What dark sorcery is this, leaving Star Wars fans wanting more de-aging effects, which are unsettlingly uncanny on their best day and unnervingly dodgy on their worst? Of course, some fans already can’t get enough of them; there wasn’t exactly an outcry when The Mandalorian treated Mark Hamill like a corpse to be magically resurrected, rather than an actor who could no longer play a younger Luke Skywalker. After The Book of Boba Fett revealed the expressive limitations of Metaverse Luke, it became clear that some viewers just need that Skywalker security blanket, no matter how divorced it has become from genuine human feeling. (Not to relitigate something that’s probably being discussed for the 800 billionth time on Twitter right this second, but it’s also the perfect comfort for anyone — Hamill included! — who may have been upset by the controversial decision to portray Luke as an actual human being in The Last Jedi.)
So by loving the glimpse “Part V” gives us of a younger Kenobi practice-dueling with a padawan-braid-era Anakin Skywalker, am I giving in to the dark side, embracing special-effects abilities that some consider to be unnatural? Here’s why I’d argue no: So far, Hayden Christensen’s performance as Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi has been, like Hamill’s likeness-rights sign-off in the other recent shows, more of a ceremonial title than genuine acting. Yes, he got to play a hallucinated Ani in the distance back in “Part III,” along with a few moments of bacta-tank seething and, apparently, certain shots of the fully dressed Vader. (Not when he’s fighting, and not when he’s shot wide. But the medium shots, presumably the ones that aren’t just a close-up of a helmet … that’s all Christensen-standing-around magic!) It’s an analog version of the same emptiness. For the short flashback woven into “Part V,” we finally get some proper human Anakin: cocky, insolent, and merciless with his lightsaber. His sparring match with Master Kenobi offers some insight into how the traumatized Obi-Wan of this series may be strategizing as Vader closes in on him.
Vader is able to close in on Kenobi and his pals because Reva’s unacknowledged-as-such gambit from the previous episode paid off. The tracking device in Leia’s L0-LA59 droid (Lola for short) reveals to the Imperial forces that the good guys are not, in fact, immediately returning the princess to Alderaan but stopping over in Jabiim to assist a group of refugees. Bad Lola hacks the base’s ship-exit doors, trapping everyone inside as stormtroopers cut off the smaller exits.
The wiring for the doors is tucked away in a crawlspace too small for most human adults (designed on the assumption that it would never need to be fixed in any way?! Or was Babu Frik their regular engineer?). So Leia ducks in to perform a youthful act of high-pressure heroism, while Obi-Wan attempts to buy her some more time. Perhaps informed by his thoughts of younger Anakin, or perhaps because he isn’t completely cut off from the Force, he intuits both the obvious twist about Reva and one the show has better concealed: Yes, she is one of the padawans we saw in the very first scene of the series, who witnessed the killing of her fellow younglings. But her sympathies haven’t actually turned toward the former Anakin Skywalker, whom she saw in his dark-emo transitional phase; she’s not really an aspiring Sith or Inquisitor (are they both? Inquisithtors?) but a former youngling out for revenge.
Now, I’m not sure how this squares with her actions so far. Reva has been obsessed with locating Kenobi for Vader, to the point of being willing to maim or kill plenty of other Jedi in the process — a darker reflection of Tala, whose work with the Empire has resulted in her turning spy for the Path. But it still seems unclear what Reva actually planned to do with old Ben. Is she using him as a surefire way to become First Inquisitor, which would provide a means for her to get closer to Vader? (Surely there are easier ways to get within killing distance! Not to mention, she has already secured the First Inquisitor title at this point.) Does she hope that Kenobi, once set against his former pupil, will finish the job he started on Mustafar? (Seems like kind of a Hail Mary, given Vader’s astronomical power.) Or is he more of an all-purpose distraction whose presence will allow Reva to plot Vader’s death from the shadows?
That’s the pressure point Obi-Wan focuses on, telling Reva that he will surrender, capturing Vader’s attention while secretly helping her go in for the kill. This leads to one of the episode’s best moments: Obi-Wan setting aside his lightsaber (after looking over a whole pile of old lightsabers, a collection to rival General Grievous’s!) and turning himself over to the
Imperials. Clearly, the scene of his teaching Anakin how to persevere without a weapon in hand echoes in his head.
