George Lucas’ Star Wars universe is a very large narrative that contains a lot of different mysteries. And while most of these are answered within the scope of the expanded Legends universe, people who haven’t gone past the movies might wonder why certain things are as they are. One of those things is the disappearance of Obi-Wan Kenobi after his duel with Darth Vader. So why did Obi-Wan Kenobi disappear?
Obi-Wan Kenobi disappeared after being struck by Darth Vader’s lightsaber because he turned into a Force Ghost, like his teacher, Qui-Gon Jinn, before him. Although that is not a rule, both master Yoda and Luke Skywalker later disappeared, while Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Vader didn’t.
In the rest of the article, we will take a deeper look into the duel between Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader, and why exactly Obi-Wan disappeared.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s duel with Darth Vader
In Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, George Lucas’ original Star Wars movie, Obi-Wan Kenobi appears as a hermit from Tatooine who rescues Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 from a gang of Tuskan Raiders. It later turns out that Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the last surviving Jedi and that he knew Luke’s father; at that point, it was not yet known that Darth Vader is in fact Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker.
Obi-Wan Kenobi decides to help Luke, but also train him in the ways of the Jedi. While on their journey, the encounter and enlist the help of Han Solo and Chewbacca, who are supposed to take them to Alderaan on their ship, the Millennium Falcon. When they realise Alderaan has been destroyed, they follow an Imperial TIE Fighter to the Death Star and get drawn inside.
While trying to escape, they are aware that they’ll probably face Darth Vader, which is why Obi-Wan Kenobi sends the others away so he can create a distraction. Soon enough, Obi-Wan Kenobi faces Darth Vader, who is revealed to be his former apprentice. The two engage in a lightsaber duel, which was – in our opinion – one of the best moments of the whole Original Trilogy and you can check it out in the following video:
As you can see, the duel was short and it was part of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s plan to secure a safe escape for Luke and the others. Obi-Wan Kenobi gladly faced his former apprentice and it was certainly one of the most memorable moments of the whole franchise. During the duel, Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Darth Vader that striking him down would lead to him becoming even more powerful, but Vader – just like before – didn’t listen to his former Master’s warning.
When Luke saw the duel, Obi-Wan Kenobi smiled and let his guard down, allowing Vader to strike him down with his saber. But, instead of dying in the traditional sense of the word, Obi-Wan Kenobi just disappeared, leaving his robe and his lightsaber in front of Vader. So, what happened?
What actually happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi? Why did he disappear?
The disappearance of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie was the first such moment in the whole franchise. Namely, the concept of Force Ghosts had not been explained up to that point, but was explained later, as the franchise developed and expanded. This is why Kenobi’s disappearance was so confusing to a lot of viewers at the time. So, what actually happened?
In Revenge of the Sith, Master Yoda informs Obi-Wan Kenobi that a former friend, Obi-Wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn, has learned how to use the Force to come back from death. Chronologically, this was the first mention of a Force Ghost and although Qui-Gon was not able to appear as a Ghost, he was able to communicate with the living, thus becoming the first Force Ghost ever.
Based on Yoda’s words and the events that followed, we can state that Qui-Gon taught both Obi-Wan and Yoda how to come back as Force Ghosts, which explains Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warning addressed to Darth Vader: “You can’t win, Vader. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Vader, of course, did not know how to use this technique since it was – at the time – exclusive to the Jedi, so he could not even comprehend the true meaning of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warning.
A Force Ghost is basically the soul and essence of a deceased Force-sensitive who denied the will of the Force upon death, yet was able to interact with the living. It also refers to those who committed a final act of selflessness that led to their death, and have come to terms with it. Based on the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi let Vader kill him, we believe that he became a Force Ghost by means of a final act of selflessness.
So, Obi-Wan Kenobi did and did not disappear. He did disappear in the literal sense of the word, because his body disappeared, but that was a very sophisticated way of dying, since he immediately became one with the Force, later appearing as a real Force Ghost. This manner of death is not unknown in the Star Wars films, since both Yoda and Luke Skywalker disappeared immediately upon dying, becoming Force Ghosts.