This review contains spoilers.
The limited series format, with its bracketed beginning and end points, should allow showrunners to pack an arc with intrigue, knowing exactly how far it goes. The Obi-Wan Kenobi show has the additional advantage of being set between two other brackets (Star Wars: Episode III and Episode IV). The most accurate signpost to the show’s withering lack of direction is in the sense that its content is being forcibly stretched over a set amount of time rather than molded to contain a set arc. It feels like genuine labor for the screenwriters to come up with six episodes’ worth of events, with some episodes spinning in place so slowly that time itself freezes to stall for precious minutes until the next episode break. Part V demonstrates how little is on the creative agenda, despite being the best episode so far.
The premise is that Reva (Moses Ingram) tracked Obi-Wan and the rebels to their base by planting a tracker in Leia’s robot toy. Presenting this to Darth Vader, she becomes the leader of the “inquisition” and head of the hunting party sent to capture Obi-Wan, who hopes to help the rebels escape in time. The show has to break its pacing multiple times to prolong this concept for the full episode, using such little conjoining logic that it wouldn’t pass for daytime soap opera plotting.
The first construct involves Reva outside the base with heavy artillery, shouting at troopers to break the gate of the rebel facility. Then when convenient, she uses her lightsaber to cut the gate effortlessly, making the whole lead-in a manipulation for pacing’s sake only; the episode barrels ahead, hoping you didn't notice. This is when Reva reveals that she’s a double agent (the hallmark of a script desperate to convince the viewer of intrigue it does not have). She captures Obi-Wan and lets him wait inside with two troopers to let him escape (again), all to presumably get the drop on Vader.
The show does not explain why she approaches the situation in the least advantageous way possible or why she had let Obi-Wan escape for the entire show up until now. Her status as a double agent ambitiously causes the previous episodes to be even less logical than they seemed before, now that we know her only goal was to get Vader alone. It stinks of a script decision that had not been planned from the start, created in the rushed writing session for Part V where they sat around discussing what they “could” do to make it interesting, never workshopping how it might affect what came before (they don’t even know the word).
While all this is happening, Leia, who needs “something to do” in the episode, is sitting in a power box, off-screen, presumably looking for a red wire that activates the escape door whenever the writers decide they need it. The situation is numbing, with people saying things simply for the tone of saying them, not because they are observable (someone suggests that only someone tiny could fit in the vent, as Leia crawls into a perfectly spacious panel within arm’s reach of anyone, to play with wires off-screen for 15 minutes before plugging something in that anyone could have). There’s a moment when the entire rebel party is standing around wondering if the door will open in time. No one is helping Leia, checking on her, telling her what to do, bypassing the process, or having any imaginable logistical reaction to such a situation. The writers of this show treat it like that magic trick where the magician guesses the card you picked from a deck that has 52 identical cards.
Without any connecting tissue between scenes, characters state intentions when needed to fill in the deficit. Even the rebels’ escape (Vader uses the force to stop the ship while another ship takes off), is presented with as many simple flaws in logic as imaginable. Instead of taking off while Vader is struggling with the first ship, it waits for him to finish, then takes off for dramatic effect (too fast for him to react?). Instead of Vader losing concentration as Reva makes her move while he’s distracted, he just doesn’t try. Reva waits until he’s finished to make her move so that the writers can make it comfortably fail. It’s the ultimate monotasking screenplay – it can only think of a single thing at any time.
The episode’s main contribution to the series is the return of Hayden Christensen as Anakin in a flashback to a duel during which Obi-Wan taught him a lesson about failure. The lesson doesn’t make much sense (he teaches him that you don’t need a weapon to win and victory is not all that matters, by stealing his weapon after using a stalling tactic to win), but the scene is appreciated. That the prequel trilogy featured so few scenes with this tone, exploring the logistical and philosophical process of training a Jedi, is a reflection of that trilogy’s lack of focus on its central premise. The new scene may not have the wisdom of a master Jedi, but it at least has the well-meaning intentions of a padawan learner.
It's those intentions that make Part V the best episode in the series so far. Part IV by contrast was driven by nothing but the conveniences of that preschool plotting, non-accentuated by even the pretense of an emotional throughline. In that episode, Reva lures them in, to let them escape, to track them, to follow them, to let them escape. It is the ideal example, usable in a film class, of an “and then” screenplay, where things follow but do not connect. Obi-Wan Kenobi has never used a “but/therefore” transition, where events follow a logical sequence of events, and it doesn’t seem to be planning one. Any of its points are obscured by its need to do and undo events to kill time, to the point that I didn’t even review Part IV. There was nothing to say beyond that. At the end of it, a speeder, in which four people absolutely could not fit, ducks into a hangar and takes off again without ever showing how it manages the feat or even fits its passengers. The writers could not even choose a logical ship to complete the illogical escape.
So many episodes lead from mildly amusing, logic-defying chase sequences to the characters either being saved “at the last minute” or “allowed to get away." But in a show with only six parts, designed to bridge the gap between two touchstones, to get as much of a kick as possible out of its returning legends, these cul-de-sac plot plans are excruciating. Not one or two but all the episodes are time-killers. Originally, the show was only planned to be one season. Though it has been extended, imagine that this is all they thought of. This is the entirety of their imagination with Obi-Wan, this circular plot weave. It’s like a Star Wars impression of the nursery rhyme, “I Knew an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.”
She let the guy go,
to follow the guy
to catch the girl
to lure the guy
to let them escape
to track the ship
to find the base
to let them go
to follow the rebels
to catch the guy
I don’t know why she followed the guy,
perhaps she’ll die.
The concept of “letting someone escape” or saving heroes from off-screen “at the last minute” is not a complex or dramatic screenwriting idea. It is a last resort. For the writers and directors of Obi-Wan to rely exclusively on last resorts, to believe that it’s enough to prolong a resolution and that will be mistaken for drama no matter how anything is connected, is a gross underestimation of the audience, one that would be an insult in any original television programming. Yet for this show, the weight of the characters’ history is carrying it in spite of its directionless plotting, as much of Star Wars has been carried. But no creators in the brand's history have ever relaxed their grip on logical procedure so much. Discussions of themes are lightyears away from possibility, when an episode mishandles something as simple as the logic of opening a locked door multiple times in the same 45 minutes. I would turn off an episode of Baywatch, if it ever acted so casually about whether I would notice its lack of integrity. And in that case, I would at least believe that it didn't know any better.
Image is a screenshot from the show: ©Disney
Cast & Crew
Joby Harold & Andrew Stanton
|Obi-Wan Kenobi||Ewan McGregor|
|Leia Organa||Vivien Lyra Blair|
|Reva Sevander||Moses Ingram|
|Grand Inquisitor||Rupert Friend|
|Owen Lars||Joel Edgerton|
|Bail Organa||Jimmy Smits|
|Haja Estree||Kumail Nanjiani|
|Fifth Brother||Sung Kang|
|Darth Vader||Hayden Christensen/James Earl Jones|
|Tala Durith||Indira Varma|