Obi-Wan Kenobi is borderline unrecognizable. Although we can’t mistake Ewan McGregor’s face for anyone else’s in the Star Wars universe, this Jedi Knight is not the same man we last saw in Revenge of the Sith. His weary gaze, the uneasy set to his shoulders, and his hesitation to jump into action all depict a man defeated.
But that begins to change in Episode 4, and Obi-Wan Kenobi uses a clever metaphor to chart the beginnings of Ben’s redemption.
The second half of the Star Wars prequel series depicts an awfully familiar rescue mission. After Reva (Moses Ingram) takes young Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) hostage at the end of Episode 3, this new chapter is centered on retrieving Leia from Reva’s (and Darth Vader’s) clutches on Fortress Inquisitorius. There are plenty of parallels between Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 4 and A New Hope (coincidentally also an “episode 4”), but while this part of the story seems like a plot-driven homage to the film that launched the franchise, it also marks a significant turning point in Obi-Wan Kenobi’s journey.
From the opening scene when Ben clambers out of a bacta tank to the terrifying Jedi tombs and climactic flood scene, Episode 4 charts an emotional new path for the show’s title character. After escaping a literal wave, Obi-Wan is finally done drowning in misery over the past.
Stuck underwater — In the aftermath of his fiery reunion with Anakin Skywalker, Episode 4 opens with a physically (and emotionally) burned Obi-Wan being carried and installed into a bacta tank. Unlike The Book of Boba Fett, which framed the first half of its series through the bounty hunter’s relatively peaceful bacta-induced meditations, Ben’s submersion in the healing waters is agonizing. He struggles as images of Vader (also in a bacta tank) flash across his mind.
Simply put, Ben is drowning under the weight of all that’s happened since Anakin fell to the Dark Side. But the added pressure of young Leia being kidnapped gives Obi-Wan a sense of resolve that he hasn’t had in a long time. He anxiously climbs out of the tank to ask about Leia, and the episode’s brisk 36-minute runtime begins to fly by as he and Tala Durith (Indira Varma) break into Fortress Inquisitorius to rescue the princess.
But to save Leia, Obi-Wan must descend again. Diving underwater, he swims into the fortress. With Tala’s intermittent help, the Jedi makes his way through the corridor, avoiding and sometimes fighting Stormtroopers until he finds something terrifying. Immersed in amber-like substance, dead knights and younglings lined the hallway like trophies of the Empire’s Jedi purge. It's a dreadful sight and a reminder of the larger threat that’s overshadowed Ben’s life for the last ten years.
It’s also a wake-up call. One of those dead Jedi could easily have been Ben, but he’s not a lifeless body stuck drowning in some sick Empire trophy room. He’s alive. He has a purpose (more than one actually), and he has the Force.
Breaking through the surface — While Episode 4 seems preoccupied with getting the characters from Point A to Point B in terms of plot, the series quietly reaches an emotional milestone in this installment.
Compared to Ben’s hard-to-watch duel with Vader in Episode 3, Ben wields his lightsaber with a surprising sense of confidence as he saves Leia from Reva’s impending torture. Even as they’re escaping, Ben is focused and determined in a way we hadn’t quite seen from the former Jedi Master yet in Obi-Wan Kenobi. He no longer hesitates, dodging blaster fires and racing to leave the fortress before Reva or Vader can stop them.
When one redirected blaster hit punctures a crack in a window, the underwater hallway is threatened to be submerged. Channeling the Force, Ben pushes back against the incoming deluge. Once again, Ben is faced with drowning, and instead of letting it overtake him once again, he fights back. He escapes just in the nick of time as the glass shatters, letting the water drown his enemies instead.
In an odd, but perhaps intentional, sense of kismet, Episode 4 ushers in a new hope for Obi-Wan Kenobi. Many regard the series as a bummer hero’s journey, but this week’s quiet shift in tone and perspective is changing how we see both Kenobi the character and Kenobi the show. There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s satisfying to watch Obi-Wan become something closer to the hero fans have admired for decades.
Although Episode 4 ends on a somber note with Ben and Leia rescued at the cost of another man’s life — and the Empire on their tail — there is something tender and reassuring when Leia moves to hold Ben’s hand. This small gesture pulls our focus away from the losses of this mission and to the possibilities it ensured. Leia is alive, and so is Ben, two forces of nature who are bound to change this far, far away galaxy in ways they can’t even begin to imagine.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is now streaming on Disney+.