Vader’s secret is out. Haunted by the Third Sister’s words—“Anakin Skywalker is alive“—Obi-Wan Kenobi finally knows the truth about his former padawan. Unbeknownst to Old Ben, ten years earlier, the Empire had resurrected what was left of Anakin’s mangled, melted body from the lava of Mustafar. Ever since then, the Sith Lord formerly known as Skywalker has festered with rage, malice, and bitter dreams of revenge, growing ever more powerful in the Dark Side of the Force.
Meanwhile, Kenobi and his Jedi ilk were reduced to lives of hiding, scattered like mice from Inquisitors on the prowl to exterminate the galaxy of Rebel vermin. So it comes as no surprise that by the end of Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s third installment, Kenobi is no match for the man he once called brother.
“What have you become?” Kenobi chokes out the question when he stands before Vader. He hopes the words may land upon a ghost hidden behind this demon’s mask.
“I am what you made me,” the demon barks back.
This is no trick of the eye; no witchcraft or sorcery. This is Anakin as he now is, worse than dead and terrifyingly alive.
The duel goes badly for Kenobi. Unpracticed in the Force and clumsy with his lightsaber, Obi-Wan is easily bested in combat. Then, as if a voice from Mortal Kombat cried “Finish him!” Vader conjures a lake of fire and roasts Obi-Wan Kenobi alive.
It’s a poetic moment, to be sure, but apparently Vader has never heard that revenge is a dish best served cold.
The deed doesn’t finish Kenobi after all. Just in the nick of time, he’s rescued from Vader (somehow) by Tala Durith, a rebel spy who’s been running a Jedi underground railroad while deep undercover as an Imperial Officer. Coincidentally enough, Kenobi first met Tala a few hours earlier when she rescued him from a unit of Stormtroopers (somehow) just as Obi-Wan was about to be executed.
Luck seems to be on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s side on this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Still earlier in the episode, on their quest to reunite with the Princess’s family, Kenobi and Leia are picked up by an alien good Samaritan whilst making their way back to town in hopes of finding their allies. Soon enough they learn, however, that the hauler is an Imperial sympathizer, happy and satisfied with his lot as a transport driver for the Space Fascists. “Nice to meet like-minded folk,” the driver tells them. “Nothing wrong with a little order, right?”
Yikes. That’s probably the most unsettling bit of the whole series so far. This means we need to rewind a lot further now.
The fictional backdrop of Darth Vader’s origin was a society in the clutches of forever-wars propagated by a totalitarian ruler who convinced the Galactic Republic to relinquish liberalism and democracy in the name of peace.
I’m old enough to remember the discourse around the time the Prequel Trilogy was released. Much was said not only of George Lucas’s transparent allusions to Nazi Germany, but of contemporary America as well.
The Revenge of the Sith came out four years after 9/11 and two years into a “preemptive” war of choice in Iraq. This was two years after the Iraq mission had been falsely declared accomplished. The American military had come up empty to produce even one weapon of mass destruction from a stockpile that Saddam Hussein had supposedly been hiding. The war had killed 2,000 American soldiers by that point, and God only knows how many Iraqis met early graves during those days.
I mean that literally. Only God knows. We lost count.
Principal photography on The Revenge of the Sith was filmed during the midst of a Presidential election between George W. Bush and John Kerry. The 2004 election was a test of America’s appetite for four more years of war, four more years of the Patriot Act and of torturing enemy combatants, expanding state surveillance, and harassing Muslims in their places of worship within American cities.
A moral ambiguity lingered in the air, propagated by a rise in jingoistic, partisan media owned by billionaires who spent fortunes to sell crimes against good governance and human decency as the necessary evils left for a nation on a war footing.
It seemed like nuance wasn’t George Lucas’s best trait when he scripted Anakin Skywalker warning Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!” when the American President had a few years earlier told the world, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
Lucas seemed to many as a Chicken Little back then, warning us the sky was falling and America was turning down some dark paths. Terrible, ungodly things happen when we sacrifice our ideals on the altars of peace and stability, Lucas was saying. But the warning felt fanciful and farfetched to the audiences of the mid-2000s.
Can the same be said any longer? I’d say no. The story carries a new sense of urgency and relevance now, to the point that a folksy, likable alien mole snitching out Obi-Wan Kenobi and Leia Organa to the Empire no longer lands like the make-believe fantasy that it once did. Twenty years ago, I could not have told you which of my family or friends would wind up as enthusiastic supporters of an American fascism. Today, I can assemble a small list for you.
Presumably, Kenobi and Vader’s showdown will not be their last before the events of A New Hope. With two episodes left in the series, Leia and Kenobi are with the Rebellion now, presumably on a path to finally reunite Young Organa with her family. But with Vader’s blessing, Inquisitor Reva is hot on their trail, having concealed a tracking device within Leia’s droid, Lola. Whenever that final showdown occurs, I anticipate Anakin will remain oblivious as always that Leia is his daughter.
The infighting and power-grabbing between Reva, Vader, and the Inquisitors will come to its natural conclusion as well. I’m not placing any money on Reva escaping that encounter alive.
One last, completely unrelated thought. It’s truly bizarre to consider how my McDonald’s rewards app has greater two-factor security than the Imperial bases in Star Wars. Kenobi freely snuck around Fortress Inquisitorius, some five years after Cal Kestis infiltrated the same base in the video game Jedi: Fallen Order. Later still, Kenobi will go on to navigate the Death Star with relative ease in A New Hopea facility that is later blown up by Luke Skywalker using plans that were stolen by spies who simply used Imperial uniforms and a reprogrammed droid to infiltrate an Imperial data vault.
Proper security protocols appear to be the one thing these guys aren’t Nazis about.
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