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Call it an enhancement, not an improvement. Star Wars: A New Hope (originally just called Star Wars) came out in 1977, but here we are in 2022, and we're seeing some parts of it as if they were brand new. Not bad for a movie that old, especially one that we’ve watched close to a billion times.
Why is if different now? The six episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi, now streaming on Disney+, included moments and surprises that have huge ramifications for a movie that we only thought we knew so well. If you didn’t watch the series, then the movie is still just as great as it always was. If you did watch the series (and enjoyed it), then A New Hope now comes with many added layers of meaning.
***Warning: Spoilers will follow for all episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi. If you haven’t watched it yet, then you’d be better off doing that before reading this.***
To start with, the deaths of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru now have some much added weight. Outside of A New Hope, we only briefly met the younger versions of the couple in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Obi-Wan Kenobi brought Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse back to the roles, and it finally gave them something to do.
The Owen Lars of A New Hope is not just a grumpy obstacle to Luke moving forward in his hero’s journey. He cares for Luke as if he was his own son, and he tells Reva (Moses Ingram) as much when she goes after the boy. He doesn’t want Ben Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) around to fill his head with mumbo-jumbo either, because as far as he knows, Anakin Skywalker is dead. He did indeed follow Obi-Wan on some damned fool idealistic crusade, and he's dead because of it. Owen can talk about needing Luke for the harvest all he wants, but the man is obviously going into protective overdrive. He cannot let go.
This was present before, but Edgerton's new line of “he is my own” drives it so much deeper. Everything Aunt Beru hits harder too, as she has apparently stashed blasters all over the homestead. She’s ready for action in the series, and has been waiting for it for years. When Reva comes calling, she is more than ready.
When the Empire pays them a visit in A New Hope, we imagine that Beru didn’t just lay down and burn. We’ll always think of her (and Owen) going down fighting in that denim pantsuit. Neither of them would have made it easy.
Everything about Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) can be seen in new context thanks to the performance of Viven Lyra Blair as a younger iteration of the famous Princess. Even at a young age, Leia proves to be hard person to threaten. She also proves to be difficult to interrogate, so it makes sense that the “mind probe” that they use on her in A New Hope has little effect.
She’s already confident and full of life when the series begins, but by its end she has earned a holster (not a blaster yet, she’s 10) and is well on the way to becoming the Princess that grabs a blaster from a couple of hapless heroes and starts shooting. She also knows Obi-Wan, and she knows him well. Her holographic plea for help, already iconic, will never be the same.
She knows Obi-Wan’s real name as well as his alias of “Ben.” When Luke comes barging into her cell and says, “I’m here with Ben Kenobi,” Leia jumps off the bunk in an instant. “Ben Kenobi, where is he?” she says, raring to go. That name was all she needed to hear. Not Obi-Wan. Ben.
Obviously the biggest beats that are enhanced by the series revolve around the character that the series is named after. Kenobi's final confrontation with Darth Vader is now loaded to the brim with all kinds of new meaning. Sure, Vader still mulls over the presence he feels, calling it “a presence I’ve not felt since…” He doesn’t suddenly say, “a presence I’ve not felt in nine years, since I got my butt kicked on the planet of rock spires.” Still, the reason as to why Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” at the beginning of their rematch is clear. For Kenobi, Anakin is truly dead. Vader told him that himself. Obi-Wan didn’t kill Anakin, Vader killed him. Anakin is no more. Obi-Wan’s friend and padawan is gone. Only Darth Vader, more machine than man, exists.
In the series, Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” before walking away. In 1977, Vader was the only “Darth” around and the concept that the name was an honorific bestowed upon Sith Lords was not a thing yet. Sir Alec Guinness calling him “Darth” in A New Hope was similar to how we might call our mail carrier “Tom.”
This was a little odd after the prequels, but now it all lines up. There is no Anakin, there is only a Darth. Moving forward, we knew what Obi-Wan’s line of becoming “more powerful than you can possibly imagine” meant because of Yoda’s cryptic words at the end of Revenge of the Sith. They are solidified even more now, because the series ended with the start of Obi-Wan’s new training with a spectral Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson).
There are countless smaller moments in the movie that are enhanced by the series, but only if you want them to be. If you didn’t like the series, then don’t watch it. Forget it, pick what you like, and use your imagination.
You would, unfortunately, miss out on the biggest gift that Obi-Wan Kenobi gives to A New Hope.
Locked in the duel with Vader, Obi-Wan likely knows that he cannot escape. Vader knows full well that “escape is not his plan.” He’s already pulled the “sacrifice yourself to buy time for the light” trick in the series, and Luke Skywalker himself will use the move in The Last Jedi. Before Obi-Wan makes his final decision, he looks into the hangar and sees both Luke and Leia running to the Millennium Falcon. He gives a sly smile, turns back to Vader, and closes his eyes.
“Only when the eyes are closed can you truly see,” possibly goes through his head at the end, but it’s the moment before that which really comes loaded with change. He is not only seeing Luke, he’s seeing Leia too. He’s come to know both of the Skywalker twins, and now, finally, he’s seeing them together. Both of them are ready. He’s done all he can, his purpose has been served. He got them both where they needed to be.
Physically, there was nothing more for him to do except go out in a moment of pure sacrifice. A true Jedi to the last.
Leia gets over his death very quickly as she comforts Luke, but we know now that she's had more time with him than Luke ever did. She also just lost her family and her planet, and is aware that they are still being pursued. There will be time for mourning later. Right now, they have work to do.
Leia has already learned this lesson, but Luke hasn’t. The retcon of her knowing and admiring Obi-Wan doesn’t make her cold in this moment, it makes her pragmatic. Obi-Wan himself would approve.
Obi-Wan himself's new musical cue obviously doesn’t play after he is struck down in A New Hope — it wasn’t written yet. What happens instead is a happy accident. Leia’s Theme plays, just as it always has. There was never really a reason for that particular motif to be heard before, but there certainly is now. It is Leia’s time to take command, and to put into practice everything that she learned from Obi-Wan nine years before. The Force is about take her on a journey that will continue through the rest of the Skywalker Saga. Eventually, she’ll manifest herself in the cosmic force just like Obi-Wan does.
Her theme playing over Obi-Wan's final (physical) moment will now herald the transition. It will also also celebrate the triumph of Obi-Wan in seeing the Skywalker twins together and all grown-up. It’s their story now.
His little smile, while always a highlight, is even better. The light will survive. You did it, Ben.
Now, as to his line of, “that boy is our last hope” in The Empire Strikes Back... why does he not mention Leia? Why does Yoda have to remind him that “there is another?” The prequels made this tricky already, but has the series made it even trickier?
Um, no! Not at all, and we’ll tell you why… another time. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
All episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi are streaming on Disney+ right now.