I had such high hopes for this show, and it started off promising… though perhaps that was more because I was projecting my hopes onto it. We had Ewan McGregor and Christian Haydenson returning to tell a story of two former friends meeting again after trying to kill each other. The only thing the show had to do was write a story playing to its main strength: two actors that can deliver great emotional dialogue (admittedly you have to go outside of the Prequels to find those examples.) This was a story that was begging to be a tightly focused story centered around our two main characters, examining their emotions and motivations.
What we got instead was a strange hybrid of action story and character study that tried to have its cake and eat it too. Now it was by no means terrible, I don’t regret watching it, it kept me entertained. But given the potential this story had going in, I have to admit I’m disappointed we didn’t get more.
All That Matters is the Ending: Kenobi
I actually really enjoyed the first three episodes of this show, there were problems to be sure, but I thought the show was leaning more towards a quiet, introspective look at Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. And then episode 4 came around, featuring a harebrained scheme breaking into an imperial fortress that felt more like an episode of a kid’s show. If anything perfectly encapsulates what didn’t work in this show, it’s the fourth episode: it’s badly written, doesn’t make sense, and sacrifices character development for flashy action scenes.
So let’s talk about how this show could have gone, versus what we got.
1. The Plot was Convoluted
Had Kenobi been 24 episodes long, or even 10, I could perhaps see this show having enough time to explore the various plot elements it introduced. However, with only six episodes, many of those less than 45 minutes long, there was way too much going on in this story; the internal politics of the Inquisitors, a kidnapped Leia, the confrontation of Vader and Obi-Wan, the Path trying to protect force sensitive children and refugees, Owen trying to protect Luke from the outside world, and Reva’s secret plot to assassinate Darth Vader… all smashed into a jumble where none of these elements got to a chance to breathe.
All of these elements have merit, you could get a great story out of any of them, but not when you can’t focus on any one of them for more than a few minutes at a time. I like the concept of Reva being a former Jedi youngling on a quest for revenge, secretly planning the assassination of Darth Vader. The Path attempting to smuggle force-sensitive children and their families to safety is also an intriguing idea, Jedi Fallen Order was a wonderful example of how to explore that storyline. And bringing Leia into the story, letting us see Alderaan and who she was a child, was also something that could have been meaningfully explored.
Unfortunately the convoluted plot undermined everything it touched. The gymnastics required by the story to get Obi-Wan from Tattooine to whatever that spaceport was, to the farming planet, to another planet, only to end up on yet another planet for the final confrontation robbed the story of its emotional heart. The story was clearly setting itself up to a tense cat-and-mouse style chase, but due to its Rube Goldberg machine style plotting, it came across more like an episode of Tom and Jerry. In the course of three episodes, we go from Leia kidnapped from her home, to being rescued by Obi-Wan, to being kidnapped again by Reva, to being rescued again by Obi-wan. And in the course of 3 episodes, we go from Obi-Wan trying to help the Path escape, to Vader chasing them, to Obi-Wan buying them to time to escape, to Vader chasing them again, which leads to Obi-wan buying them time to escape…again.
This convoluted plot also made it so that too many leaps in logic and miraculous events had to occur for the plot to keep moving. To a certain extent you forgive these in stories because every story needs an inciting incident to get the story going: Frodo’s uncle giving him the Ring, Peter Parker getting bitten by the spider, Luke getting the message from Princess Leia.
However, if you start to overuse this, it becomes more noticeable and erodes an audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief. The Grand Inquisitor survives being stabbed in the abdomen by Reva and Reva survives being stabbed in the abdomen by Darth Vader. Leia and Tala are heading down a small narrow tunnel while Obi-Wan distracts Darth Vader… but somehow Reva gets ahead of them? And Vader ignites, and then extinguishes, a massive fire but when it comes between him and Obi-Wan a second time, Vader seems powerless to stop him.
Those are just a few examples out of literally dozens.
By the time we got around to the final episode, I could barely remember how we’d even ended up in this situation, and worse… I didn’t believe it. In a story filled with space wizards and laser-machine-gun wielding lizards, I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief by the final episode. The leaps in logic, coincidences, and unexplained motivations led to a point where the story no longer made sense to me. Tighter plotting would have been beneficial, but what truly what would have made this great was to focus on the characters.
