It really is the little things

I was posting this comment on a friend’s blog, decided I rambled enough it was worth making a post out of.

This was inspired by the SC38 reimagined Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader fight from Star Wars: A New Hope.

First, let me admit that this is very, VERY well done. The attention to detail, the camera work, I absolutely praise the sheer craftsmanship that has gone into this. As a simple, pure form of art it is a thing of stunning beauty.

The problem is… it doesn’t work.

See, a big part of the original Star Wars movie is that it should be a question of whether Obi-Wan or Vader could win their fight. It should feel like an open-ended question of who might be victorious. Way back in 1995 (man I feel so old), the 4th ever grudge match was a debate of “What if Kenobi really tried?” (results may surprise you)

The above remake ends up spoiling this in my opinion because it makes it seem like Kenobi is on the backfoot for most of the duel.

That’s not a little thing to overlook.

In his look at the Lion King remake, YMS goes into exhaustive detail about how little adjustments to scenes or even character actions undercut the emotions and information conveyed. So I’m going to do that now with the original and this remake.

In SW, we are told that Kenobi is a great warrior. Leia is seeking him out with the Death Star plans in the hopes both will be key to rebellion victory. Darth Vader by this point in the film has been established as the “great warrior” of the Empire. We haven’t seen him fight yet but he is shown as the first behind the shocktroops and is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Both have established themselves as masters of the Force as well. This is why in the dueling scene it is so important that Kenobi hold his own. Both of these characters serve as champion figures for their respective sides. Both are also champions for their sides of the Force which the audience is just beginning to get a hint of.

If you make Vader too strong, too overwhelming in this fight, then you undercut the message & meaning of Kenobi as a hope for the rebellion and the Light Side of the Force as equal or greater than the Dark. The audience is told “the rebels are fools and idiots for believing in this man – he could never have helped them win the day.”

This then all ends up undoing what the ultimate climax of the film is striving for. Like I said awhile back: Deliver on what you promise. The film promises us that finding Kenobi will help the rebellion. It delivers on that promise by having Kenobi’s disciple, Luke, end up being the one who saves the day. In the original, Kenobi’s martyrdom is portrayed as a tactical “twist” which those who doubt or disbelieve in the Force cannot understand.

Remember that earlier in the film, Vader foreshadows the conclusion by claiming that the Death Star is insignificant next to the power of the Force. Kenobi embracing and ascending into the Force in this scene means he’s now more powerful than even the Death Star, and fighting on the rebellion’s side. This all then culminates in Kenobi’s voice telling Luke in the climax “use the Force.” The audience doesn’t know for certain, but there is the possibility implanted in our minds that Kenobi, now in his new life, is directing and shepherding both his disciple and the torpedoes that ultimately blow up the Death Star. The whole movie demonstrates that Kenobi forfeited that one battle, in order to win the larger war.

Changing the duel such that Vader dominates it undoes all these efforts and lessens the impact of the climax. The altered fight shows to the audience that Kenobi is a weak old man – that “strong in the Force” means nothing if your body is frail. We the audience are more likely to conclude that Kenobi needed to “ascend” in the Force just to get to Vader’s level. The scene changes from a wise mentor giving up his ego to save the day to an old man escaping the only way he can from a losing fight.

The saying goes: No scene is worth a movie, no line is worth a scene. However awesome and cool and neat a sequence may be, I always want to caution storytellers to take a step back and look at how it fits in as a whole. Is there an goal you’re sabotaging in that scene? Is there a character you’re undercutting? Is there a theme you’re betraying? Of course you don’t intend to do those things, but I’ve worked on stories too. I know how easy it is to get so caught up in a detail you lose sight of its surroundings. A change or adjustment may seem small, but when placed in the bigger picture, it ends up ruining everything you worked for.

5 thoughts on “It really is the little things

  1. Just throwing this into the mix, the match of the century , as with all the very best fights, was actually quite evenly and finely balanced and the edge was gained only by Obi Wan willingly sacrificing himself in true heroic style, for the greater good. If one side or other was overpowered, where would the fun be for the audience, the outcome would be predictable and not worth the price of admission.
    The thing that has resonated with me as being in need of a fix with this film, from the first time I saw it in its release year, was Luke, yelling at the crucial moment, drawing attention to the fact they were about to escape. Rookie mistake Luke!
    That said, the remake you linked is very very we done and an interesting take on what might have been. Kudos to the maker for giving their all to making it workable and entertaining, even though, for me personally, the original was best

    • Well said and amen from this corner.

      One could interpret that Kenobi intended to give the fight his all but when Luke called out, that got him to look at the big picture a moment and realize that the best option was to lose. Heck Kenobi didn’t have to lose, I’m sure we would all believe him pulling off some fancy jedi moves to escape with them.

      But that isn’t what the rebellion needed. 😉

      • Exactly so ‘if you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine’ can be interpreted as more than solely Obi Wan becoming one with the force, his sacrifice became the rallying point , motivator and banner for the cause, one humble old man making a difference.
        Lack of humility is often a key factor in any archetype villiain’s downfall.

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