Some of the concerns I had over the first two parts of Kenobi have been allayed with a solid third episode that brings us the long anticipated return of Darth Vader. The iconic villain started off as largely an evil henchman in A New Hope – but the sleek design and the intimidation of his character ensured he’d be brought back for a sequel – the movie that gave the franchise its gravitas. By the time of the prequels, the franchise came to lean heavily on the character – even if those films didn’t quite do his arc – or the material – much justice. The trouble is that without him, the series has had some difficulty establishing a strong antagonist – something the sequel trilogy told us in a metaverse sort of way – with his grandson Kylo Ren aspiring to be a darker, more powerful Sith lord but failing at it.
This episode is a reminder of why Vader was such a threatening villain that we feared for so long – without any of his trademarks feeling shallow or campy as decades of recognition can often do. His ominous, mechanical breathing is just as intimidating as we remember it and his obsession has now become hunting down his former master – in the way that we’ll later see him putting his own fleet in peril to find and capture Luke Skywalker. We’ve already seen the literal transition of him becoming “more man than machine” as his limbs were replaced by robotic ones – but this episode makes clear that this is also what Vader is underneath it all. The only emotion he seems capable of processing is hatred – something probably worsened by the fact that his castle is on the same volcanic planet where he was brought down by Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith, forcing him to relive the day he was felled and left for dead every time he looks out the window.
Until this point, Kenobi thought his pupil long gone – least of all that Vader can be a deadly adversary who matches him blow for blow in a nicely anticipated lightsaber battle on the dunes. It is almost as if he foresees the old Jedi master’s moves as they fight in the darkness – and Kenobi realizes how much his own abilities as a Jedi have atrophied while in hiding. There’s a Resistance going on, but it’s still fairly disorganized – and on his mission to bring Leia to safety, Kenobi is horrified to learn that there’s some fairly ordinary everyday people that are quickly coming to embrace the Intergalactic Empire with no regard for the people sacrificed when Palpatine declared himself ruler.
It’s something that forces Kenobi to reconsider whether or not he should stay in hiding and let the Jedi die off entirely, if he has the ability to prevent it. From the look of Reva’s reaction when she finds a hidden passageway to smuggle enemies of the Empire, it seems that the Inquisitors haven’t been as successful as they’ve hoped. There’s a Jedi temple insignia left on the wall of Tala’s dwelling. This also leaves us to wonder if we’ll see any overlap with the Rebels animated series which has already crossed over with the timeline of Rogue One.