The nature of the beast when creating prequel content is a tricky one. The pursuit of the best possible story can often come into conflict with the stories we already know. None may have felt this strain more than Star Wars; lingering questions from its prequel trilogy and the tenuous connections with the original among some of the most hotly debated and even meme-ified by its fans. Truly, there’s almost no greater hive of continuity confusion than the hut of Ben Kenobi in the Jundland Wastes of Tatooine from Star Wars: A New Hope. We’ve had to question why he and R2-D2 don’t seem to know each other, why he claims Luke’s father wanted him to have his lightsaber, and now, thanks to Obi-Wan Kenobi, the recorded message that R2 brings from Princess Leia Organa.
As an inciting incident, the kidnapping of Princess Leia as a move to draw Obi-Wan out of hiding is an extremely clever move, both by Third Sister Reva and by the creative team of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leia being in danger is perhaps the only other thing in the galaxy that could have convinced Kenobi to even temporarily abandon his post watching over the young Luke Skywalker. Even then it took some persuading. Audiences who have been through Obi-Wan’s journey with him immediately understood why this was the thing that brought him back.
But it also raises some eyebrows given the content of the iconic message from the first Star Wars film. However, in looking at the text of Leia’s message and the events we’ve seen so far, the newly written relationship between Kenobi and Leia doesn’t undercut what has come before. It simply re-contextualizes them in a new and more nuanced light.
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. I regret that I am unable to present my father’s request to you in person, but my ship has fallen under attack, and I’m afraid my mission to bring you to Alderaan has failed. I have placed information vital to the survival of the Rebellion into the memory systems of this R2 unit. My father will know how to retrieve it. You must see this droid safely delivered to him on Alderaan. This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.
Indeed, Leia makes no mention in her message of ever having met Kenobi herself. Her message is that of the daughter of an old war buddy, asking for aid with no immediate indication of familiarity. The thing to remember is that at the point in time when Leia records this message, the sky is falling for the Rebellion. A major offensive has just played out in the skies above Scariff (as seen in Rogue One). Leia and her crew carry the very plans at the center of that conflict. As the Empire boards her ship, Leia realizes that she has been compromised, and through her, so has her father.
The Leia we meet at the beginning of the original trilogy is not the small, somewhat naïve princess of Alderaan that we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi. Nearly a decade has passed for her and she has grown into the shrewd rebel leader we know and love. This is not a Leia who minces words. This is not a Leia who will let slip her father has colluded with a known enemy of the Empire for decades, bringing even further scrutiny upon him than has already occurred. She is not in the business of giving out any more information than is vital to her mission. Because she knows it’s extremely likely her message will fall into the hands of the Empire before it ever reaches her old friend.
But then there’s that little personal flourish at the end. In the earlier parts of the message, Leia speaks of Kenobi in relation to her father. This is his request, he will know how to retrieve the information, it must reach him on Alderaan. Then, at the very end of the message, she lets the veil slip for just a moment. “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” An already iconic line which now only feels more poignant. This is the moment when Leia is personally pleading for help from her old friend, the man who saved her once before.
Rewatching the original film, it’s remarkable how well this new context works on that scene from 1977. When the message begins playing, we focus on her. But the moment she starts to explain that her ship has fallen under attack, the shot cuts to Kenobi, whose expression shifts from interest to concern. He glances at R2 who tilts forward in seemingly a nod, confirming the message is true. Upon hearing her personal plea at the end, he leans back in his chair, strokes his beard, and makes the immediate decision that he, and Luke, will go to Alderaan. When trying to convince the young Skywalker to come, it’s Leia, not the rebellion, he insists needs their help. Despite George Lucas having had no idea that the TV series would exist when he wrote this scene decades ago, somehow through the will of the Force it compliments it beautifully.
Similarly, the events of the series add extra weight to another moment from the same film. When Luke rescues Leia from the holding cell on the Death Star and tells her that he’s here to rescue her, she’s hesitant at first. But the moment he says “I’m here with Ben Kenobi,” she gets a spring in her step and goes with him. The first time that Ben Kenobi came to her rescue she wasn’t sure she trusted him; now the mere mention of his name is enough for her to immediately trust Luke and go along with him.
Prior to this series, it never made a lot of sense why Leia would’ve named her son after Ben Kenobi, the mentor of her brother whom she never met. Adding in this time between Obi-Wan and Leia gives the two characters a connection we’d never gotten a chance to see before. It allows the old Jedi to have a bond, albeit a different one, with both of Anakin and Padme’s children, furthering the narrative of Leia’s importance and her own connection with the Force as her story goes on. And of course, Obi-Wan Kenobi is no stranger to the power of revisiting the truth of past events from a certain point of view.