2. Characters were Sacrificed for Action
I really enjoyed the first episode the most, mostly because I felt like they had more time to focus on the characters. Showing the audience Obi-Wan, clearly suffering from PTSD from the events of Episode 3, cutting himself off from the force and living a quiet miserable life in the desert was great. I felt like I knew exactly what he was feeling, the sadness, hopelessness, and most of all, the guilt. This is exactly the kind of thing this story needed, just quiet introspective moments where we simply exist with the characters.
But once Obi-Wan departs on his quest? These moments become few and far between, and it becomes a crazy scramble from one action-packed situation to another to the detriment of the story.
Though all the characters suffer from this problem, none suffered more than Reva’s character. Based on the overall arc of her character and her final redemption, the writers clearly thought she was going to be an important character with future spin-off potential. Her tragic backstory tells me that they thought she would come across as sympathetic… and by all rights she should have, had any time been spent allowing us to know her character. Instead, we see Reva cutting a man’s hand off, ruthlessly pursuing Obi-Wan, and coming seconds away from torturing a small child.
The revelation that she’s been secretly planning to assassinate Darth Vader lacks any kind of impact because, for one, it’s simply announced by Obi-Wan versus being shown naturally occurring events in the story. And two, she’s been an irredeemably evil character for the entire run time, and that makes it hard to sympathize with her. Now had we gotten to watch a tense, spy-thriller style story featuring Reva struggling to keep her plot form being discovered this could have been an amazing storyline.
Like when we see her cut off the farmer’s hand in the first episode, if we’d been allowed a few moments with the character to see her struggling to deal with the regret and self-loathing she feels about having to play the role. Watching Reva struggling with rationalizing her evil acts as being for a greater good. Moments in the inquisitor’s fortress where we watch Reva hatching her plan, and struggling to keep it from the prying eyes of her fellow inquisitors and imperial personnel. Then perhaps, at the end, I could have seen a redemption arc working after realizing that her quest for vengeance was turning her into the very thing she hunted.
But we didn’t.
Darth Vader and Obi-Wan fell victim to this as well though. Both characters undergo a fundamental character shift by the story, but the reasons for these shifts are never revealed. Again, allowing us quiet introspective moments with these characters might have done a world of good towards showing us their internal conflicts… and how they ultimately resolved them.
Obi-Wan starts off suffering from PTSD, having cut himself off from the force and abandoned his former life as a Jedi. And in Episode he’s practically helpless against Darth Vader’s power. I thought the story was going to show us where Obi-Wan would come absolve himself of the guilt he felt over Anakin’s fall and maiming. Instead though, in the very next episode, he uses the force to hold back a shattered underwater window and blast stormtroopers like the old days. There’s no explanation as to how this change occurs, it simply does.
And Darth Vader undergoes his own change, but in the end, nothing makes sense.
3. The Ending Doesn’t Make Sense
In the final episode we finally get the rematch everyone was waiting for. Obi-Wan and Vader are now on equal footing, and I have to admit, I loved this fight. I do wish they hadn’t done so much shaky cam, and that we’d had better lighting, but nevertheless it was awesome to watch.
I do wish Obi-Wan hadn’t defeated Vader quiet so decisively, however.
After an initial struggle where Darth Vader has the upper hand, Obi-Wan absolutely cleans his clock, to the point where I was almost feeling bad for Vader. Personally, if I’d been writing the script, I would have written this fight to be a stalemate. Each one getting their hits in, resulting in both of them being severely wounded, until they’re both so exhausted that neither has the ability to kill the other. This would have served a few purposes:
First off all, we’d be spared trying to rationalize Obi-Wan not killing Anakin (again) which makes even less sense here because he’s now accepted Anakin is dead anyway. Secondly, I think fighting to a stalemate would have made the fight in A New Hope more poignant. Obviously, the fight from the first film was limited in what it could do due to budget and what you could do with the actors at the time, but you could have backfilled another reason into the story with this scene in Kenobi. If Vader and Kenobi wrecked themselves in this fight, to the point where both nearly died, it would make sense they’d be extremely cautious in their next encounter in A New Hope.
And finally, with the fight having exhausted both men physically, I could see their emotional walls breaking down in order to have this powerful, emotional exchange at the end.
