—again—dispatch some of the dozens of TIE fighters that Star Destroyers carry. Alternatively, the Devastator could blast the damn dropship out of the sky. But no; it’s a Star Destroyer, not a Dropship Destroyer, so Kenobi eludes the lasers and draws the ship away from his friends. (This was the source of the second “Come on”; this series doesn’t even pretend to explain its biggest leaps of logic.)
Eventually, he leads the Imperials to a desolate, craggy planet nearby, where he lands and awaits Vader’s arrival. On the surface, he finds Lola hidden in his cloak, another nice moment and a nod to his earlier exchange with the precocious princess. On Mustafar, Obi-Wan followed Vader to a duel; here it’s the other way around. The “I will do what I must”/”Then you will die” nods to Revenge of the Sith and Rebels, respectively, ensue, and then the fight begins.
That skirmish is considerably more interesting than the intercut one that takes place on Tatooine between Reva and Owen. I was hoping for a Home Alone–style series of booby traps on the moisture farm—maybe a blue-milk dunk tank or a domesticated Krayt dragon—but all Owen can do, besides blast away, is kick flowerpots and throw boxes. Naturally, he’s no match for Reva; as I waited impatiently for the focus to shift from the undercard to the main event, I realized that Roken’s comment that “It’s about you and him” also applied to this episode.
As for the latest rematch of the two former Jedi generals: It’s fine. It’s not nearly as long, acrobatic, or accompanied by a really rad theme song as their first fight from Revenge of the Sith, but it’s no Episode IV old-man meeting or Episode-3-of-this-series beatdown. Kenobi, brandishing his saber in his old stance, does indeed stand more of a chance this time, so much so that it may account for Vader’s caution when they meet years later. “Your strength has returned,” Vader says, as he assesses the almost miraculous reconnection to the Force Obi-Wan has made in the span of three episodes. “But the weakness still remains.” He sounds gratified that his old master is putting up a fight, and prematurely triumphant. So prematurely, in fact, that he tells him, “You have failed, master” after he fractures the earth and plunges Obi-Wan into the low ground before burying him under boulders. (In this context, that “master” sounds mocking, but also sad.) Then he walks away without finishing off his old friend—or, seemingly, even sensing that Obi-Wan is using the Force to keep the boulders at bay—which inspired my third “Come on.”
On Tatooine, Luke runs away from Reva, who’s gotten past both Owen’s outer perimeter and Beru’s last line of defense. And on … wherever Vader and Obi-Wan are, Obi-Wan is exploiting Vader’s overconfidence to dig himself out of the ground, with an assist from the Force boost he gets by contemplating his happy times with Leia. As Vader stalks back to his shuttle, a stealthy, Super Saiyan Obi-Wan overtakes him, Force-hurls him as Vader did to him on Mapuzo, levitates a cloud of large rocks like Rey on Crait, and then pelts his old apprentice with them. Vader’s gonna need to get his armor re-buffed.
Or maybe he’ll need more extensive repairs: Obi-Wan uses the hilt of his saber to damage Vader’s suit controls, hits him with another boulder, and then, while the once and future Skywalker wheezes like he will when he throws the Emperor into the reactor core, uses the business end of his saber to trace a glowing line across the back of his cloak. Here he’s like a matador surgically stabbing a bull with a muleta; he runs circles around the staggering Sith lord, then pushes him back, leaps toward him, and splits his helmet down the middle, giving Vader some of the head scars he sports in Return of the Jedi and reaffirming his lightsaber supremacy.
Like Ahsoka six years later in the Rebels Season 2 finale, Obi-Wan can now look Anakin in the eye—his left eye, on the opposite side of his face from the one Ahsoka exposed. “Anakin is gone,” a sparking, gasping Vader tells Obi-Wan. “I am what remains.” His heartbreaking voice is half Hayden, half distorted James Earl Jones. The light from Kenobi’s blue blade and his own red one dances over Vader’s face, symbolizing his Jedi past and Sith present; his eye color fluctuates too, from its natural shade to Sith yellow. Obi-Wan, his eyes wet with tears, apologizes “for all of it.” But Vader—out of a lingering flicker of affection for Obi-Wan, an unwillingness to give Kenobi credit for what he’s become, or a blend of both—absolves his old master of any responsibility preventing him from heading down the dark path. “I am not your failure, Obi-Wan,” he says. “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” It’s an agonizing exchange, made more heartrending by the sights and sounds of Vader’s voice, Obi-Wan’s eyes, and the weapons they hold.
