Disney+ surprised Star Wars fans with a Darth Vader/Obi-Wan Kenobi faceoff in Episode 3 of “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” so it’s not surprising that Episode 4 takes to the proverbial plotting bacta tank to recover.
With two episodes left, the series is laying groundwork for some serious showdowns between the Empire and its infant resistance, not to mention more lightsaber warfare unlike anything seen before. It starts off with a literal bacta tank as Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) heals from the burns he sustained on Mapuzo, when Vader (Hayden Christensen) used the Force to drag his former Master through a field of fire.
The imagery isn’t subtle, nor is it meant to be; “Obi-Wan” is deliberately reminding us that its title character and Darth Vader are inextricably linked. The original Star Wars films reveal this in “Empire Strikes Back,” but the majority of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s history has been built retroactively by George Lucas and Dave Filoni. The “Chapter 4” opening cuts between Obi-Wan healing in a bacta tank and Vader doing the same — another twisted bond between the two of them, like the burns now scarring Obi-Wan’s back. Episode 3 — and the series at large — is the first time they’ve crossed paths since “Revenge of the Sith” both in the Star Wars chronology and release timeline, and every interaction carries a weight that the original films could never have anticipated.
Tala (Indira Varma), who proves to be particularly astute and quick-thinking throughout the episode, notices as much.
“Your body’s not the only thing that needs to heal,” she tells Obi-Wan (which star system has the best therapy rates for a former Jedi in hiding?).
“Some things can’t be forgotten,” Obi-Wan tells her — a line that would make “Revenge of the Sith” proud.
At Fortress Inquisitorius, Reva (Moses Ingram) interrogates prisoner Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) on the whereabouts of the resistance Path. Again, connection clicks because it’s supposed to; Some of Leia’s earliest scenes in “A New Hope” (as Carrie Fisher) are of her being interrogated aboard about Resistance plans and locations — and notably, she complies. Seeing the pint-sized future Senator Organa in handcuffs sends up a thrill of pure dread, because whatever is about to happen has to directly inform how she acts aboard the Death Star years later.
Each episode of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” exposes deeper layers to Reva’s ruthlessness, and Leia’s interrogation is no exception. There’s inherent humor in the setup of an adult grilling a child aboard a space ship, but not a drop of that bleeds through. Ingram is unflinching, playing the scene as serious as imaginable and then some. There is no Good Cop/Bad Cop strategy in Reva’s playbook; There is only a cop, and whomever she’s talking to is a criminal. Blair appears more childlike than ever, puncturing Leia’s steely resolve at all the right moments with undisguised anguish and terror.
It’s the best work yet from Ingram, Blair, and Varma, who makes a massive impression as Tala leads the mission to Fortress Inquisitorius and gets nearly everyone back to safety. This isn’t some Rebel putting on an Imperial suit for a heist, but years of expert espionage, training, and subterfuge at work. Usually, when a character is in such high-stakes situations, they visibly balk in ways that should give up the whole operation, but get a pass because they cue in the audience to how the character feels. Tala does none of that. She’s cool as a cucumber, fabricating backstory on the fly, and commanding others aboard the ship with palpable authority.
As he searches for Leia, Obi-Wan finds a tomb filled with the preserved bodies of dead Jedi, each more horrifying than the last. When he finally faces the unbearable sight of a youngling, Obi-Wan hears Leia’s screams and bolts toward his mission. It’s no accident that he hears the child shrieking for help just as he happens upon the young Jedi’s body. “Obi-Wan Kenobi” constantly underscores the Vader/Kenobi connection, this time recalling the day of the Jedi Massacre when Obi-Wan learned that his former padawan had killed younglings at the temple. Such evil cannot be condoned, and in the moment it is Reva perpetuating that evil as she prepares to torture Leia.
Tala interrupts just before Leia can be harmed physically, leading to a solitary but fantastic sequence between Varma and Ingram. Tala lies to protect the rebels while Reva repeatedly doubts her, a game of duplicitous chicken that escalates with every line. Their pairing crackles with talent and chemistry, both actors operating at 200% and only invigorating each other’s performances. Here’s hoping they get to share another scene before the series ends.
This buys enough time for Obi-Wan to release Leia and leave the interrogation room, but they’re quickly located and attacked by Purge Troopers. McGregor continues to dust off Obi-Wan’s prequel-era lightsaber prowess, demonstrating the character’s growing strength — and the fact that Leia is what unleashes it. For 10 years Obi-Wan looked back at his relationship with a Skywalker as folly and weakness, but this is the beginning of a time when it will prove to be his greatest strength.
Obi-Wan and Tala head for the ship in Imperial garb, which provides the unparalleled comedic image of Obi-Wan literally hiding Leia in a trench coat — still not played for laughs but heightened by the fact that they could be caught and killed at any moment. Indeed, that’s almost what happens; in the ensuing battle, Tala’s allies fly in for rescue and one of them dies in the process. Once they’re safe aboard the ship (or so they think), Leia reaches out for Obi-Wan with her tiny little hand, and they sit there — safe, silent, and together, deeply grateful and vulnerable because of that surprising bond growing between them. It’s the final, expertly crafted character moment in an episode full of them, with two more still on the way.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi” airs Wednesdays on Disney+.