A New Star Wars Theory Explains the Real Meaning Behind Obi-Wan's High Ground Advantage
The duel between Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith remains one of the greatest moments in Star Wars history. Sure, the prequel movies get rightly dragged a lot, but Lucas actually pulled it together with Episode III. This is the movie fans had been waiting for, where those big emotional moments propel the story into the original series. And the climax is the passionate, fiery lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Anakin.
It's a sprawling, tightly choreographed duel that marks the destruction of Anakin Skywalker, his fall to the dark side and Obi-Wan's failure to save his friend, brother, and student. Their fight across Mustafar finally brings them to the banks of a burning river of lava—Anakin is on a small platform looking up at Obi-Wan standing atop a small incline.
Here's how the Revenge of the Sith script describes the scene:
ANAKIN jumps and flips onto OBI- WAN's platform. The fighting continues again until OBI-WAN jumps toward the safety of the black sandy edge of the lava river. He yells at Anakin.
OBI-WAN: It's over, Anakin. I have the high ground.
ANAKIN: You underestimate my power!
OBI-WAN: Don't try it.
ANAKIN follows, and OBI-WAN cuts his young apprentice at the knees, then cuts off his left arm in the blink of an eye. ANAKIN tumbles down the embankment and rolls to a stop near the edge of the lava.
And that's where Obi-Wan, unable to kill his friend, leaves Anakin to die (or rather get picked up by Palpatine to become Darth Vader).
But, for 15 years, fans have wondered why this was the disadvantage that allowed Obi-Wan to defeat Anakin? We've seen the guy pull off incredible acrobatics using his Jedi powers, so why was this small hill too much for him? Hell, it's even become a meme.
One Star Wars fan on Reddit has seemingly put together the perfect explanation for this scene—and it connects to another great moment in the prequel series. As Reddit user u/SainttecWalker explains, Obi-Wan and Anakin practiced two very different lightsaber techniques:
Obi-Wan preferred Form 3, which emphasized deliberate and efficient action, primarily in defense, to lengthen a fight until the opponent made a mistake. Anakin however favored Form 5, which while the lore says it was an evolution of Form 3, it is actually quite more aggressive. Form 5 is characterized by powerful strikes, as well as counter-attacks immediately after successful defense, regardless if an opening is actually perceived. This can tire the user quickly, but also will tire their target faster as they contend with constant counterattacks and "haymaker" type attacks.
So, the two fight throughout Mustafar—a long and grueling battle that reaches this moment on the banks of the lava river. Anakin is trapped between the certain death of the lava and Obi-Wan. If he jumped on the bank below Obi-Wan he'd be at a disadvantage, and unwilling to retreat, Anakin is left with the risky decision to jump over Obi-Wan to uncertain footing above him.
Now, the question is, why does Obi-Wan know what Anakin is going to try, and why does the battle lead up to this specific moment?
This is where we go back to Episode I. At the end of his duel with Darth Maul, Obi-Wan is disarmed, hanging from a pit as the Sith apprentice stands above him. Obi-Wan gathers his strengths and jumps in an arc over Maul, pulls his master's lightsaber toward him and cuts the Sith in half.
As the Reddit user explains, this is a story that Anakin has likely heard many times. But Obi-Wan has come to realize, as he's grown older and wiser, how risky this maneuver actually was at the time.
Every time Obi-Wan replays that duel in his mind, he sees a new outcome. This time, Maul doesn't turn around to face him, he simply turns his lightsaber around and impales Obi-Wan on it. The next, Obi-Wan's bisecting attack doesn't land and instead he has to continue the duel having spent all his stamina on that feat of Force conjuration. Of course, as his mastery of Form 3 would grow, his mind would conjure the perfect response to that attack to torment him. An efficient movement which would simply remove the fighting hand and legs of his opponent as they twisted in the air above. Truly this would be the most horrifying alternate outcome of that duel, as there would be no more last-ditch efforts. He would be alive, and completely at the Sith's (lack of) mercy.
And so, Obi-Wan tells Anakin not to try it, because "he, just like Anakin now, had once been in a position where success requires a massive vertical leap over your opponent and he knew the risk that move entailed," as the Reddit user says.
It's a pretty brilliant analysis of the scene, and it's worth reading the entire breakdown. Even if some of this, like Obi-Wan replaying the fight with Maul in his head, is just fan fiction, the parallel between the Episode I duel and the Episode III duel is pretty amazing.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.