It is the most powerful scene in the first Star Wars movie: The moment when Darth Vader confronts his former mentor and aged Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi in the corridor of the Death Star.
It is a scene that, in 1977, lacked much of the backstory that would be revealed in later films, but somehow tells you everything you need to know about these two characters. You know it’s not going to end well for the old man, but you can’t look away. You just know something crucial in the plot line is about to take place.
The build up is perfect: We know that once upon a time, the two had a close relationship until Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force and murdered Kenobi’s prized pupil. This event leads to a 19-year estrangement that comes to a head during the franchise’s first (and in my opinion, best) light saber battle. From the moment the Millenium Falcon lands on the space station, Vader can sense Kenobi’s presence and he will not rest until he meets his former tutor face-to-face. This is a man with a deep-seated axe to grind and he is not about to let this moment pass away.
Sure, Kenobi was a great warrior, but that was a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away. Now, he’s a wizened old man who is more than a few years past his prime. By contrast, Vader is at the top of his game: He has just destroyed the last remnants of the Old Republic, is standing on the threshold of unprecedented power is ready to show the man who underestimated him just how great he has become.
“When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master,” he tells Obi Wan after igniting the sword I knew would be at the top of my Christmas list later that year.
“Only a master of evil, Darth,” Kenobi replies.
As the battle begins, Vader comments that the Jedi Knight has become weak in his old age, and it is during this exchange that Kenobi offers up a truth that is as profound as it is simple, demonstrates a depth of knowledge that goes beyond the sith’s comprehension and reflects the overarching lesson in today’s gospel. “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
This is not a line that simply differentiates the good guy from the bad guy in a movie. It is a line that illustrates how Vader missed the entire point of his Jedi training. Obi Wan understands that a student can never really rise above the Teacher. No matter what he or she has learned, they are only rediscovering what has already been revealed. They can equal those who have educated them over the years, but they can never truly know it all.
Obi Wan understands that while a slave can achieve freedom, he can never conquer his master without giving into hate and becoming the very thing he’s liberated himself from. In a universe that is bound together by something larger than itself, everything that has happened and will happen has already been decided by a “force” that knows everything down to the number of hairs on your head. Obi Wan knows that even as Vader strong arms star systems into submission there are some things that just aren’t within his grasp.
And in that moment, when Kenobi takes one final look at Luke Skywalker before succumbing to his fate, he knows he’s about to fulfill his own prophecy. Yet, he is not afraid. Even though death may take the body, it cannot kill the soul. It is only when we let go of everything we fear to lose and pass from one life into the next that we will have all of the answers and the opportunity to explain what we did…or did not… in this life time in an effort to become more than we could ever imagine. Who knew that the Jedi and Jesus could have so much in common?
May the Force be with you.
Today’s readings for Mass: GN 49: 29-32; 50: 15-26A; PS 105: 1-2, 3-4, 6-7; MT 10: 24-33