This scene is definitely a turning point in A New Hope. We see lightsabers in battle for the first time, we have one hero’s death and one hero’s evasion of death, and our gang escapes from the Death Star. It’s a combination of exhilaration and distress in one scene.
The dialogue between Obi-Wan and Vader is also crucial to the storyline. When I left you I was but a learner? What? So they must have had some sort of relationship before. And lightsabers in action? For me, this lightsaber duel always seems so slow. I’ve become so used to the fights of the prequels that this fight seems antiquated, even boring. I tried to remember what it was like seeing it for the first time and I honestly think I was focused more on the dialogue and trying to figure out what Vader was implying, than watching the fight.
Written into the script is also this part about an “invisible strain” being placed on Ben’s shoulders and we didn’t see that in the movie. I wonder if they were trying to make it like a battle of the Force? Similar to Darth Maul and Obi-Wan in TPM and the Force pushes they shoved on each other. Maybe without the knowledge of the Force or all the background that we have now, they decided to cut that and instead go with the lightsaber battle. It increases the pace slightly, making the stakes higher and more relatable to us as an audience.
I love the decision when Obi-Wan decided to give himself up to the Force. I think that he realizes he can be of more help to Luke as a Force Ghost than as a human. I believe that Luke would have relied too heavily on Obi-Wan if he was alive and not learned how to face and deal with situations on his own. Perhaps in the beginning, Obi-Wan wanted a relationship similar to those in the Old Republic of a Master and Apprentice, but times had changed. I think having that Master and Apprentice relationship would have been difficult in the new era of the Empire and harder to hide. Doable, but Luke was also so much older and had already come onto his own as a person, ergo not as easy to train (a reoccurring theme in both the prequels and the original trilogy). As a Force ghost, Obi-Wan could appear when necessary, guiding Luke when he was in trouble but letting Luke discover his own path to becoming a Jedi. I think it was probably an idea Obi-Wan had been toying with for a while and that “serene look on his face” comes from reaching to that decision.
Of course, Luke knows none of this and is the Idiot Farmboy (that is becoming my nickname for him throughout all of ANH) who just stands there, screams, brings all the attention back to himself and his friends who are trying to secretly escape, and almost gets killed. Seriously, Luke? That was a Jar-Jar move right there. Thankfully, Idiot Farmboy is saved by Handsome Badass who has enough sense to tell him to blast the doors. [Why did I have a crush on Luke growing up again? Oh yeah, because he was good and noble and did what was right. My, how times have changed.]
Overall, this scene has a lot going on emotionally, but Lucas does a good job of masking it in action and leaving time for you to digest it later on. I kind of like how everything happens so fast. Boom! Obi-Wan sees Darth Vader. Boom! What’s this about them knowing each other? Boom! Heroes reunite. Boom! Droids make an independent decision and run for it. Boom! Heroes run for it. Boom! Obi-Wan dies. Boom! Luke screams and messes things up. It’s one of the great things about A New Hope: constant action with only a bit of political undercurrent running throughout the movie. Oh, and of course, Han and Leia’s little witty banter in here kind of makes this scene awesome as well.
INTERIOR: DEATH STAR — HALLWAY LEADING TO MAIN FORWARD BAY.
Ben hurries along one of the tunnels leading to the hangar where the pirateship waits. Just before he reaches the hangar, Darth Vader steps into view at the end of the tunnel, not ten feet away. Vader lights his saber. Ben also ignites his and steps slowly forward.
VADER: I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete.
Ben Kenobi moves with elegant ease into a classical offensive position. The fearsome Dark Knight takes a defensive stance.
VADER: When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.
BEN: Only a master of evil, Darth.
The two Galactic warriors stand perfectly still for a few moments, sizing each other up and waiting for the right moment. Ben seems to be under increasing pressure and strain, as if an invisible weight were being placed upon him. He shakes his head and, blinking, tries to clear his eyes.
VADER: You should not have come back.
Ben makes a sudden lunge at the huge warrior but is checked by a lightning movement of The Sith. A masterful slash stroke by Vader is blocked by the old Jedi. Another of the Jedi’s blows is blocked, then countered. Ben moves around the Dark Lord and starts backing into the massive starship hangar. The two powerful warriors stand motionless for a few moments with laser swords locked in mid-air, creating a low buzzing sound.
VADER: Your powers are weak, old man.
BEN: You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Their lightsabers continue to meet in combat.
INTERIOR: DEATH STAR — MAIN FORWARD BAY.
Han Solo and Chewbacca, their weapons in hand, lean back against the wall surveying the forward bay, watching the Imperial stormtroopers make their rounds of the hangar.
HAN: Didn’t we just leave this party?
Chewbacca growls a reply, as Luke and the princess join them.
HAN: What kept you?
LEIA: We ran into some old friends.
LUKE: Is the ship all right?
HAN: Seems okay, if we can get to it. Just hope the old man got the tractor beam out of commission.
INTERIOR: DEATH STAR — HALLWAY.
Vader and Ben Kenobi continue their powerful duel. As they hit their lightsabers together, lightning flashes on impact. Troopers look on in interest as the old Jedi and Dark Lord of The Sith fight. Suddenly Luke spots the battle from his group’s vantage point.
Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie look up and see Ben and Vader emerging from the hallways on the far side of the docking bay.
INTERIOR: DEATH STAR — DOCKING BAY.
Threepio and Artoo-Detoo are in the center of the Death Star’s Imperial docking bay.
THREEPIO: Come on, Artoo, we’re going!
Threepio ducks out of sight as the seven stormtroopers who were guarding the starship rush past them heading towards Ben and The Sith Knight. He pulls on Artoo.
INTERIOR: DEATH STAR — HALLWAY.
Solo, Chewie, Luke, and Leia tensely watch the duel. The troops rush toward the battling knights.
HAN: Now’s our chance! Go!
They start for the Millennium Falcon. Ben sees the troops charging toward him and realizes that he is trapped. Vader takes advantage of Ben’s momentary distraction and brings his mighty lightsaber down on the old man. Ben manages to deflect the blow and swiftly turns around.
The old Jedi Knight looks over his shoulder at Luke, lifts his sword from Vader’s then watches his opponent with a serene look on his face.
Vader brings his sword down, cutting old Ben in half. Ben’s cloak falls to the floor in two parts, but Ben is not in it. Vader is puzzled at Ben’s disappearance and pokes at the empty cloak. As the guards are distracted, the adventurers and the robots reach the starship. Luke sees Ben cut in two and starts for him. Aghast, he yells out.
The stormtroopers turn toward Luke and begin firing at him. The robots are already moving up the ramp into the Millennium Falcon, while Luke, transfixed by anger and awe, returns their fire. Solo joins in the laserfire. Vader looks up and advances toward them, as one of his troopers is struck down.
HAN: (to Luke) Come on!
LEIA: Come on! Luke, its too late!
HAN: Blast the door! Kid!
Luke fires his pistol at the door control panel, and it explodes. The door begins to slide shut. Three troopers charge forward firing laser bolts, as the door slides to a close behind them, shutting Vader and the other troops out of the docking bay. A stormtrooper lies dead at the feet of his on rushing compatriots. Luke starts for the advancing troops, as Solo and Leia move up the ramp into the pirateship. He fires, hitting a stormtrooper, who crumbles to the floor.
BEN’S VOICE: Run, Luke! Run!
Luke looks around to see where the voice came from. He turns toward the pirateship, ducking Imperial gunfire from the troopers and races into the ship.