Now that the Obi-Wan Kenobi series has concluded, let’s take a look at some of the many ways in which it adds to our understanding of the original trilogy. Watching these films now, in the wake of this series, carries more depth and weight, and that’s a high compliment to Deborah Chow and the creatives behind Kenobi.
While there are many ways in which this happens, let me highlight eight of them here.
1. How Kenobi views Vader
By the time of the original trilogy, Obi-Wan Kenobi has come to a hardened conclusion: Anakin Skywalker is gone. So concinved is he of it that he tells Luke in A New Hope that, “A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine before he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.”
Of course, after Luke learns that Vader actually is his father, he asks Obi-Wan about it in Return of the Jedi. “Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force,” he explains. “He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”
Kenobi’s point of view has become that Anakin is gone, and Vader remains. But how did he reach that conclusion? This series shows us. “Anakin is gone,” Vader tells Kenobi. “I am what remains.” Vader explains that he was the one who killed Anakin, not Obi-Wan. And that is precisely the same thing Obi-Wan will tell Luke years later. It isn’t that he’s lying to Luke (though he is holding back part of the truth), but it’s that he’s come to believe Vader. He’s come to believe that Anakin really is gone, and has been consumed by Darth Vader. I think that’s evident even in the way the Kenobi series ends, with Obi-Wan telling Leia that her parents were good people. Obi-Wan has found some semblance of peace in that the good man he knew, Anakin, is gone. A new man, Vader, has taken his place. In Obi-Wan’s mind, as he tells Luke, Vader is “more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.” Even when Luke thinks there’s still good in his father, Obi-Wan hsa become convinced otherwise – because he, just like Vader, believes Anakin is truly gone. This show helps make sense of how Kenobi talks about him in the original trilogy.
2. Owen and Beru Lars
Luke’s adoptive parents, Owen and Beru Lars, play a notable role in A New Hope, but they essentially represent an obstacle standing in the way of Luke’s dreams. That’s always been a bit overly simplistic and unfair, but in the narrative of that particular film it’s accurate. But what this series does is show how Owen and Beru truly love the boy and want what is best for him, but want to shield and protect him from harm. They know more than Luke does – they know Luke is strong with the Force in an Empire that has hunted down anyone like that. That’s why they want to keep Ben Kenobi away, and it actually makes sense.
Think about it: Owen and Beru saw the Inquisitors show up to Tatooine in search of a Jedi. They had an Inquisitor even show up to their home hunting Luke. Of course they wouldn’t want an old Jedi Master, on the top of the Imperial target list, hanging around the home. They’re good people, heroes, who love and care for Luke. This series adds to that.
3. A deeper heartbreak and weight
But, of course, Owen and Beru are killed by the Empire. Luke returns to find their charred corpses, and, well, the film doesn’t really acknowledge their deaths much beyond that. Seeing how they fought Reva to protect Luke, though, we can imagine how they would do whatever it takes to protect Luke, right to the end. But it’s not just Owen and Beru who are killed. So too are Bail and Breha Organa, and everyone on Alderaan. So too is Obi-Wan Kenobi. A New Hope is filled with tragedy, but laced with hope. In the film itself, the stakes aren’t especially high for the viewer in understanding the emotional connection to these people and places (besides Ben), as they’re included more to serve the character arcs of Luke and Leia. But knowing what we do now, and seeing all of them in this series, it adds so much emotional weight and heartbreak to the movie.
Because this group of heroes – Ben, Bail, Breha, Owen, and Beru – were among the few who knew of the Skywalker twins, and for two decades they gave themselves to ensuring that these twins would survive. They protected them, cared for them, and raised them. They did their job, as Leia and Luke would become the heroes of the Rebellion, but they paid for it with their lives. Sometimes – oftentimes – the heroic path is one of hardship and suffering, but all in the name of a cause greater than yourself. Each one of these figures knew that the survival of this next generation was more important than their own. This is the true backdrop of A New Hope, one that holds so much more weight and significance now. There’s a ton of heartbreak and tragedy, but it’s laced with hope. Hope because the cause that each one of them was preserving was finally being realized. As Ben Kenobi sacrifices himself on the Death Star, he sees that the twins are reunited, and he knows that the galaxy’s new hope has finally been realized. They are the ones who will bring peace and balance. The new generation has come of age. The galaxy’s new hope has emerged.