This isn’t only justification for the “certain point of view” Obi-Wan espouses when he says Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke’s father. It’s also the absolution Obi-Wan has been waiting for: confirmation that, as Rebels’ Bendu says, “only you can change yourself,” for good or ill, and that as Yoda warns, your salvation or undoing can be traced to “what you take with you,” not the actions of others. But Vader’s cathartic confession isn’t a prelude to a reconciliation. The next words out of his mouth are “The same way I will destroy you!” After that, Obi-Wan foreshadows Luke’s “truly dead” declaration and delivers a “Goodbye, Darth” that hearkens back (or forward) to how he addresses him at their next meeting. And then, incredibly, he leaves, prompting Vader to scream his name. “I won’t leave you,” Ahsoka says when she meets Vader. “Not this time.” But Obi-Wan will, without any obvious qualms. We’ve reached my fourth “Come on.”
To recap: Between the second episode and the finale, Reva failed to finish off the Grand Inquisitor; the Grand Inquisitor and Vader failed to finish off Reva (again); Vader failed to finish off Obi-Wan (twice); and now Obi-Wan fails to finish off Vader (again). Some of those decisions were excusable, but that’s an awful lot of leaving mortal enemies alive.
This last case takes the cake. Look, we knew Obi-Wan wasn’t going to kill Vader when there’s still a death on the Death Star to come nine years hence. But I assumed that some scenario would prevent him from taking Anakin’s life, and that’s not what happened here. He had the option! Yet after all that, he made the same choice he made on Mustafar? But worse, because this time there’s no lava lake to presumably finish the job? The Revenge of the Sith novelization explains that Obi-Wan left Vader to sizzle on Mustafar for a few reasons: He sensed Palpatine approaching and wanted to make himself (and the pregnant Padmé) scarce; he “would not murder a helpless man;” and he trusted in “the will of the Force” to decide Vader’s fate for him.
Fine. But circumstances have changed! Sure, he has to hurry back to Tatooine, but it wouldn’t take long to dispense the killing blow. And this time Vader isn’t helpless. And mightn’t this second chance be the will of the Force sending a pretty strong signal? What happened to “This ends today”? What happened to “You’re what needs to survive!”—a line addressed to people Vader has been hunting, and would continue to hunt if left alive? What happened to “I will do what I must”? Did he not hear Vader say, “You should have killed me when you had the chance”?
Not only is Obi-Wan walking away the weakest-sauce solution imaginable—tantamount to the writers of Obi-Wan Kenobi shrugging and saying, “Well, we couldn’t kill him”—but it actually undercuts the supposed catharsis of the scene. It’s appropriate and poignant that Obi-Wan would conclude that Anakin is unreachable, when we know he’s not: Obi-Wan may not have doomed Anakin to the dark side, but he couldn’t connect with him in a way that would save him from it. Only Luke can help Anakin summon his old self and fully remove the mask. But if Kenobi believes that his friend is truly dead, and if what “ends today” is his hope that Anakin could be brought back to the light, then what’s holding him back from making Anakin’s/Vader’s death official? Alternatively, if he doesn’t believe that Anakin is irredeemable, but he’s walking away anyway, what has he actually learned in this series? In that case, he would still be retreating to the sideline and dumping his problem on the rest of the galaxy, while others—including the surviving Jedi and the Path—pay the price. Isn’t killing Vader the best way for him to protect Luke and Leia? And if he wasn’t willing to kill him under any circumstances out of loyalty to Qui-Gon’s belief that Anakin would bring balance to the Force, why waste our time confronting him at all?
We’re not quite finished with Force sensitives being spared after enemies have gone to great lengths to kill them, though. On Tatooine, Reva comes as close to killing the younger Luke as the older Luke will come to killing Kylo, but just as she psyches herself up to bring the blade down, it dawns on her that killing a Force-sensitive kid might not be the best way to get back at Vader for killing Force-sensitive kids. Better late than never! By the time Obi-Wan reaches the Lars farm to join the search for Luke, Reva is returning, a changed woman, with the unconscious but safe farm boy in her arms. She thinks she failed her former fellow padawans by staying Luke’s execution, but Obi-Wan assures her she’s honored them, subtly discounting Anakin’s line from last week: “Mercy doesn’t defeat an enemy.” Obi-Wan, channeling Bendu, tells her, “Who you become now, that is up to you.” And, perhaps, whoever at Lucasfilm assigns her next adventure. “Now you’re free,” he says. “We both are.”* And so are we! Well, almost.
*Moses Ingram did what she could with what she was given, but I can’t help but think Reva’s arc might have held up better with a younger actress. Not only does the padawan-to-adolescent-Inquisitor timeline not square with Ingram’s real age—28—but Reva didn’t look like someone who was just getting the hang of the Force and dipping a toe in atrocities. Had she seemed like more of a Force neophyte who was just starting to pick a dark-side/light-side lane, her face turn might have been more plausible and meaningful.