As Vader kneels defeated, struggling to breathe, he looks to Obi-Wan and tells him:
I am not your failure Obi-Wan. You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker… I did.Darth Vader to Obi-Wan
Hayden Christensen absolutely nails this line, and I have to admit, I started to tear up a little bit at this part.
But three episodes previous, in their first encounter, Vader taunted Obi-wan with these words:
I am what you made me.Darth Vader to Obi-Wan
These two statements are contradictory; the former is Anakin accepting responsibility for what he’s become, the latter is blaming Obi-Wan for it. So clearly something changed in the intervening three episodes for Darth Vader to accept his role in what he became. And I really wish we’d gotten to see what caused that change. When I imagine these words being spoken, after some quiet introspective moments spent with Darth Vader where the of why of this change in personality is made apparent, I get goosebumps. Why couldn’t we have had a few more moments exploring Vader’s character?
In the third episode, we saw Vader standing there while watching Obi-Wan escape despite just having shown that he could extinguish the fire with the Force. At the time I thought we were seeing Vader having some kind of internal conflict here. After all, a few moments earlier he was seemingly trying to burn Obi-Wan alive, but then suddenly he stopped before any significant damage was done. Was he remembering better time with his old friend and mentor? Is that why he allowed Obi-Wan to escape?
Maybe. But we’ll never show for sure because the show never makes it clear. Again a few moments alone with Vader would have done a world of good, perhaps alone in his bacta tank reliving old memories, or heck you can even do it with him the in the suit. The helmet’s design allows it be surprisingly emotive with the right camera angle and acting; like Vader looking mournfully out the when the Millenium Falcon escapes at the end of The Empire Strikes Back or his increasingly agitated looks at the Emperor as he tortures Luke to death in Return of the Jedi. A few screens like that interspersed between the fights could have made this final confrontation land so much more powerfully. Not to mention better setup Vader’s internal conflict that Luke sees and uses to finally redeem Vader.
Meanwhile Obi-Wan spent the entire show feeling guilty about having almost killed his best friend and turning him into Darth Vader. Yet instead of coming to any kind of internal resolution about this, he’s more or less granted absolution for it from Anakin himself when admits that he turned himself into Darth Vader. In a show ostensibly about Obi-Wan, we got to see surprisingly little agency from him, and rather than growing and changing from his own actions, simply reacts the actions of others.
The rest of the ending I won’t go much into, because it fell flat for me. I am curious as to what Reva’s endgame was though. Darth Vader doesn’t even know he has children, so was she going to kill Luke and drag his corpse back to Vader and tell him she killed his son? Given she sees him as a cold, emotionless monster, did she even think that would have an effect on him?
And yes, I love the Qui-Gon Jinn appearance at the end, but it showcases the problem with the show in general: it relies too much on nostalgia to work. I got teary eyed listening to Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor interacting because the last time I saw them together was in 2005’s Revenger of the Sith when I was 17 years old, not because the story was particularly well told. Nostalgia can only take us so far though.
I liked this show. The ending confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader worked well enough. But the reunion between Ahsoka and Vader in Rebels was far more powerful, and they did that in just a few minutes versus having six hours of buildup.
But I wanted to love this show.
Will there be a season two? At this point I hope not, as another confrontation between Vader and Obi-Wan would seem repetitive at this point. Here’s hoping we get another
The thing that drove me nuts in the final episode was the chase scene. ….It is a called a Star Destroyer and it has a LOT of fighters. It is not called a Star Can Shoot But Not Destroy Fleeing Cargo Vessel.
Thanks for the update!
Glad to see you back John!
I lost interest in the Mandalorian pretty early in the second season and stopped watching. Didn’t even bother with Boba Fett or Obi-Wan. Much like the MCU shows, which have thus far also failed to convince me to watch most of them to the end for want of… even one interesting or compelling or engaging idea to latch onto… I find that Disney’s Star Wars output is pretty unimaginative, unambitious and uninspired.
Their goal seems to be simply to create Star Wars content that is “not bad.” Which is, of course, not the same thing as “good.”
And maybe they deserve praise for accomplishing that goal more often than not in the post-Rise of Skywalker era? I dunno. I feel like a lot of fans are taking the certain knowledge that things could be much worse to ignore the fact that things could and perhaps should be much better.
I can at least say I am watching Andor right now, and it’s actually… pretty decent so far. Definitely interesting enough to get me to watch to the end, that’s for sure, which puts it a leg up over most of its competition.