Obi-Wan Kenobi, finale, review: finally, a Star Wars instalment worthy of the name

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Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader - Disney+
Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader - Disney+

In the end the Force was just about with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Disney+’s latest attempt to breath life into the flagging Star Wars franchise. Across its previous five episodes, the Ewan McGregor series had found a variety of ways to underwhelm. It had variously felt cheap, rushed and anti-climactic. There were also unfortunate echoes of the fan toxicity unleashed by the original “Prequels” trilogy to which it is a follow-up, with the racist onslaught against actress Moses Ingram recalling the fanboy attacks on Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best and on Jake Lloyd, the 10-year-old star of The Phantom Menace.

But the series pulled out if its tailspin with a rewarding finale that delivered oodles of what fans – of the non-racist, reactionary variety – will have wanted from a spin-off about Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader’s mentor-turned-reluctant-nemesis. There is a proper twist at the end, too, with the return of one of the most beloved Star Wars characters outside of the original George Lucas films. Oh and we are finally rewarded with a decent lightsaber duel. As anyone who suffered through the dreadful JJ Abrams/Rian Johnson movies of recent years will know, it has been too long coming.

Star Wars was originally conceived as a whizz-bang distraction for children and it is useful to keep that in mind with Obi-Wan Kenobi. It has skated along breezily and that is especially true of this climactic instalment, which has a storyline so simple Mickey Mouse could follow it. But that’s fine because, after five uninspired preceding episodes, this one is proper Star Wars.

“Prepare my ship – I will face him alone,” Darth Vader says at one point – the most Star Wars thing he’s said all season. “Did you truly think you could defeat me? You have failed, Master,” he adds later – having confronted Obi-Wan on a murky swamp-planet. Here, they exchange insults and chuck huge rock formations at each other. This is the Jedi jamboree we’re looking for.

Still, not even Darth Vader and Obi-Wan swapping angry words and lightsabers can entirely redeem a show that has often suffered from a stonking lack of ambition. Though the abuse directed at Ingram is – obviously – inexcusable and an indictment of what the internet has done to fan culture, her character, Reva, remains unsatisfying.

Moses Ingram as Reva - Disney+
Moses Ingram as Reva - Disney+

Seemingly left for dead at the end of the previous instalment – of course she survives – the former Imperial Inquisitor zips over to Tatooine, where she plans on taking revenge against Kenobi by killing the young Luke Skywalker.

But she then flashes back to her own childhood trauma – when a pre-Darth Vader Anakin slaughtered her fellow Jedi “younglings” – and reveals herself to have been a flawed hero all along. Ingram does her best to sell the redemption and Reva’s decision not to punish Luke.

Sadly, and as with so much else in recent Star Wars, it doesn’t stick. Issues also remain with the young Princess Leia, played with the right blend of naivety and audacity by Vivien Lyra Blair. The problem is that she doesn’t come across as a 10-year-old so much as a miniature Carrie Fisher – as if nobody involved in Star Wars had encountered an actual child in the wild before.

What does work – finally – is the attempt at exploring the duality of Vader. Fans of the Lucas prequels will have looked forward to renewing acquaintances with Hayden Christensen, who so compellingly portrayed the young Anakin/Vader as a bratty Justin Timberlake lookalike. He cameoed briefly in a previous flashback – where Disney didn’t even bother digitally de-ageing the now 41-year-old – but the finale was his true curtain call.

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi - Disney+
Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi - Disney+

Having biffed one another with their fizzy swords, Obi-Wan finally gained the upper hand on Vader, whose mask splintered after having rocks pinged at it. Peering through the crack in the helmet is Anakin, his voice modulating from Christensen’s to that of Vader (the reliably wonderful James Earl Jones).

“I am not your failure, Obi-Wan,” he snarls. “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker – I did.” Cheesy, portentous, cod-Shakespearean – this is the Star Wars banter for which we’ve been waiting since the the end of the prequels in 2005.

Ratings for Obi-Wan have been healthy –they are reportedly neck-and-neck with Netflix’s blockbusting Stranger Things – and so it feels likely Obi-Wan will return. A second season is more or less confirmed as Vader, back in his lava fortress, assures Emperor Palpatine that Obi-Wan “will be found”.

This is all by way of setting up the final twist, when Obi-Wan’s mentor, Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn turns up as a shimmering “force ghost”. Just a few years ago, Neeson looked in imminent danger of being cancelled after a surreal rant about black people. But, having apparently paid his penance, he is back where he belongs –  on Star Wars, sporting a cosmic man-bun. His redemption is seemingly complete in the eyes of Hollywood. And, after this enjoyable finale, Obi-Wan Kenobi may have finally reached the promised land, too.

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