Just to review: Obi-Wan and Luke are hiding on Darth Vader’s home planet, using their real surnames, despite the fact that (a) the Inquisitors recently raided the planet and found a different Jedi there; and (b) one of those Inquisitors, who almost killed Luke, now knows exactly where they are, though she’s supposedly on their side or neutral now. Oh, and (c) Obi-Wan and Bail have been talking and traveling back and forth between Tatooine and Alderaan often enough for anyone who’s been paying attention to notice. Speaking of which, Obi-Wan has one more trip to make.
While he’s en route, Vader conferences with the Emperor, who appears via hologram as he first did in The Empire Strikes Back. (Though he wasn’t initially played by Ian McDiarmid, who reprises his signature role in this episode.) Palpy presses Vader about his feelings for his old master, and Vader assures him that there is no conflict; he’s a one-master man, and Kenobi’s just his ex. (“Kenobi is nothing,” he says, an about-face from “Kenobi is all that matters.”) “The probes are tracking every system within range,” Vader reports. “We will destroy everything in our path until he is found.” This seems like a great time for a fugitive from the Empire not to take a trip to the Core. But instead of lying low, Obi-Wan, flying a ship that’s known to the Empire, hand-delivers Lola to Leia, along with some sentiments about Leia’s exceptional parents and her exceptional self. It’s a heartwarming capper to the Obi-Wan-Leia teamup, but the risky commute earned the episode a bonus sixth “Come on” from me. And I’m not that tough a critic.
Leia, who addresses “Ben” as Obi-Wan in this scene, asks in Anakin’s words from The Phantom Menace whether she’ll see him again. “Maybe,” he says, “Someday, if you ever need help from a tired old man. But we must be careful. No one must know, or it could endanger us both.” This is as close as the series comes to trying to retcon why Leia doesn’t allude to their previous relationship in the hologram she sends him in Episode IV. However, in that message she admits to being a Rebel agent, so it doesn’t seem as if disclosing her past ties to Obi-Wan would place her in any additional danger.
When he makes it back to Tatooine, Obi-Wan, wearing his fit from Marvel’s Star Wars comics, packs up his few possessions and escapes from his cave. He gets some grudging acceptance from Owen, offers his trademark greeting to Luke and, at long last, catches a glimpse of Qui-Gon’s Force ghost—played by a bewigged Liam Neeson, who had maintained that he wouldn’t be back. (For what it’s worth, his name’s not in the credits.) “I was always here, Obi-Wan,” Qui-Gon says. “You just were not ready to see. Come on. We’ve got a ways to go.” I hope that was worth the weeks of buildup.
As Obi-Wan rode off into the sunset, I had a hollow feeling, the kind caused by consuming a story whose highlights mostly stemmed from recognizing references. It’s kind of nice to know that Obi-Wan and Leia had a real relationship, even if it felt a little shoehorned in. It’s somewhat satisfying, as a Clone Wars watcher who’s spent a ton of time with the animated versions of these characters, to learn how Obi-Wan discovered Vader was alive and accepted that Anakin was beyond his help. But after six episodes, we didn’t learn a lot about existing characters that we couldn’t have inferred from the trilogies or gleaned from supplementary material, and the series struggled to establish new heroes who could seed other installments. Obi-Wan had its emotional moments, mostly thanks to McGregor, but only on occasion did it feel fully baked, and it probably won’t alter the way I watch or interpret the trilogies to a great degree. Throw in the uneven visual effects, the undistinguished score—aside from Obi-Wan’s theme, a few recycled classics, and some soundalike motifs—and the often facepalm-worthy plotting and dialogue, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, while not a stain on Star Wars, was many midi-chlorians short of qualifying for “chosen one” status. Although audience interest may yield a second season, it’s hard to imagine another trip to Tatooine, and another non-load-bearing strut between trilogies, improving on its problems.
Last month, I laid out a number of ways in which Kenobi could go wrong, and the series ran afoul of a few of those possible pitfalls. Foremost among them are the format and time period, which sapped some of the suspense that stories about new characters or new eras can offer. As I’ve written before, Star Wars still needs movies in addition to streaming series, and it desperately has to expand beyond legacy characters and time periods that can fall prey to the prequel curse. Recently, Taika Waititi offered a new hope on the horizon, promising to “create some new characters” and “expand the world” with his forthcoming film. Not long before that, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy teased stories set after the sequel trilogy. Those are promising signs.
“The future will take care of itself,” Obi-Wan tells Owen. In so many Star Wars stories, that’s undebatable, because the future is already written. Nostalgia can be nice, and at times there’s value in relearning what we’ve learned. But what we learned from Obi-Wan Kenobi is that it’s time to follow the master’s advice and take a step into a larger world.