I’m going to be honest, here: if I had written this post a couple of days ago, closer to when I actually watched the show, it would have been much longer and, frankly, more interesting. All of my brain space for the last couple of days has been taken up by working my way through my To Do list and trying to rewrite the Constitution, which I wish was a fucking joke and isn’t.
Here’s the non-spoiler review of this show: It was pretty good until the final episode, but only pretty good, and the final episode was fucking stellar. Lemme toss a little separation line here, so that those of you who don’t want to read the spoilery parts have adequate time to dip out and come back later:
In some ways, the show’s most amazing trick happened in the first episode. I wasn’t exactly digging around for spoilers on this show, but I wouldn’t have bothered avoiding them, and the fact that I’d not even seen a rumor that Lil’ Leia was going to be a major character? Is fucking unbelievable. I have been a frequent and noisy proponent of casting Millie Bobby Brown as Leia and giving her a movie or two (and there are rumors flying recently about that finally happening) but she’s too old to have been in this show and, my God, Vivien Lyra Blair was amazing. I was entertained at the idea that people were complaining about her looking too young, as the actress is the exact same age that Leia was supposed to be; I can only assume that these people haven’t seen children in a while. Sometimes they are small! It happens. I promise.
And this gets right to the crux of the weirdness of the show: at first glance, everything about it seems to utterly screw up the continuity that A New Hope set up, or at least screws up all the assumptions that absolutely everyone made, but are never actually specifically stated in the film.
Because Leia never says she and Obi-Wan have never met.(***) And Vader’s line about “when I left you, I was but the learner” does not actually mean that the last time they met was the battle on Mustafar. In fact, and I’m literally just realizing this right now as I’m typing this sentence, it’s really hard to reconcile the words “when I left you” with what happened there, since Obi-Wan left him for dead. And knowing that Obi-Wan already knew Leia adds a nice resonance to his last moments during the fight in ANH with Vader; just before he dies he looks to his left and sees both of them, at which point he recognizes that his job is done and sacrifices himself. I’d always assumed before that he was just looking at Luke, y’know?
So this show is, in a lot of ways, the best kind of retcon: never (that I’ve noticed, at least) does it explicitly contradict anything that came before, but it recontextualizes some moments in ways that are really interesting. The whole “from a certain point of view” conversation with Luke, where Obi-Wan says that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin? Vader literally told him that, and it’s interesting to think about that (outstanding) sequence in the final episode where Vader’s voice synthesizer is flipping back and forth between Anakin’s voice and Vader’s, because I genuinely don’t know if that’s Anakin talking and he’s trying to assuage Obi-Wan’s guilt or if it’s Vader talking and he’s bragging.(*) And what happens next? Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” for the first time.
Again: we all know that the real reason that Obi-Wan Kenobi called Darth Vader “Darth” on the Death Star is because at the time George Lucas hadn’t really decided that “Darth” was a title and not Vader’s first name. But from within the story? It’s kind of awesome, because to my recollection Obi-Wan never once uses the word “Vader.” Once whoever that is tells him that Vader is responsible for Anakin Skywalker’s death, Obi-Wan reverts to calling him “Darth,” because as far as he’s concerned there’s no person there anymore. There’s just the Sith. And in context, it makes perfect sense. Frankly, it’s disrespectful, and in a way I really enjoy.
You could probably criticize the show for setting up yet another situation where Kenobi leaves Vader for dead. At this point, he’s absolutely convinced his friend is gone, and they don’t give him any kind of out for not killing him; Vader’s incapacitated and he’s right there. I get why Obi-Wan leaves him on Mustafar. I don’t get why he doesn’t end Vader here, on whatever (very cool, by the way) planet that was.
(Oh, one criticism, just for the hell of it: the show leans a bit too hard into the idea that every Star Wars planet is two or three square kilometers in size and exactly the same climate everywhere. I generally liked Reva as a character but that bit where she just shows up to some random-ass spot on Tatooine and asks the first random-ass moisture farmer she meets where to find “Owen?” Come the fuck on. Also, I absolutely hate the post-sequels decision that anyone can get from anywhere in the galaxy to anywhere in the galaxy in seconds. It’s lightspeed, Goddammit, not, like, Warp Ninety.)(**)
Anyway. This is another place where the overarching story constrains what Kenobi was able to do. Obviously he can’t kill Darth Vader nine years before A New Hope, because Vader’s got three movies left. But they should have given us a reason Vader survived, and they didn’t. Obi-Wan just didn’t kill him, because reasons.
I also really liked Vader’s final conversation with Palpatine. The last thing he does before (he thinks) leaving Kenobi buried and dead is call him “Master,” and while I don’t remember the precise line of dialogue in the conversation, he has to tell Palpatine that he is his only Master who matters during that last conversation. Nicely done, and again, gives Vader a reason not to spend the next nine years constantly chasing Obi-Wan like we all felt like he ought to be doing.
So yeah, this is in Definitely Watch territory for me. Better than either season of The Mandalorian, and infinitely better than Book of Boba Fett. I’ll watch Andor, I suppose, but I don’t have especially high hopes for it, as Cassian Andor was one of the few characters in Rogue One that I didn’t feel like I wanted to know more about. Give me the Goddamn Baze Malbus/Chirrut Imwe show that I want! Give it to me now!
(*) It’s not clear at all how much actual work Hayden Christensen had to do in this show. Obviously Young Anakin shows up a few times, and guys, if there was ever a time to use your creepy de-aging magic, this was it, because Hayden’s got some serious crow’s feet– but a robot imitating James Earl Jones does the voice, there’s someone else in the suit doing the fighting, and I think there was even another person involved in the costume somewhere– but I’m pretty sure that’s him under all that makeup during this scene, and for what it’s worth, for a guy who’s trying to convey a whole lot of complex emotions with, effectively, one eye, and that eye covered by a contact lens nonetheless, it’s a really impressive little bit of acting.
(**) Last gripe: way too many people survive getting stabbed with lightsabers in this
movie show. Okay, granted, it’s a self-cauterizing wound, so I suspect getting stabbed with a lightsaber is actually a little better than getting stabbed with a blade, but in general lightsabers are surprisingly nonlethal in this series– Reva survives getting stabbed twice!– and the bit with the Grand Inquisitor felt especially unnecessary.
(***) This is the third postscript because I didn’t realize it until after hitting publish, so this is a late edit: this also recontextualizes Han and Leia’s otherwise completely inexplicable decision to name their son Ben, which you might now was the name of Luke’s son in the pre-Disney Expanded Universe books. Han thought Kenobi was nuts, and Leia, as far as anyone knew, barely even laid eyes on him. It even makes “Ben” a better name choice than “Obi-Wan” might have been, because Ben Kenobi was the guy who Leia was saved by. I don’t know if they even thought about this when they were writing the show, but it fixes one of the more nitpicky problems I had with the sequel trilogy in a way I really like.