4. Han and the Force
In the Mos Eisley cantina, Ben and Luke meet Han Solo and Chewbacca. Han is a smuggler, and later in the film Han says, “Kid, I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.” Now how might he have reached that conclusion? For one, the Jedi are all but destroyed, so that by this point most people have never encountered one. But further, because perhaps there are those who pretend to be Jedi for selfish gain. Like Haja Estree.
When we first meet Haja, he’s swindling a mother and her Force-sensitive child off-world, tricking them to make them think he’s really a Jedi. He defends himself to Kenobi by saying he’s really helping them, but just getting some money while doing so, but Kenobi sees right through his tricks. He’s using remotes and devices to fool them – one might call that “simple tricks and nonsense.” It makes sense why Han would think that, especially if there are others in the galaxy like Haja (and there surely are).
But the series also shows how Obi-Wan grows to trust Haja. He’s skeptical at first, but by the end he entrusts Haja with getting Leia home safely. “You have my word,” Haja tells him. “Although I know the word of a liar and a fake Jedi may not mean much to you.” But to that, Obi-Wan responds, “It’s good enough for me.” At the start of the series he trusted no one, but he has come to trust others again. So in A New Hope, it’s easy to see why Obi-Wan would trust Han on a mission like this. He may be a smuggler and a scoundrel, yes, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a good-hearted person willing to help deep inside.
5. Kenobi comes to Leia’s rescue, again
Some have viewed the events of this series as making Leia’s message to Obi-Wan in A New Hope make less sense, but is that really true? Leia’s message begins, “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.” First, it is obvious that Leia is bringing this message on behalf of Bail Organa. This is highlighted in Rogue One, when Bail and Mon Mothma realize war is inevitable and Bail decides to send for his friend, the Jedi, who served him well in the Clone Wars. He sends Leia to bring Kenobi to him. The message was send because Leia was captured before being able to do so. This is a plea from Bail. Second, there’s a sense of diplomacy here. Leia must be careful in what she says, for it could be devastating if in the wrong hands. This is a general assessment, one that is more than enough information needed for Obi-Wan but, perhaps, not enough to bring much damage should it fall into enemy hands. This is actually something Obi-Wan tells Leia in the series. When she asks whether she’ll ever see him again, he responds, “Maybe. Someday. If you ever need help from a tired, old man. But we must be careful. No one must know, or it could endanger us both.” Leia is heeding that advice by keeping the message more general and not disclosing their own personal history with each other.
So my point there is that the message doesn’t contradict A New Hope. But how does the series add to it? For this, think of the moment when Luke arrives at Leia’s cell aboard the Death Star. He tells her, “I’m Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you… I’ve got your R2 unit. I’m here with Ben Kenobi.” When she hears this, she exclaims, “Ben Kenobi? Where is he?” This reaction to hearing that Ben has come to rescue her is so much more significant now, because it means so much more. When Leia was imprisoned previously, by pirates, it was Ben Kenobi who came to rescue her. And now, he has done so again.
6. When Vader and Kenobi meet again at last
The final fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader comes in A New Hope aboard the Death Star, and throughout the fight the two trade words that, in the context of the film, do so much worldbuilding for the saga. When a rematch between them was teased by Kathy Kennedy a while back, there was a concern about how the show would fit in with this film, but it’s clear that it actually adds to it.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan,” Vader says. “We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” This show doesn’t negate that, but adds more depth and context to it. In Revenge of the Sith (duel #1), Obi-Wan defeated Vader and left him for dead, leaving him with the horrific injuries that required his suit. In Obi-Wan Kenobi (duel #2), Vader gets the upper hand and utterly destroys Kenobi. But the Jedi Master regains his strength, and winds up with a decisive victory later on (duel #3). Vader was left badly injured, and Kenobi was the clear victor. But the series actually explains this line further before that third duel even takes place: as seen through flashbacks, Obi-Wan knows Anakin well enough to be able to exploit his faults, and that’s what allows the Path to escape. “You’re a great warrior, Anakin,” Kenobi tells his apprentice in the flashback. “But your need to prove yourself is your undoing. Until you overcome it, a Padawan you will still be.” In this series he has clearly not overcome it, and therefore he is still the learner.
In the original duel, Kenobi counters, “Only a master of evil, Darth.” It might seem strange, given all the stories that have unfolded since, that Obi-Wan calls Vader “Darth” here. But as Kenobi leaves him behind in this series, he says, “Goodbye, Darth.” He has come to see that Anakin is truly gone, and that he has been consumed by Darth Vader.
