Obi-Wan Kenobi once left Anakin Skywalker to die along Mustafar’s shores. Darth Vader survived, though, because his former Master could not deliver a final blow. Because while the Jedi didn’t save his Padawan, whether out of love, guilt, a sense of right and wrong, or all three, he couldn’t kill him either. That was still true ten years later when Obi-Wan and Darth Vader drew their lightsabers and dueled again during Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s season finale. Ben once more allowed a weakened and vulnerable Darth to live when total victory was Obi-Wan’s to claim. Considering the death and carnage we know the Sith Lord brought to the galaxy far, far away for the next decade, it might seem Obi-Wan Kenobi made the same mistake twice in allowing Darth Vader to survive.
By granting Vader mercy, Obi-Wan Kenobi showed the Jedi at their best. Because you do not defeat the dark side by fighting on its terms. You fight it by embracing the light.
Even knowing both men would live, it was hard not to root for the Jedi to defeat Vader once and for all during Obi-Wan and Darth Vader’s final fight on Obi-Wan Kenobi. Had he killed Anakin on Mustafar all those years ago, Obi-Wan would have stopped Darth Vader’s reign of terror before it truly began. With the Sith Lord all but defeated once more, the opportunity was there for Obi-Wan to make amends for what seemed like a failure before. But at that moment, even though he realized his friend was truly gone, Obi-Wan let Darth Vader live to fight another day. He refused to do what Vader surely would have done had the roles been reversed.
That’s how we know Obi-Wan did the right thing. He didn’t fight Vader the way Vader fought. As episode five’s flashback showed, Anakin was always blinded by his need for total victory. But a Jedi’s job is to protect life, not take it. That line helps separate the Jedi from the Sith. Mercy and compassion are the way of the light side. Death and hatred are the way of the dark side. To take a life, especially in anger, is for a Jedi to turn their back on what they know is right.
Faced with another fork in the road, Obi-Wan Kenobi remembered he is a great Jedi Master, and thus he not only saved his soul and his former apprentice’s life, but he also saved the entire galaxy. As Obi-Wan told Owen Lars later in the episode, “The future will take care of itself.” And that’s exactly why Obi-Wan did not make a mistake in this final episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the future, Luke Skywalker needs his father Anakin to defeat the Emperor. Had Obi-Wan killed Darth Vader years earlier, it’s possible no one would have ever been strong enough to defeat Palpatine. It’s also possible that if Vader hadn’t lived, Luke would have eventually taken his father’s place by the Emperor’s side.
Palpatine tried to recruit Luke to the dark side by making him embrace his fear and his anger. The Emperor put Luke’s friends in peril, and for a moment Luke lost himself in darkness. Like Obi-Wan had twice before, Luke had a defenseless Vader, ready to strike a fatal blow. But it was only when Luke saw his own future in Vader’s mechanical hand did he remember who he was–he was a Jedi like his father before him. Luke then threw away his lightsaber, refusing to take Vader’s life. In doing so he helped Anakin Skywalker find his way back to the light. It was not the hate of a Sith that defeated the Emperor. It was the love and mercy of two Jedi.
Years later, Luke once again refused to take up arms against a family member lost to the dark side. He did not strike down his nephew on Crait. The great Jedi simply distracted Kylo Ren long enough so others could live. And in that moment Luke Skywalker once again saved the galaxy, because by refusing to kill out of anger and fear—the very thought that had led him to self-imposed exile—he ensured the Rebellion continued. He also helped save someone who would save everyone. Just as his love once brought Anakin back to defeat Palpatine, Rey’s embrace of Kylo Ren brought Ben Solo back so he too could help defeat the Emperor.
Standing in contrast to the Jedi at their best are the Sith at their worst. Dark side users ultimately succumb to their embrace of evil. Anakin turned on the Republic and massacred the Jedi, which brought upon his own wife’s death, the very thing he feared most. Years later he would finally murder his former Master, making Obi-Wan “more powerful” than Vader could ever imagine. And Kylo Ren was forever haunted by the memory of the father he killed. Han Solo’s death did not give Kylo Ren strength, it made him weaker.
The Jedi were not immune to these trappings, either. The entire Order lost its way during the Clone Wars, which nearly led to their complete destruction. The Jedi were guardians of peace in the galaxy. They never should have been generals fighting for one side against another. Their duty was not to democracy or the Republic, it was to right and wrong, life and death, light and dark. Taking lives as soldiers in a war was the antithesis of what the Jedi represented. And Mace Windu’s decision to kill Palpatine rather than take him into custody as a Jedi should was the last act to push Anakin to the dark side.
A Jedi never takes a life. They are brave because they will fight without weapons. Just like they are wise because they trust in the Force. So while mercy for both Anakin and Darth Vader seemed like Obi-Wan’s greatest weakness, it was really his greatest strength. Same as it was for Reva in the same episode. She did not let herself become the very thing she hated. By letting Luke live in Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s final episode, she found her way back from the dark side and honored the Jedi family she still mourns.
Letting Darth Vader go free again only seems like a mistake to a Sith who deals in absolutes. Sith only see friends and enemies, not people. And taking a life in anger or fear, even one of an enemy, is an absolute act. But a Jedi knows the only way to win is by not trying to. As Obi-Wan Kenobi reminds us, a Jedi wins by embracing life over death, mercy over hatred, light over dark. And that’s ultimately how you save the entire galaxy—one life at a time.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.