But just as Obi-Wan’s lesson does ultimately turn on his taking Anakin’s weapon, his surrender isn’t quite at the zen level of Luke giving himself over for the last section of Return of the Jedi. As Vader points out to Reva when she finally reveals herself to him, Obi-Wan used her and left her high and dry. Leia de-evils Lola, gets those doors open, and everyone — Obi-Wan included, after dispatching some more stormtroopers — blasts off from Jabiim. Well, almost everyone: Tala falls to a trooper’s blast and thermal-detonates her way out of any forthcoming spinoffs.
Then again, maybe thermal detonation doesn’t count anymore; being run through by a damn lightsaber sure doesn’t! Say what you want about The Rise of Skywalker, but that mess at least commits to its death defiance by introducing Force healing; it’s convenient, but it at least adds a new wrinkle to the mythology of that particularly elusive superpower. In the Star Wars TV shows, the former Grand Inquisitor can get run through by Reva only to show up a few episodes later to watch her get run through by Vader, which inexplicably leaves her alive, presumably to continue a daisy chain of watching other characters get run through with a laser sword and live to fight another day. It’s especially odd that Vader doesn’t see to Reva’s actual demise, given that he claims to have known all along that she was an ex-youngling. She has been used by master and apprentice alike — can Reva be manipulated by Qui-Gon’s Force ghost for the hat trick?
The wild card seemingly fueling Reva’s will to live is her extremely convenient discovery of the worried message from Bail Organa. When checking in on Obi-Wan, he somehow lets slip (in a message he knows is risky to begin with, sent to someone who knows all of this already) that Vader has secret children and that one of them is a boy on Tatooine. Now Reva knows. Cut to Luke, cut to black.
It’s a cliffhanger heading into the finale, and it only took a series of increasingly dumb, sloppy story turns to get there! “Part V” is full of the kinds of details that might breeze by unnoticed in a well-paced two-hour film, or at least might not stick out until the second or third rewatch. A five-to-six-hour TV show does not exactly proceed at a George Lucas (or J.J. Abrams) pace, however; the sharp turns and speed bumps don’t exactly yield another happy landing.
The character stuff in “Part V,” however, is a welcome improvement from last week, in large part owing to that flashback. Yes, Christensen looks a little odd; whether it’s computer or traditional flesh-and-blood awkwardness, how could he not, playing the same college-aged kid 20 years later? But his youthful insouciance and relentlessness connect better than ever to a Darth Vader who rips apart chunks of starships and glories in keeping Reva from even swinging her lightsaber, much less connecting with his hulking frame. Yet he does toss Reva (part of) her weapon when he could have killed her earlier. Whether it is just a means of torturing her further as he continues to dominate their skirmish or representx a pang of loneliness over his lack of a caring mentor or mentee (Ahsoka has been MIA so far), it’s an unexpected note of humanity that registers more strongly with Christesen’s human face in the flashback.
Flashback contrasts also highlight McGregor’s skill as a performer; his work as a broken-down Kenobi is more impressive after seeing how easily he can slip back into the rhythms of Attack of the Clones–era Obi-Wan, his light frustration with his star pupil chased with a bit of playful affection. “Your need for victory, Anakin … it blinds you,” he says and then, in a moment of sheer delight, he puts a little Yoda spin on his follow-up: “Until you overcome it, a padawan you will still be.” The smiles they exchange afterward feel rueful in light of Reva’s failed attempt on Vader’s life. She’s still a padawan, trying to imitate a master.
Notes from the High Ground
• It’s tempting to attribute some of the finer character-writing touches in “Part V” to Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, who popped in for a co-writing credit on this episode. Then again, he deserves some admonishment for not rewording a line like “If we defend our position, then by the time they get here, we’ll be gone.” Huh?
• O’Shea Jackson Jr. gets some more lines this episode. Maya Erskine does not. Neither have much to do, and it seems unlikely that’ll change in the finale. That sucks, man.
• Watto Watch: Chut chut, Braid Anakin. The flashback probably takes place before Anakin revisits his old toydarian-enslaved stomping grounds in Attack of the Clones, so no dice (or rather, no metal hat) there. This means a lot is riding on next week; Obi-wan has to bring some sand-whale meat to Dexter Jettster and buy a janky old lightsaber from Watto in order to defend Luke. Otherwise, well, then, this series is lost.