Obi-Wan Kenobi: Star Wars spin-off redeems one of cinema’s greatest villains, makes Darth Vader menacing again

Published on Jun 02, 2022 03:55 PM IST

Spoilers for episode 3 of Obi-Wan Kenobi ahead: The Star Wars spin-off series not just brings back Darth Vader but redeems him after the missteps of the Prequel Trilogy.

James Earl Jones returns to voice Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
James Earl Jones returns to voice Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
ByAbhimanyu Mathur

The Star Wars saga has been the journey of Anakin Skywalker and his descent into the Dark Side as he emerges as Darth Vader. The original trilogy was lauded for showing the authoritative and scary side of Darth Vader, establishing him as one of cinema’s greatest villains ever. Then came the prequels! The films should have given us the backstory of Anakin and given more depth to the character. But despite Hayden Christensen’s best efforts, the character ended up being whiny, unrelatable, and frankly--less Vader and more mopey teen. Obi-Wan Kenobi sets out to correct those historical wrongs and almost succeeds in giving us the young Vader we have been wanting to see. Also read: Obi-Wan Kenobi: Star Wars spin-off rightly brings the spotlight on Leia

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a spin-off series based on the titular Jedi knight, whom we have earlier seen in both the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. Ewan McGregor, who played the role in the prequels, returns to the universe after 17 years, as does Hayden Christensen reprising his role as Darth Vader. The series is set 10 years after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and sees Obi-Wan on the run from the Inquisitors of the Galactic Empire. The third episode of the six-episode series released on Disney+ (and Disney+ Hotstar in India) on Wednesday, June 1.

Spoilers for episode 3 of Obi-Wan Kenobi ahead!

Before Hayden, Darth Vader was played by two performers. David Prowse--all 6-feet-6-inches of him--played him physically, while James Earl Jones lent Vader his voice. No doubt, James Earl Jones’ baritone, John Williams’ Imperial March, and the breathing sound effects all helped. But what made Vader iconic was his arc. The prequels did Vader dirty By removing some of the mystique around him and reducing him to an angsty teen.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there hasn’t been a decent portrayal of Vader since the Original Trilogy. We briefly saw a young Vader in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels, and there was, of course, that famous hallway scene in the 2016 spin-off film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But they were crowd-pleasing cameos. We haven’t seen a Star Wars story where Vader was prominent, written and performed well since Return of the Jedi almost 40 years ago.

So, how does Obi-Wan Kenobi go about rectifying this? First, it springs up a great surprise by getting the 91-year-old James Earl Jones to voice him again. The veteran actor is twice as old as what he was when he first voiced Vader but his voice still gives you the chills. He is the voice of Vader and nobody can ever come close. The moment his voice is heard from behind the helmet, you feel the ‘real’ Vader is back. It helps you connect with the character immediately.

And the characterisation is on point. The last time (canonically) we saw Vader, was in Revenge of the Sith when Order 66 was executed and Hayden murdered a bunch of kids. That was as dark as it could get. Obi-Wan Kenobi takes off from there. We see this Vader kill children without flinching or breaking his stride and even torture Obi-Wan. This is a Vader who has been a Sith Lord for a decade. He is filled with rage, hatred, and is now drunk on power too. He is on his way to be the epitome of evil we saw in A New Hope or Rogue One. This is the Vader Star Wars fans have waited four decades for.

But while Vader has begun on his journey of redemption, what of Hayden Christensen? The actor has long been criticised for his portrayal of a young Anakin in the prequels. To be fair, he was given a badly-written role and he tried to do justice to it, but for fans, even a small misstep while playing Vader is blasphemy. This series was to be his shot at redemption too. Star Wars made a great deal about Hayden Christensen coming back as Vader, while there was no publicity about James Earl Jones returning. Sadly, so far, we have only seen half a glimpse of Hayden as Vader. If all he will do in the six episodes is ‘act’ from behind the costume while James voices him, that would hardly be worth the chatter it has generated. For Hayden’s sake, I hope we see him and even hear him in the final three episodes. He needs to get that chance to stamp his authority on this role and not just be relegated to James Earl Jones’ stunt double. Also read: Exclusive: Obi-Wan Kenobi's Moses Ingram on lightsaber duels and Vader's return

The next three episodes will answer many questions about the plot. But they will also determine if the Star Wars universe can redeem Vader and Hayden Christensen fully. This series is important for the Skywalker saga as it deals with the main players in the story arc, unlike other spin-offs like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, or Andor. Well begun is half done, they say! But only half, I may add. A good conclusion can often be the difference between a classic and an ‘almost good’ project. For now, we can just hope that the Force stays with Obi-Wan Kenobi.


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    Abhimanyu Mathur is an entertainment journalist with Hindustan Times. He writes about cinema, TV, and OTT, churning out interviews, reviews, and good old news stories.

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