'Obi-Wan Kenobi' Episode 3 Recap: New characters, cameos and that Darth Vader fight

The latest brilliant episode sees Obi-Wan and Darth Vader face off as James Earl Jones returns to Star Wars.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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An angry alien bad guy lit by the glare of a red lightsaber in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus.
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An angry alien bad guy lit by the glare of a red lightsaber in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus.

Obi-Wan Kenobi feels blue as he faces his greatest fear in the latest Star Wars series.

Disney Plus

Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan faces his greatest fear -- and his greatest failure -- in this week's intense episode of the Disney Plus miniseries Obi-Wan Kenobi, also starring James Earl Jones and Zach Braff.

Episode 2's cliffhanger saw Obi-Wan, now a humbled exile calling himself Ben, learn that his former friend and protégé Anakin Skywalker is still alive. Still reeling from the news and haunted by his part in Anakin's fall, Obi-Wan finds he may not be up to the task of protecting young Princess Leia after all.

The first three of the show's six episodes are available now, with more to follow each Wednesday until June 22. Let's dive into an in-depth recap of episode 3, including character arcs, Star Wars Easter eggs and lots of spoilers...

Only a Master of Evil

The last time Obi-Wan saw Anakin Skywalker was the fateful duel in which he chopped his apprentice into bits and left him melting on the side of a volcano. Obi-Wan was appalled by Anakin's dreadful deeds in the Clone Wars, and when they meet again in this new episode he's given a clear picture of what kind of guy Anakin is now. As we see Darth Vader assembled from machine parts, Ben is haunted by memories of Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn -- who stubbornly refuse to show up and offer support -- as well as the taunting voice of Reva.  

Up until now, the only meeting we've seen between Kenobi and Darth Vader was their final encounter. 1977's A New Hope saw the two aging warriors duel with lightsabers on the Death Star. "I've been waiting for you, Obi-Wan," Vader greeted Kenobi then. "We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master."

To which Kenobi replied, "Only a master of evil, Darth." His use of the name Darth has been the source of speculation among fans as a possible continuity error, but the Disney Plus series throws up a different possibility: Perhaps over the course of the show, as he sees the darkness possessing his old friend, Obi-Wan lets go of Anakin. So when they meet on the Death Star, he doesn't see Anakin; he sees only Darth Vader. Which adds a little extra resonance to the final battle between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi. When even Anakin's oldest friend saw only master of evil Darth Vader, his son saw good in him still. Only when Vader aids Luke and is unmasked does he become Anakin again -- and only then is the circle truly complete.

The fearsome black helmet of Darth Vader.

Star Wars villain Darth Vader reveals his black helmet and blacker heart in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus.

Disney Plus

For now, however, we're seeing Darth Vader at the fearsome height of his powers. Callously walking through a town snapping necks of bystanders, Vader is the epitome of Imperial terror and violence. And the fight between the two old friends shows how unmatched they now are: Obi-Wan can barely draw his lightsaber while Vader only needs one hand to drive him back. You almost have to remind yourself that you've seen how Obi-Wan's journey continues in other films, because in this intense scene you might actually fear for his life.

Oh, and while there's been a lot of fuss around the return of prequel star Hayden Christensen as Anakin, that's only frickin' James Earl Jones once again providing Darth Vader's voice as in the original films. 

The encounter is inconclusive -- but there are still three episodes to go...

His compassion has been his undoing

Throughout the series, the Inquisitors and Vader have used the Jedi's values against them. "The Jedi Code is like an itch," the Grand Inquisitor sneered in episode 1. "His compassion has been his undoing". But it also works the other way: The ruthlessness and violence of the Empire works against it.

The lack of trust among the Inquisitors leads to in-fighting that works in the favor of our heroes. And Vader's sadism in roasting Obi-Wan also provides the opportunity for the wounded Jedi to escape. Darkness is its own undoing.

As Obi-Wan puts it in the opening scene, living in the dark is living in fear. Embracing the natural balance of the Force is like turning on a light.

I know what it is you seek

In Tala's galactic underground railroad, Obi-Wan spots a message from Quinlan Vos, another former Jedi seen in The Clone Wars and other spinoffs. Vos turned to the Dark Side for a time, but appears to have survived the Order 66 purge after all and now specializes in rescuing younglings. Reva also sees a message that shakes her -- could there be a connection?

Played by Moses Ingram, the reckless and volatile Reva is a riveting new addition to the Star Wars canon. As McGregor himself says, there's no place for the racist abuse Ingram has faced from some viewers.  

New characters and cameos

Oh Freck, how could you? The truck driver is happy with his lot under the Empire because he believes it brings a bit of order to the galaxy, a reminder of how normal people will embrace tyranny if it means a quiet life. That peace and quiet don't last long, however, as the true face of Imperial ruthlessness is revealed when the Inquisitors arrive. We never see what happens to the treacherous Freck, sadly. If you recognize the voice, he's played by Zach Braff (well, Braff is listed in the credits, but at first I have to admit I thought Freck sounded more like Seth Rogen).

Luckily Obi-Wan and Leia are rescued by Tala Durith, an Imperial officer with a conscience. She's played by Indira Varma, who you may remember from her appearance in Game of Thrones as Ellaria Sand, the paramour of Prince Oberyn Martell -- played by Pedro Pascal, the Mandalorian himself. 

When's the next episode?

New episodes stream each Wednesday. Episode 4 is streaming June 8. Here's the full release schedule for the rest of the series.

If you want to fill in even more of the gaps or just can't wait to get your fix of Obi-Wan action, CNET's guide to everything Kenobi includes a handy list of animated TV shows, novels, and comics featuring the man in the robe.

Random Obi-servations

  • We're back on another desert planet, Mapuzo. This one is slightly different, however, because unlike Tatooine's sandy desert this is a scrubby desert. Obi-Wan bitterly notes that the planet has been ravaged by the rapacious Empire, which perhaps suggests why there are so many desert planets in the galaxy. 
  • Leia's cute green outfit evokes memories of her commando garb in Return of the Jedi.
  • We could spend our lives picking apart lines from the original Star Wars films that make less and less sense with each new prequel, sequel and spinoff. But when you see lightsaber-shy Obi-Wan drawing his pistol and going John Wick on a bunch of stormtroopers, it might remind you of his line to Luke in A New Hope: "Your father's lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age."  
  • There are women stormtroopers, which ties in with the character of Jannah played by Naomi Ackie in The Rise of Skywalker.
  • Speaking of Stormtroopers, they're looking for a Jedi but don't realize a bearded guy in brown robes might actually be a Jedi. In fact, why do they need a droid to scan Obi-Wan? Can't they just hand out a photo of the guy?  
  • They may be evil murderers, but the Empire really knows how to do an infrastructure project. This episode alone features not one but two giant fortresses, one built on a volcano and one in the ocean. 
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi dimly remembers a baby brother who he never knew after being taken from his family to join the sparse, ascetic life of a Jedi. This heartbreaking story parallels Leia's, as she too was separated from her brother Luke as a baby.  

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