Pretty much everything about onscreen storytelling has changed since George made Lucas in 1977 Star Warsor as it is now known in canon, A new hope. Cameras are smaller and more mobile, special effects have exploded, computers have changed everything from shooting choices to editing to color grading to sound design. And all of those factors made fight choreography much more complicated and demanding than it was 45 years ago. Just look at the difference between Darth Vader fighting his old mentor Ben Kenobi A new hopeand the two face each other in the 2022 TV series Obi Wan Kenobi. The Darth Vader’s Kenobi would definitely wipe the floor with it A new hope‘s Vader, and it would take him about three seconds to do it.
Let’s be clear: this isn’t one problem. This is not a continuity error, just as two different men playing Kenobi during that time period is not a continuity error. This isn’t a burning problem that should send loyal fans onto the internet. It’s just an observable fact that highlights how much has changed in on-screen combat (and in Star Wars) over the last four and a half decades.
Considering how much space the Darth Vader has A new hope participates in the collective consciousness of American pop culture, given how terrifying audiences found him in 1977, it’s fascinating to go back and rewatch the final lightsaber fight between Vader and Kenobi, and see how stiff, short and minimal it is . Alec Guinness, who played Kenobi in the original trilogy, was 62 when the film was shot and looked considerably older. The duel plays out with the careful blow-by-blow choreography of two amateurs sword fighting in a play. Neither combatant uses the Force against their opponent.
And when the film premiered in 1977, none of that felt like a limitation because the stakes were so high and the drama so intense. The dialogue between the two men makes it clear that they are old rivals who used to be close, until a final rift separated them. Kenobi makes room for his younger allies to escape the Death Star with their lives, possibly teaching his old student Anakin Skywalker one last lesson about the Force in the process. (The context wasn’t as nuanced as later in the series, but the idea was there even in 1977.) Plus, no one had ever seen a lightsaber duel between masters before – there was no reason to expect it to look like anything specific.
But today’s audiences may have seen one lot of lightsaber duels over four decades of Star Wars media, and they expect something much more dynamic. The confrontation between the same two men Kenobi – less than a decade before them New hope struggle – happens on a completely different scale. The warriors make their way through the barren, dark landscape, tearing down stone towers and causing earthquakes and landslides. They throw huge rocks at each other with the Force. Kenobi dives, turns and rolls to avoid his opponent. He flings Vader himself through the air to slam into stone, while Vader parries his opponent’s lightsaber with a wave of his hand and his own will. It’s a completely different kind of fight than the New hope combat, a combat where the environment is as much a weapon and a defense as the combatants’ lightsabers.
Pop culture scribblers may lament that Vader and Kenobi have both lost many of their skills in the relatively short time gap between Obi Wan Kenobi And A new hope. Full-time continuity justifiers can also provide plenty of reasonable, rational arguments for the relatively minor struggle. Vader just seems to be playing with Kenobi A new hope, holding off his attacks while trying to rekindle the old fear his mentor once felt for him. Kenobi, on the other hand, isn’t actually trying to kill Vader: he waits in time for Luke and the Millennium Falcon crew and moves the fight to a location where it can be a distraction to allow for their escape. Seen through the lens of the story filled in by the prequel series, their fight is in A new hope can easily be seen less as two men trying to kill each other, and more as old enemies carefully testing each other – until Kenobi consciously throws the fight.
Or maybe Vader doesn’t want to destroy the Death Star by tearing it apart for improvised weapons. It’s worth noting that the Vader/Kenobi fight in the TV series is meant to serve as the show’s big action climax, and the payoff of all its themes of hope and renewal, as their fight in A new hope is just a small event leading up to the film’s true climax – it takes place more than half an hour before the end of the film. Or maybe we can all collectively acknowledge that two fights choreographed 45 years apart are going to look different, especially given the challenge each sequel and spin-off faces to raise the bar above the latest iteration of the story. (A few years ago, a immensely popular fan film used CG to re-imagine the 1977 fight as it might look if shot today.)
But from a point of view, as Star Wars likes to put it, you could also argue that the Darth Vader of modern media is just a lot more powerful than the Darth Vader of 1977, for reasons fully explored in the story. The father of Obi Wan Kenobi is still overrun with conviction and anger, especially aimed at Kenobi himself. He’s still out for revenge against Kenobi for dismembering him and leaving him to slowly burn to death in a lava flow – a choice that Star Wars media has never adequately or reasonably justified.
And from Kenobi, he still thinks he is capable of revenge. The rage-driven Force powers he shows everywhere Obi Wan Kenobi are above and beyond anything he does in the original trilogy, where he is portrayed as calmer, much more in control of himself, and much more measured in using his abilities to awe, intimidate, or kill anyone who crosses or disappoints him. Nearly 20 years after Padmé’s death Revenge of the Sithhis grief and anger have clearly settled considerably, and he seems more focused on his work as an Empire functionary than on personal grievances.
No doubt part of that is due to what’s happening in it Kenobi, that is, if you choose to accept the Skywalker Saga as something of a coherent, consistent continuity rather than a bunch of different stories strung together from different sources and storytellers. Kenobi finally beating Vader in combat and choosing to run away and let him live may have broken something in Anakin, forcing him to turn his attention from the past to the future. After that confrontation, he seems to have given up on finding and fighting Kenobi and instead putting his energy into the realm. (Letting Vader live again was a ridiculous choice for Obi-Wan, unstoppable by Kenobi‘s actual storyline, and forced into the story by its very nature as a prequel, is an entirely different conversation.)
Especially by the time they meet again A new hope, Vader still has a lot of contempt for his old teacher, but he is smug and superior instead of furious as he once was. Granted, in his battle order Villain One – which was to take place not long before A new hope – he’s back to more flashy use of the Force to slam his opponents around, and what appears to be real rage when obstructed. But he still doesn’t rip open the ship around him. It is possible that this contempt, and the underestimation of Obi-Wan Kenobi for the umpteenth time, is what holds him back in A new hope.
But that still leaves the fact that Obi Wan‘s Darth Vader is a full-fledged rage machine at the peak of his powers, willing to tear apart anything and everything to destroy an enemy, while 1977’s Vader comes across more as a dark diplomat, used to getting his way and but rarely to fight for it. If Star Wars ever went multiversal like the MCU, and these two versions of the same villain faced each other in combat, 1977’s Vader might have age and experience on his side, but the Disney Plus version of Vader is crazier, hungrier and more desperate to prove himself, and in the end he has the absolute advantage.
The real question is what would happen if A new hopecame across Kenobi Obi Wan Kenobi‘s Kenobi. The latter is faster, more flexible and equal to the Force. But the older Kenobi would probably just say something enlightening and disarming that would completely shut down his younger self, who still had a lot of emotional growth ahead of him.
And then they would probably go get some blue milk together. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about screen storytelling since 1977: the heroes still tend to get creative about their conflicts and find solutions the villains would never consider.