“Your powers are weak, old man,” Vader tells him. He once thought the same, when they faced off on Mapuzo, where he was shocked to see the broken shell of a man Kenobi had become. But when they faced off again, Obi-Wan had returned. “Your strength has returned,” Vader told him. “But the weakness remains.” In saying this line in A New Hope, then, Vader is taunting his former master, but I also like to think of it as a test. Vader had previously thought Kenobi was defeated, only to be humiliated by him. Now, aboard the audience of the Imperial forces on the Death Star, I see Vader as holding a bit back and being more cautious as he tests his foe’s true strength. That’s how I like to think of the duel now, helping to explain the more stiff choreography.
There’s a lot more we could keep saying about this fight, but the point is that I think it is given a lot more context by the Kenobi series.
7. Does Leia remember her mother?
Jumping forward to Return of the Jedi, Luke asks Leia what she remembers about her birth mother. Leia responds that all she remembers are “just images, really. Feelings. She was very beautiful. Kind, but sad.” But Padmé died in childbirth, meaning that the only memories Leia would have had of her were in the moments after emerging from the womb. How does she remember that? I think this series helps us understand a bit more.
As Obi-Wan talks with Leia, he mentions several times how she reminds him of her parents. Leia knows that Kenobi means it, and she tells him that sometimes she tries to imagine what her father was like. “I know that feeling,” Obi-Wan tells her. “As Jedi we’re taken from our families when we’re very young. I still have glimpses, flashes really, my mother’s shawl, my father’s hands. I remember a baby. … Yes, I think I had a brother. Really don’t remember him. I wished I did. Then I joined the Jedi and I got a new family, just like you.” In other words, Obi-Wan had just images of his birth family, and that’s what he told Leia. It is no wonder that she would cling to whatever images remain in her mind of her birth family too. In this way, Obi-Wan is actually helping her remember these things, but also teaching her that her new family is just as real.
Then at the end of the series, Obi-Wan tells Leia about her parents, and when discussing how she reminds him of Padmé, he says, “Princess Leia Organa, you are wise, discerning, kindhearted. These are qualities that came from your mother.” I think this series really helps add understanding as to how Leia remembers her mother. Obi-Wan told Leia not just about her mother, but also told her how these memories can be mere glimpses and images that one holds on to.
8. Can Vader really be redeemed?
I started this article by highlighting how Obi-Wan views Vader by the time of the original trilogy, but now let’s wrap it up by returning once more to Vader and Anakin. What this series did better than any other Star Wars story is show how, while it is true from a certain point of view that Vader killed Anakin, it is also true that Anakin remains. The man inside the suit in this series, exemplified by the fact that it’s Hayden Christensen portraying him, truly feels like Anakin. Twisted and evil, yes, but still Anakin. It’s how Obi-Wan is able to know what tactics he’ll take. It’s why the ambition, arrogance, and anger feel familiar. And that, in turn, helps us see how Anakin could be redeemed in the end.
But it wouldn’t come from Obi-Wan. Try as he might, the most he could do was remove half of Vader’s mask, but he couldn’t remove it fully nor get at his heart. Years later, Ahsoka Tano would try the same. She could remove the other half of Vader’s mask, but she couldn’t remove it fully nor get at his heart. Could they have done it together? Possibly, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that the two people closest to Anakin, the two people best suited to redeem him, could not. His master failed, as did his apprentice. But his son? His son would succeed. Luke would remove the entirety of Vader’s mask, getting at his heart. And Luke did so through love and compassion.
When Obi-Wan leaves Vader in this series, he says, “then my friend is truly dead.” That’s the same thing Luke tells Vader in Return of the Jedi, saying, “then my father is truly dead.” The poetry of those moments rhymes, and in the wake of Luke saying it we see Vader begin to crack, very subtly. The music shifts to a slightly more optimistic and hopeful ending, and Vader takes a moment to reflect. He’s heard it before, from his master. He’s now hearing it from his son. He’s succeeded in driving those closest to him away from him by their conclusion that Anakin is really dead. But is he? Luke insists he’s not. And in the end, Luke is right. Anakin Skywalker returned.
This show succeeded masterfully in showing not only the utter darkness in Vader that leads Kenobi to the reasonable conclusion that his friend is forever gone, but also in showing the inner Anakin that is still there, sowing the seeds for the return of the Jedi.