We may earn a commission when you buy through links in our articles. Learn more.

Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3 review - the return of Darth Vader

Darth Vader makes another welcome return to Star Wars in Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3, but the overall narrative flow could be better for the Disney Plus show

Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3 on Disney Plus

Our Verdict

Darth Vader faces his former master in an episode that's hurt by some muddled messaging.

Darth Vader might very well be the coolest villain in all of science fiction movies. He’s just so menacing and ethereal. Watching his armour be put together in Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 3 is a prime example. You know exactly what’s happening and how it’s going to look, and yet the process still gives you chills.

The Star Wars TV series has wasted little time after the tantalising revelation of episode 2 in bringing Vader face-to-face with his former Jedi Master. Emotions are frayed in the encounter, but it’s all fleeting as Obi-Wan works to retreat rather than engage, at least for now.

There’s still the young Leia to worry about, who has Reva on her tail. If Obi-Wan Kenobi is good for anything, it’s getting a sense of just how all-encompassing the Empire’s rule was. Stormtroopers are everywhere, and people are treated as meaningless fodder in the wake of the Empire’s objectives. However, the multiple strands of this story aren’t quite gelling like you’d hope they would.

Nothing contends with Vader here. Seeing him suit up and take action is always a pleasure. The way he pushes Reva to track down Obi-Wan as well, the contempt in James Earl Jones’s boomy voice, is great too. As far as Star Wars characters go, Darth Vader might be the only one who’s stayed consistent through his permutations. He’s a mean dictator who wields his own emotional trauma as a bludgeon for others.

Before Obi-Wan catches a glimpse of his former best friend, we spend some time watching him and Leia continue to find a good hiding spot. The Empire’s hold now runs deep. Stormtroopers have regular checkpoints, and perhaps most disconcertingly, the Empire has its sympathisers.

I’m sceptical of how deep a Disney Plus sci-fi series will go on supporters of the Empire, versus people who wore the iconography just to avoid trouble. A fascist’s a fascist, yes, but also this is Star Wars and I suspect the House of Mouse will tend towards sympathy where it can. In any case, Obi-Wan and Leia in the back of a pick-up truck with the Empire’s insignia attached is brazen and better for it.

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi

The scene had many hallmarks of the franchise. You’d some bizarre alien race, looking like an anthropomorphised mix of a rodent and sloth that’s also a regular down your dad’s favourite pub, tense chatter Stormtroopers, and some skirting around the heartache of the Skywalkers. The inevitable shoot-out comes as expected, with Obi-Wan saved by an Empire defector.

Tia has me torn. Indira Varma brings a believable emotionality, but only three episodes in and we get a traitor to Vader’s rule feels like a bit of a cop-out. It undercuts the Empire as a monolith that strangled a galaxy far, far away until the events of A New Hope. It makes me wonder how in control Vader was after Revenge of the Sith.

Use the Force: Star Wars movies ranked

Meanwhile, Reva’s play to become Grand Inquisitor isn’t going down well with the other Jedi hunters. This is a better examination of dissent within the ranks, because it brings into question what makes the Empire’s ideal killer. Is it someone ruthless? Or someone who follows orders?

Reva’s plenty cold-hearted, but she’s not much for being part of a team. Her interest aligns with Vader’s now, but what happens later, when Obi-Wan and Leia inevitably escape? We might be part of a long con that’s really about Obi-Wan’s shadow more than anything else.

McGregor is predictably brilliant when facing Vader, almost frozen with fear. The Sith takes his chance to inflict pain, while all Obi-Wan can think to do is run. Their brief fight, barely lit in a deserted area to heighten Vader’s terror, brings to mind Kenobi’s line from A New Hope: “Strike me down, and I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

In the Original Trilogy, this was a nod to Luke and Leia being inspired to go all-in on the Rebel Alliance. Here though, it’s true for Anakin, who’s far ascended past the Jedi’s hierarchy to become something absolutely terrifying. So scary, he makes most of what’s around him in Obi-Wan Kenobi pale in comparison.