Obi-Wan Kenobi continues to reframe key moments from Star Wars’ original trilogy, specifically the Jedi Master’s relationship with Darth Vader.
The following contains spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi Parts I-V, now streaming on Disney+.
Deborah Chow’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series has proven itself an increasingly poignant exploration of the fractured relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. Set 10 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the series has seen the former master and apprentice thrust back into conflict, with both Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen returning to reprise their respective roles from the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
Each new episode has not only further developed the conflict between the two characters, but also the shared love that is clearly still there. As menacing as Darth Vader is in Obi-Wan Kenobi, slaughtering innocent civilians and tearing spacecrafts apart with the Force, the series’ primary goal with Vader reveals itself in laying the foundation for Anakin’s redemption.
From the outset, Obi-Wan Kenobi found itself in a peculiar place in terms of storytelling. Surrounded on both sides by stories audiences were familiar with (Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope) Obi-Wan Kenobi strived to tell an original story that could fit neatly into that time period while also offering something valuable to the saga as a whole. These struggles are not dissimilar to the hurdles that George Lucas faced when originally mapping out the prequels, and Chow and Co. have followed Lucas’ inspirational lead at every turn. Rather than fretting about the minutia, Obi-Wan Kenobi has put all of its stock in characters and emotions, as well as imbuing existing stories with greater motivation through recontextualization.
A perfect example of this recontextualizing comes in the form of the T-16 Skyhopper model Obi-Wan attempts to give to young Luke in the Part I. Luke is seen playing with the model in A New Hope, where its serves as a physical embodiment of his desire for adventure. Obi-Wan Kenobi retroactively making it so that Obi-Wan is responsible for giving Luke the toy lends it a greater emotional weight and deepens their relationship, showing that Obi-Wan had a hand in nurturing Luke’s dreams from an early age.
The prequel trilogy is full of narrative and thematic threads that Lucas reverse-engineered into serving as setups for payoffs in the pre-existing original trilogy. Obi-Wan Kenobi sees Chow and her team doing the exact same thing throughout, to wonderful effect. But nowhere is this more pronounced than in the character of Anakin Skywalker. It’s crucial to note just how hard Chow and her team, very much including Hayden Christensen, have worked to sell audiences on an iteration of Darth Vader that is a bridge between Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker of the prequels and David Prowse’s intimidating monolith of the original trilogy. From his introduction in the bacta tank in Part II, to his initial confrontation with Obi-Wan in Part III, the series has foregrounded the Anakin Skywalker within the monstrosity that is Darth Vader at all times.
Part V escalates this to another level with its framing device, intercutting events from its present storyline with a series of flashbacks to Obi-Wan and Anakin sparring in the Jedi Temple. Here, Chow specifically highlights the echoes of Anakin’s physicality present in Vader’s, having him enact snippets of the exact same lightsaber choreography not only from the climactic duel in Revenge of the Sith, but also from his duel with Obi-Wan in Part III. The flashbacks show an Anakin Skywalker who was a troubled Padawan with a great many lessons left to learn, and the associative editing of the episode makes sure to demonstrate time and again that he still is.
Obi-Wan Kenobi thus far has seen McGregor’s titular character grapple with and steadily overcome his crisis of faith. Stepping out of his decade-long exile, Obi-Wan’s journey has seen him crusade across the galaxy in the name of preserving good and spreading hope. A paramount part of that journey came thanks to Tala (Indira Varma), an imperial defector turned protector and proud member of The Path. Across Part III and Part IV she played an active role in assuaging Obi-Wan’s fears and teaching him that he could trust people again, which directly led to Obi-Wan stepping up as a leader when the Empire attacks in Part V. In reference to both her and Obi-Wan’s past failures, in Part V Tala says: “Some things you can’t forget… but you can fight to make them better.” In the moment, this relates to re-inspiring Obi-Wan as a leader. But in a larger sense, the line applies to Obi-Wan’s view of his biggest failing: the fall of Anakin Skywalker.
The interweaving tales of Obi-Wan’s restored faith, Tala’s betrayal of the Empire and even the reveal of Reva’s true intentions all strengthen the series’ core thesis when it comes to Anakin Skywalker. In the words of a latter-day Skywalker, “No one is ever really gone.” As Obi-Wan’s response when pressed by Reva indicates, he is not ready to give up on Anakin. The series has showcased a visceral Force connection that exists between Obi-Wan and Anakin multiple times, including the flashbacks scattered throughout Part V.
The opening flashback ends with a cut to Vader’s face, implying it is his memory. But the second flashback ends with a cut to Obi-Wan’s face, implying they are sharing in a Force-bonded remembrance of sorts. Considering that Chow established their initial Force connection through similar hard cuts to one another’s faces in Part II, and that this episode’s climax sees both of them exploiting the lessons of the flashback, it is clear Obi-Wan and Anakin are connected in more ways than one. This leads to one of Part V’s most profound recontextualizations, wherein Obi-Wan tells Anakin in the flashback, “Your need to prove yourself is your undoing. Until you can overcome it, a Padawan you will still be.” This distinctly reframes Vader’s “When I left you, I was but the learner” line from A New Hope in stark fashion.
What does this mean for the final episode and where the series will leave Obi-Wan and Anakin? With Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s penchant for recontextualizing established beats into later payoffs, and its investment in the emotional bond between these two characters, there’s a strong opportunity here to retroactively paint Obi-Wan’s sacrifice on the Death Star in A New Hope in a different light. If Obi-Wan concludes the series truly believing there is still good in Vader, it retroactively turns his training of Luke into a last attempt at saving his old friend’s soul. Similarly, his act on the Death Star takes on a dual meaning: a sacrifice for both the momentary salvation of Luke and a chance at eternal salvation for Anakin.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has sewn the character of Anakin Skywalker into the iconography of Darth Vader. In both literally and figuratively connecting Obi-Wan and Anakin’s journeys in this time period, the series has planted the seed of hope for Vader’s salvation that viewers know blooms into his redemption in Return of the Jedi. By the series’ end, it will have succeeded in much the same way Lucas’ prequels did, ensuring that audiences never look at Obi-Wan and Vader’s relationship in the original trilogy in quite the same way ever again.
The first season of Obi-Wan Kenobi is available to stream on Disney+.