One of the top Star Wars highlights of the year was the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, which saw Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen return to their roles of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, and saw them face off twice more.
The series was packed with connection to the Skywalker saga, so much so that it really feels like a pillar chapter in the midst of the nine-episode saga. From the actors to the characters to the locations and so much more, it felt really connected… except for the music. That was a point of much discussion at the time, and some of the new themes for the show were great, but it felt a bit odd, especially after the trailer leaned heavily into iconic John Williams music from the prequels.
But while I think that the criticism of Natalie Holt’s score shying away from the Force theme, the Imperial March, and Leia’s theme (among others) is very valid, the one piece of music that I actually understand and will defend not being in this film is the one many people wanted most of all: the Duel of the Fates.
The legendary piece of music composed by Williams for The Phantom Menace punctuates the climactic duel between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi against Darth Maul. It shows up again at times throughout the prequel trilogy, but always at specific moments. As Dave Filoni has so beautifully explained, the duel of the fates is truly a duel for the fate of Anakin Skywalker. And while clips posted online with different music overlaid on a scene may be popular, they drastically misunderstand how music is not just something cool to accompany a scene but is actually a pivotal part of telling the story (if that’s a new concept for you, check out David W. Collins’s episodes of The Soundtrack Show, particularly the ones on Star Wars).
So why was it understandable that Obi-Wan Kenobi didn’t use the duel of the fates theme? Well, to consider that, let’s first think about when it showed up in the prequel trilogy. It debuted in The Phantom Menace in the lightsaber duel, which as Filoni said, was a duel for Anakin’s fate. When Qui-Gon dies, even though the heroes win, they have lost. It shows up again in Attack of the Clones, as Anakin races off to rescue his mother from the Tusken Raiders. And it shows up again in Revenge of the Sith during the climax, as Obi-Wan faces off against his fallen apprentice and Yoda faces off against the revealed Sith Lord. At each of these three moments, there’s something far deeper at play than just an exciting moment: it’s a pivotal moment in the story of Anakin Skywalker. It’s a moment in which his fate hangs in the balance between light and dark. As Qui-Gon dies, as Anakin slaughters the sand people, and as Anakin cements his hatred by fighting to kill his master, we see him falling to the dark side. This theme isn’t just a motif for Maul (though hints of it are used that way in The Clone Wars and Solo), and it’s not just a thrilling action piece (though it’s also that), but it’s also a theme that highlights Anakin’s fate is at stake.
But that’s not true in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
For the viewer working their way through the saga having not yet seen the original trilogy, you might think it is. You might think that Obi-Wan is going to be the one to redeem his fallen apprentice. But we know better. We know that no matter what Obi-Wan does, Vader is going to remain entrenched in darkness, and that it’s only Luke who will be able to get through to him all those years later. There is nothing about this series that has Anakin’s fate up in the air or hanging in the balance. That has already been decided. So, in that sense, there really is no duel of the fates in this series.
So yes, Natalie Holt very easily could have – and probably should have – included more iconic and familiar themes in a series that in every other way feels so strongly connected to what came before. But I don’t think duel of the fates should have been one of them. It’s a musical piece telling a particular story of Anakin Skywalker, a tragedy, and the tragedy is highlighted all the more by the fact that, with the theme’s absence, we know a sad truth: Obi-Wan isn’t going to pull Anakin back to the light. His fate, as far as Kenobi is concerned, is decided.