Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Vader Duel Echoed a Rebels Moment… But Why?
Star Wars, on many levels, exists in series of parallels and couplets—a cycle of the rise and defeat of darkness, the fall and rebirth of light, an echo of a story told over and over across generations of families and civilizations. “It’s like poetry, they rhyme,” George Lucas says in the Phantom Menace documentary The Beginning, a statement that may be a meme now but remains one of the truest things ever said about the galaxy far, far away.
But what happens when Star Wars’ preponderance for poetry starts to feel like robbing parts of itself for reference’s sake?
It’s a thought that crossed my mind watching this week’s sixth and final (at least, for now) episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi. After a brief match at the series’ halfway point, the long-awaited duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan roared to life on an unknown, rocky world, and with it, a series of connections strewn from across the Star Wars saga. Obi-Wan and Anakin mirror their opening statements here to the words they traded before fighting on Mustafar, their blades clash with parallels of both that fight and their eventual duel in A New Hope. Even the Star Wars sequels get some nods, as Obi-Wan summons the Force to fling a barrage of rocks at Vader, levitating them in a moment evocative of Rey clearing the path to her friends in The Last Jedi. But the fight’s most interesting rhyme is saved for its dramatic climax. In a moment of clarity and even anger, having just wailed on his opponent with a series of lightsaber strikes and pommel blows, a determined Obi-Wan leaps at Vader, carving a gash that melts open the Dark Lord’s mask… revealing the man beneath the layers of machine.
Star Wars fans will of course know that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen such a thing happen, for a determined ally of Anakin Skywalker to literally carve open the truth of his identity as Darth Vader. Ahsoka Tano does the same—albeit, chronologically speaking, a few years after this duel—on Malachor in Star Wars Rebels. Obi-Wan’s gash takes the right side, hers the left, but the iconography there is striking, and much the same: the visage of Darth Vader, smouldering and sliced open, to reveal the damaged flesh of Anakin Skywalker underneath. The emotional circumstances, too, are the same—a shocking realization for the person behind each strike to see that deep down, the person they once called a friend is now trapped inside the body of a monstrous evil.
Don’t get me wrong, the fallout of the moment is a highlight of Kenobi’s finale, and far from a hollow repeat—Hayden Christensen managing to say so much with just a single visible eye, Ewan McGregor opposite wrenching all the pain and emotion he can out of Obi-Wan’s fateful choice to accept that Anakin was truly gone, and only Vader remained (okay calling him Darth was a little too far a stretch to justify a single line in A New Hope, but, let’s allow Star Wars at least this indulgence). And there’s something to be said in the idea that Obi-Wan and Ahsoka could only cut away at Vader’s mask, and that eventually it would take Luke himself to lift it once and for all in Return of the Jedi—echoes on echoes, as Star Wars loves so dearly. But something still rang hollow to me, seeing Ahsoka’s strike echoed by Obi-Wan this week.
It’s not the context of the moment that bothered me—as I said, the emotionality of Obi-Wan’s choice is powerful enough to make the scene connect in all the ways it needs to, an important step in the finale repositioning Obi-Wan’s arc to have accepted his place in the galaxy after the events of the prequels, and find peace with honoring what he had lost along the way. It’s the repetition of the iconography from Rebels, no matter how subtly different, that irked me. Star Wars loves to borrow from itself, especially in age of its rebooted canon, where the old Expanded Universe, cut off from the continuity of the present, has proven a fertile ground for concepts and characters to leap back into current stories in an altered form. But there’s something different in, say, Rebels bringing Grand Admiral Thrawn into current canon—giving him an origin story that borrows elements, but is not a carbon copy, of his tale in the EU—and Obi-Wan Kenobi lifting the shot of a lightsaber slicing open Vader’s mask to reveal Anakin beneath.
The latter is part of a pattern that has persisted quite recently over this current wave of Star Wars TV, of characters and ideas from the franchise’s post-prequel period as a largely animated endeavor now being pulled over into the realm of live-action. In the past, there was always a relatively strict delineation between cinematic Star Wars and televisual Star Wars, but the lines are significantly blurred now—TV is arguably the galaxy far, far away’s vanguard at this point, and anyone (and we mean anyone) can show up in them, originally animated-specific characters or otherwise. Cynically read, it can feel like these stories and characters only being validated in a wider fandom’s eye when they’re rendered in the live-action that once previously delineated “proper” Star Wars, whatever that is—Ahsoka Tano and Bo-Katan now more important for their roles in The Mandalorian than Rebels or Clone Wars, the former about to spearhead a direct continuation of Rebels in a live-action format. As beloved as those animated series are, with Star Wars’ focus right now on these streaming shows, and all the borrowing that comes from that animation legacy in them, it’s possible to see where people come from.
So, months and years from now, when people think of that one shot—Anakin’s eye amid the sparks emitting from Vader’s gouged mask—will they think of it when Ahsoka is the one who slashed in Rebels, or will they think of Obi-Wan Kenobi? And in the endless litany of Star Wars’ nostalgic echoes, does it really matter? Time will tell. But as fascinating and powerful both these incidents were for their respective series, I can only hope that audiences and Star Wars itself will remember that cycles are made by honoring the moments that came before, as much they are by simply replicating them.
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