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How OBI-WAN KENOBI’s Flashback Connects to A NEW HOPE

Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s fifth episode had plenty of Darth Vader. Yet it still featured a lot of Hayden Christensen’s face. A running flashback to a better time in the galaxy far, far away showed Anakin Skywalker and his former Master during a lightsaber training session. The student used what he learned on that day a long time ago to defeat an enemy on Jabiim. But, as a clever escape showed, Obi-Wan still knew how to exploit Anakin’s greatest weakness. And the Jedi’s latest lesson to his old pupil explains why a famous line from Star Wars: A New Hope still makes sense.

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Anakin and Obi-Wan’s (very dangerous!) sparring at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant served as a mirror throughout the episode. The lightsaber training both informed and influenced events unfolding on Jabiim in the series’ present timeline. The flashback highlighted how well the two knew each other and how they used that knowledge to exploit one another. Obi-Wan realized Anakin’s obsession with victory necessitated quick action, as Vader would never have the patience for a siege. (Which proves really useful for the Rebels on Hoth.) Meanwhile, Anakin knew Obi-Wan would never abandon innocent people, which Obi-Wan both knew and counted on. He realized Vader could count on his surrender. That’s why the episode never made clear if it was Anakin or Obi-Wan thinking back to that day on Corsucant—they both were.

Their encounter on Jabiim recalled an infamous moment during their fight on Mustafar. At one point during their lightsaber duel each man used identical feints at the exact same time. That resulted in a moment that resembled a synchronized baton twirling contest more than a fight to the death. That (unfairly maligned) moment exemplified how well each knew the other and their tendencies. It was like their bond was so strong they shared a connection rarely seen in the galaxy.

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Like on Mustafar, though, the Padawan remained the student for a reason. Obi-Wan was wiser and kept his emotions in check, which allowed him to “mind” his surroundings even during a passionate fight on a lava planet. That helped him gain the high ground over an enraged Anakin, whose singular focus on killing his former Master left him vulnerable. After Anakin allowed Obi-Wan to get the upper hand, he couldn’t accept anything but total victory, let alone defeat. Now we’ve seen that desire hasn’t changed 10 years later. As a result, just as Obi-Wan left Anakin behind on Mustafar, he left Vader behind on Jabiim.

The Sith Lord did learn something from his lightsaber training, though. Obi-Wan’s lessons that day helped Vader survive in the show’s present. He recognized Obi-Wan had employed Reva as a weapon against him and was prepared for her attack. Vader didn’t even need a weapon to fight her either, just as Obi-Wan didn’t need one during their sparring nor on Jabiim. Obi-Wan taught Anakin the value of being mindful of his surroundings. Anakin just never learned to keep his focus, despite Obi-Wan constantly reminding him too, especially the closer he got to winning.

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But as Vader watched that transport ship escape, he realized his old Master had bested him again. Anakin’s hatred for Obi-Wan blinded him to the truth about a decoy, as his awesome display of power merely stopped an empty ship from taking off. Despite Obi-Wan being so near, Anakin missed what the Jedi had really done. He first used Reva’s quest for vengeance to buy time while also planning to use Anakin’s rage against him. He counted on Anakin’s emotions blinding him the closer he got to Obi-Wan.

Meanwhile, while Darth Vader let the inherent perils of the dark side get to him, Kenobi remained level-headed like a true Master Jedi. And in that moment we got an answer to a question that the show’s very existence has raised about Vader’s final duel with Obi-Wan.

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Thus far the Disney+ Star Wars series hasn’t broken canon. As suspected, Reva did not actually kill the original Grand Inquisitor. There’s also nothing from Leia’s time with “Ben” on Obi-Wan Kenobi that contradicts anything she says or does in the original trilogy. The show has only re-contextualized and clarified her relationship to General Kenobi. Vader’s presence on the series is based on that very same concept. His incomplete thought in A New Hope made his role on the show possible without breaking canon. When Vader realized Obi-Wan was on the Death Star he said, “I sense something. A presence I’ve not felt since…” Nothing about that line changes what happened in Revenge of the Sith or the original trilogy.

But until the show’s fifth episode another line from the first Star Wars movie seemed out of place thanks to Obi-Wan Kenobi. In A New Hope Vader told the Jedi, “When I left you I was but the learner, now I am the master.” There didn’t seem to be any ambiguity over what that meant following Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan got the better of Vader on Mustafar, but in the nearly two decades since Vader had learned much more about the power of the dark side. He knew things about the Force a Jedi like Obi-Wan would never know. And since Revenge of the Sith marked the end of their time and lessons together, how could Vader’s line really make sense? It would be a weird thing to say if they’d ever faced off again after Mustafar.

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Now we’ve seen that 10 years after Anakin turned on the Jedi he still had something to learn from his old Master. Even if you’re aware that an enemy knows your weaknesses, they can still be used against you. Vader was so concerned with Reva he forgot to keep his mind open to other possibilities. Combined with his insatiable hate, those lapses in focus were enough for Obi-Wan to escape his clutches. All of which offered a new lesson for Anakin to learn.

This episode also gives new context to other elements of their meeting in A New Hope. In the film, Vader tells Imperial officers he will deal with Obi-Wan “himself.” After Reva got in his way on Jabiim why would he ever risk giving someone else that job? And Vader’s relatively tame, slow-paced final fight with Obi-Wan makes more sense now, too. It was a far more stoic fight, one fueled by patience rather than rage. As Obi-Wan knew it would, Vader let his hatred for his former Master get in the way on Jabiim. Nine years later on the Death Star, Vader wasn’t going to make that mistake again. Instead, he made a totally different one. Because Obi-Wan not only knew how to keep his emotions in check, he knew things about the Force Anakin never learned.

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During their last encounter, Obi-Wan tried to teach his Padawan one final lesson. But just as during their lightsaber training, and just as on Mustafar, the stubborn Anakin Skywalker was always too focused on victory to truly listen. “You can’t win, Darth,” warned Obi-Wan. “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

He was right, of course. That’s why Obi-Wan was always the Master and Anakin was always his Padawan.

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.

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