As cool as it will be to give the two characters another fight, there’s always been one problem with putting Darth Vader in Disney+’s upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series. In A New Hope, during their duel, Vader says, “When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master”—a clear reference to Anakin’s days as Obi-Wan’s apprentice. But how could that be if they had a rematch after their battle at Mustafar? I think I’ve figured out the answer.
It came to me while I was reading a surprisingly clickbait-y article at Entertainment Weekly titled “How Obi-Wan Kenobi changes the meaning behind a classic Star Wars line.” I clicked it, hoping to get an explanation about the learner/master line, which has been bothering me for a while. I try not to worry about these things generally, but “When I left you, I was but the learner” is so factual and unequivocal, the idea that it was going to be made inexplicable by the Kenobi show has had me rankled.
I was both surprised and infuriated to discover that the article was not about “learner/master,” but about Vader’s line, “I sense something. A presence I’ve not felt since…” in which the change is a useless distinction. Vader doesn’t specify a time he last felt Obi-Wan’s presence, so while it used to mean their duel on Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, now it’ll refer to their encounter in the TV show. Because the line is open-ended, it barely counts as recontextualization. More aggravatingly, stars Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen and showrunner Deborah Chow don’t explain anything about how the show “changes the meaning” behind the line anyway, which made the article even more meaningless.
As I was in my pathetic little nerd tantrum, I wondered again how Obi-Wan Kenobi wouldn’t be turning the “learner/master” line into an inaccuracy and a continuity error. How could Vader meet Obi-Wan, 10 years after the events of RotS, but somehow still consider himself a student? Because he certainly won’t be a student of Obi-Wan in the show, and arguably wasn’t even during their Mustafar duel, given that Anakin had been knighted by the Jedi. So a student of what? I wondered.
Why, a student of evil, of course.
It’s the only explanation that makes sense, but it makes sense to me. When he became Vader, Anakin had chosen a new master—one who could reasonably spend the decade post-RotS teaching his new pupil Sith stuff. When Vader and Anakin inevitably face off in Kenobi, Vader will be a learner of the ways of the dark side—not Obi-Wan, as the movie franchise has always implied. And, when the two meet again in A New Hope, Vader will have become a “master of evil”—which happens to be exactly what Obi-Wan calls him after Vader says the “learner/master” line. Now that’s a recontextualization!
I very much hope the Obi-Wan Kenobi show makes this distinction explicit, because otherwise it’s going to stay head-canon and I would not care for that at all. I’m already ashamed of how much thought I’ve put into this. Hell, I feel almost filthy for how excited I got when the explanation came to me. If I’m right, there won’t be enough hot showers in the world for me to scrub away my smug self-satisfaction.
But at least Star Wars will be completely free of continuity errors again, because of course there are no others whatsoever. Phew! Close call!
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