Warning: Spoilers for Rebels, Rogue One and Kenobi below
The first time the world ever saw a lightsaber duel was in Star Wars (1977). At the time, people were enamored by what they saw. Since then, the plot and continuity of Star Wars has grown by unimaginable amounts. As a result, the duel between Ben and Vader no longer seems very believable. Today, I am going to dive deep into how this came to be, and what this duel needs to fit into the continuity again.
Before I dive into this topic, I want to make a few things known. First off, I am not one of those people that believes that Disney has ruined Star Wars, or that the continuity as a whole has been thrown out for profit. In fact, many of the gripes people have with the Star Wars continuity actually just require detailed analysis to make sense. Second, I think that all of the developments I am about to talk about are for the good of Star Wars. I haven’t agreed with everything Disney has done with Star Wars, but they have nailed the characterization of Darth Vader time and time again. If you are going to use that character, it has to be perfect. So far, Disney has delivered on that.
The Dark Lord
Since the release of Rogue One, we have gotten to live out our worst fears of Darth Vader’s raw power. We have seen him massacre rebels, literally break a kids neck for fun, defeat an inquisitor without drawing a lightsaber, rip a star ship from the sky, and mercilessly battle Obi-Wan. He is truly a master of evil, and shows off his brutal strength in a way that I could have only dreamed of. Vader is clearly at the peak of his power in Kenobi, and by Rogue One, he hasn’t lost it. This is what so many kids and adults have imagined Darth Vader as. I commend Disney on going further than even George Lucas was willing.
Kenobi teaches us something even more important about Vader. It teaches us that Darth Vader is the most evil, brutal person you can imagine. There’s a keyword in that sentence though: person. Even after being trapped in the suit, Darth Vader is still very much Anakin Skywalker, rather he wants to admit it or not. He is a human who has emotions, who feels hatred, and who remembers his past. You can feel the raw emotions that follow Vader through the whole series, and you can tell that Anakin wants nothing more than to extract revenge on Obi-Wan. He doesn’t just want Obi-Wan dead, he wants Obi-Wan to suffer. The Star Wars Rebels animated series, and the Darth Vader comics only further reinforce all of the aforementioned ideals.
We also get a look at Obi-Wan a few different times before their fateful final duel. The most obvious one is through his show. We see that this is an Obi-Wan who had cut himself off from the force, and forsaken the jedi way. However, when he is given something to stand for again, he very quickly gathers his power back. His love for Luke and Leia drives him back to the light side, and allows him to gain his strength back. Once this happens, it is evident that Obi-Wan’s skills have not deteriorated in 10 years. He is still the master of Soresu, and is one of only 2 jedi who could ever stand toe to toe with Darth Vader (Yoda being the other, I am a firm believer that Vader could have wiped the floor with Luke if he wanted to). By the end of Kenobi, Obi-Wan is able to best Vader once again.
The other detailed look we get at Obi-Wan is in Star Wars Rebels when he duels and kills Darth Maul. For those who are a little unclear on the timing of things, this takes place 7 years after Kenobi and 2 years before A New Hope. At first, Obi-Wan does not want to fight Maul. Once Maul realized that Obi-Wan is protecting someone, Obi-Wan is compelled to fight him. This is an extremely quick dust up between the two, but it is filled with emotion. Obi-Wan quickly switches between his Soresu fighting style, and Qui-Gon Jinn’s Ataru. Maul takes the bait, and attempts the same move that killed Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan sees this coming from a mile away, and kills Maul. I mention this because it shows that Obi-Wan is still a very capable duelist just a short time before A New Hope.
The Fateful Final Confrontation
At the end of Kenobi we see that Vader is ready to hunt Obi-Wan to the end of the universe. I am reasonably convinced that had the death star been completed, Vader would have considered blowing up the entire galaxy planet by planet until he got what he wanted. The only reason that this didn’t happen was due to intervention by the emperor. Darth Sidious had grown tired of Anakin almost dying, and made very it clear he needed to drop this quest or else. This explains how Obi-Wan is able to live out his days undisturbed.
The next time they would meet (until Disney makes a Season two of Kenobi where they fight and I have to retract this entire section) would come nine years later. They meet up on the Death Star, exchange words, and get into an entirely emotionless fight. They exchange a few simple strikes back and forth, and eventually Obi-Wan gives himself up to Vader to save Luke. Vader takes a swing at Obi-Wan. He vanishes before the blow connects, and the duel is over.
Really? Are you serious?
In today’s era of Star Wars, I am expected to believe that this is how this fight went down? It simply defies all logic. Lets break this down for a moment:
First lets start with Darth Vader. While Vader was not allowed to hunt Obi-Wan, it is clear that his hatred for and want to kill Obi-Wan was limited only by his fear for the emperor. This was Vader’s chance to finally get what he has always sought, and he acts like he does not give a hoot. This is the same Darth Vader who just killed an entire platoon of rebels with ruthless effectiveness over the Death Star Plans, something he should care far less about that killing his arch nemesis. No feeling of power is portrayed from him, no semblance of hatred is shown, nothing. This should have been the moment where Vader lets out 9 years of pent up rage. He uses the force a grand total of never times, and doesn’t make a serious effort to slay his master until he is literally given the chance to. It defies everything we’ve come to know about Darth Vader.
Then there’s Obi-Wan/Ben. It is very clear from Kenobi, that Obi-Wan will never be able to bring himself to kill Darth Vader unless he has to, even if he sees that he is no longer Anakin. If he can wound Vader bad enough to get away, then that’s what he will do. That being said, he is still very willing to have a spirited and powerful battle with the dark lord. It is also very clear how much he cares about Luke, and how much power that caring grants him. So when Ben goes into this fight with Vader, he has so much love for Luke and has so little love for his former apprentice that he only calls him Darth, it is nonsensical that he only gives half the effort and a quarter the emotion he used to fight Darth Maul. Ben shows no real effort to try and win, or to even really delay long enough for Luke to escape. His fighting style lacks its identity, and his strikes and dialogue in no way seem to have any emotion behind them. I can get behind the idea that Ben was willing to sacrifice himself to make sure that Luke would survive. Still, you cannot tell me that this would not have been an emotional reunion for him too. He was very sad when he left Anakin the last time. He accepts that this is now Darth Vader, but no human could suppress those thoughts that Anakin was still literally in the suit. The way he speaks highly of Anakin to both Leia and Luke shows that he still has some emotional attachment left.
The way this fight is portrayed goes against everything we have come to know about both of these characters. I could perhaps forgive the reserved fighting style in this duel, but the total lack of emotion is inexcusable. This should have felt like the duels in Revenge of the Sith and Kenobi and it just does not. It feels like Anakin and Obi-Wan had a very limited time as master and apprentice, and we know they had anything but.
I am not naïve to the fact that this duel plays out this way simply because A New Hope came out before the rest of Star Wars was even a thought. That being said, the Star Wars Continuity tries so hard to flow together. In large part it does an amazing job of doing so. The development of Vader and Obi-Wan is a great thing for Star Wars as a whole, but the more it happens, the more out of place this duel looks. I appreciate the original trilogy for what it is, but if I were Disney, I would be greatly considering remaking this scene with some clever CGI work. If a YouTube clip can do a remarkable job, I am sure that Disney could pull it off.