Warning: This article contains Obi-Wan Kenobi spoilers.
During Disney Investor Day in 2020, Kathleen Kennedy announced that Hayden Christensen would be in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series in the role of Darth Vader, and that the confrontation between Obi-Wan and Vader would be “the rematch of the century.”
Now that the Obi-Wan finale has been released and the Jedi Knight and Sith Lord had their long-awaited rematch, the question is whether it lived up to the hype. This is focused on their confrontation in the finale and not the one on Mapuzo as their duel in the finale is clearly meant to be “the rematch of the century.”
In terms of character development, themes, emotion, and lightsaber combat, the rematch in the finale absolutely lived up to the hype.
How the rematch lives up to the hype
Unlike the one-sided duel on Mapuzo, Obi-Wan and Vader are on equal footing for much of the duel, Obi-Wan having found his strength and connection to the Force again through his journey with Leia, and Vader strong as ever through his profound anger and connection to the dark side of the Force.
The lightsaber combat is superb and is a perfect marriage of lightsaber duels from the prequel and original trilogy eras. Certain moments feel elegant, seamless, and fast-moving like the lightsaber duels in the prequels. Other moments feel slower and more raw–with weight and palpable energy behind every movement and swing of a lightsaber–like in the original trilogy. As a story that takes place between these two eras, this was a fitting approach for this duel.
The best lightsaber duels aren’t just about the fighting, though. It’s about the emotions and motivations behind the fighting, along with any words exchanged during the conflict. Vader’s words and actions are intimidating, but he is overcompensating, too desperate and overeager to prove that he is stronger and better than his former master.
Obi-Wan’s ability to break out of the rock that Vader buries him underneath is a perfect way to show how Obi-Wan had regained his hope and perseverance, especially after getting the necessary strength he needed from focusing on memories of Leia and Luke. Lifting all of those rocks and hurtling them at Vader was unlike anything fans had ever seen Obi-Wan do onscreen before, also showing that Obi-Wan had regained his sense of innovation.
Despite all of this, the true highlight of the rematch isn’t during the actual fighting, but in the moment Obi-Wan cuts through Vader’s mask. This emotional rematch is arguably more important than the lightsaber rematch.
After a moment of emotional vulnerability brought to life through Ewan McGregor’s stellar performance, Obi-Wan walks away with acceptance and the ability to move forward, unlike the duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith where he walked away broken and riddled with guilt and shame that prevented him from moving forward for a decade.
Seeing Anakin’s face beneath the mask and hearing his voice mixed with the voice of Vader is very similar to Ahsoka Tano’s duel with Darth Vader in the Star Wars Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice,” but it still works as Obi-Wan needs to see Anakin to truly understand that he cannot bring him back to the light.
So many things about the rematch worked well, but it didn’t live up to the hype in every respect.
How the rematch didn’t live up to the hype
While this rematch was excellent in many ways, the underwhelming setting and lack of visual scale prevented the rematch from capturing its full potential.
Compared to Mustafar, the setting of their final confrontation feels underwhelming and constrained. This duel takes place on a barren landscape in the dark, and despite taking place in the middle of nowhere, it is confined to a relatively small space.
This is a stark contrast from the sweeping battle across the planet of Mustafar, surrounded by roiling lava that capture the intense emotions and character journeys of Obi-Wan and Anakin. Other than the large rocks–which both Obi-Wan and Vader use to their advantage at various points–there is nothing visually distinctive about the setting of their rematch.
Vader literally burying Obi-Wan with the rocks and Obi-Wan pelting the rocks at Vader do work symbolically, with Vader wanting to bury the weakness he associates from his past with Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan trying to break through Vader to reach Anakin, but it is not as visually interesting and epic in scale as Mustafar.
This is one part of Obi-Wan that might’ve worked better in a movie as opposed to a television series. A movie might’ve given more of the sweeping, expansive, and visually stunning aspects that have become part of all lightsaber duels, especially in the prequel and sequel era movies.
The volume technology used to make Obi-Wan and the other live-action Star Wars television series is incredible and usually makes the shows feel just as immersive as the movies. This lightsaber duel was one of the few times where the constraints of the volume were felt in the setting and in the limited scale of the confrontation.
While this might be a disappointment, the most important aspects of their confrontation were perfectly executed. In most of the ways that really mattered, Obi-Wan vs. Vader delivered, and it lived up to being “the rematch of the century.”
All episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are now streaming on Disney+.