Finally, those who have been complaining about the Disney-fication of Star Wars (which is a dumb statement to start with as the franchise is, you know, for kids) can shut up. This episode is a tense, dark, gritty, violent slice of Star Wars the pushes hard against the boundaries that have been established. It starts off feeling like a World War 2 film with the hero trapped behind enemy lines, seeking help from the resistance, knowing that one wrong word would mean certain death and then takes a hard turn into a full on Halloween-esque horror.
After the ‘John Wick’ and ‘Taken’ vibes of the first two episodes the show now adopts a feel similar to James Mangold’s ‘Logan’. We have an aging warrior, whose powers are weakened, coming out of hiding to try and smuggle the hope for the future to safety but the difference here is that it is the warrior that is hunted. McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi just gets better and better. He’s a broken man, haunted by the fact he had to kill his best friend and he has just found out he had failed at that, condemning the galaxy to a rain of terror. The pain is written all over his face and in his voice but he his now driven by a new mission to get young Leia, perfectly played by Vivien Lyra Blair, back to her family. The tension is cranked up with each encounter on an Imperial occupied mining planet until it gets to a point where Kenobi can no longer lie his way out of the situation. The sudden explosion of violence that ends with a stormtrooper being cut in half by a laser gate is sign post for what is to come.
Running parallel to Kenobi’s story is that of his hunters, the Inquisitor and, of course, Darth Vader. Vader’s introduction shows us the amount of pain that Anakin is in as we see him assembled like a car on a production line, the control panel on his chest literally being plugged into his scorched flesh. The tension in the episode doesn’t easy off here. There is a power struggle taking place amongst the Inquisitors as they vie for Vader’s favour after Reva (Moses Ingram) seemingly dispatched the Grand Inquisitor in the previous episode. Each scene between Reva and The Fifth Brother (Sung Kang) feels like it could lead to a clash of lightsabers.
Kenobi is aided by the local Rebel cell, lead by Imperial officer Tala (Indira Varma), and this is the spark that reignites his hope before everything comes crashing down around him. The Rebels have formed an underground railroad to smuggle Jedi and force sensitive people to safety. This act makes him realise that he is not alone and when he reads Quinlan Vos’ name carved into the wall of the safe house he smiles for probably the first time in the series.
But as I mentioned, this respite is short lived. Vader arrives on the scene and his mere presence has a physical effect on Kenobi. This is the most horrific Vader we have ever seen, even the Inquisitors cower and recoil from him and can’t meet his eye. The Vader in ‘Rogue One’ was brutal but here he is downright sadistic. He force chokes a man, dragging him through a window, then snaps his sons neck when he tries to intervene. A woman then gets dragged on her face down the street. All this pain is caused just to try and lure Kenobi into the open.
You can see on Kenobi’s face that he knows that this is a fight he cannot win. At this moment he is prepared to die to protect the young Leia, who is sent off with Tala, so he leads Vader away for the big showdown. This confrontation comes a lot earlier in the series than anyone expected and clearly won’t be the only one. It’s here that Vader goes full Michael Myers. He’s stalking Kenobi through the yards of a mining facility, never needing to run, always appearing out of nowhere and when they clash sabers there is a clinical savagery to his blows.
It’s now that Star Wars goes the darkest that it has probably gone in live action. Vader doesn’t want to kill Kenobi, he wants to make him suffer the same way he did. He lifts Kenobi with a force choke, ignites the ground around him, then literally pulls Kenobi over the coals. The camera lingers on a burning Kenobi the same way it did with Vader at the end of ‘Revenge Of The Sith’. Kenobi’s agony is only stopped when a returning Tala causes a distraction so that a rescue can take place. To cap everything off, if Kenobi’s beating wasn’t enough, Leia is then captured by Reva.
While this episode is not perfect, the geography of the climax lost me and Zach Braff’s voiced coming out of an alien jarred, it ticked all the boxes you wanted it to. All the lead actors are hitting the right beats and so much is being conveyed through expressions. Ingram, in particular, grows her character through the way she reacts to Vader and seeing a Jedi symbol. The lightsaber fight, although most likely the precursor to a bigger one, was in line with what we got in the original trilogy and beautifully shot. The Star Wars universe has been expanded by the revelation of the possibility that more Jedi are alive, opening up more storytelling opportunities without taking away from Kenobi’s story.
We are at the halfway point of the series and Kenobi has been beaten down to his lowest point. Without a doubt he is going to comeback more powerful than we have ever imagined.