In Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Wars come to the heart of the Republic. After rescuing the (apparently) kidnapped chancellor and a harrowing crash landing on Coruscant. While Anakin Skywalker takes on a new assignment, his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, prepares to depart on the hunt for General Grievous. As the most formidable Separatist leader after Count Dooku’s defeat, the Jedi Council hopes a similar fate for Grievous will help bring the war to an end.
The two have grown together since their meeting on Tatooine. After their near execution on Geonosis in Attack of the Clones and their exploits from one side of the galaxy to the other, Obi-Wan and Anakin have become legendary. As Matthew Stover put it in his novelization of Revenge of the Sith, “Though it is the end of the age of heroes, it has saved its best for last.”
The scene where they part as friends for what would be the final time is rich in symbolism, metaphor, and foreshadowing. As one Reddit thread discusses, the framing and lighting of the shot telegraph the two men’s destinies. As they walk down a corridor to a waiting starship’s boarding ramp, structural features cause the bright light outside to cast stark shadows. Obi-Wan walks in the light, appearing almost regal or even divine. Anakin, mirroring his struggles and suggesting his future, walks in the dark.
The lighting mirrors the less subtle costuming. Anakin has worn darker robes since his first Attack of the Clones scene. Since most Jedi wear much lighter tones, the contrast is stark and unquestionably hints at his fall to the dark side of the Force — even if it does look pretty sharp. As the two walk down the corridor, it’s not just that he’s in the shadows — his dark robes make it appear that he’s of the shadows.
Obi-Wan’s attire, meanwhile, is much lighter. While it’s true that this seems to be a much more common choice among Jedi at the time, the intensity of the lighting underscores the contrast between the two. Obi-Wan appears to radiate light. He’s not, of course. That’s how bright light works when it hits lightly colored things. All the same, that’s the effect it has.
The metaphor continues as the two go their separate ways: Obi-Wan walks down the gangway to his cruiser bathed in the light of Coruscant’s sun. Anakin recedes further into the darkness (which is about as good a six-word summary for the film as I’ve ever written).
As they go their separate ways, Anakin tells his master, “May the Force be with you,” which seems reasonable enough. Jedi say that a lot. Obi-Wan replies, “Goodbye, old friend. May the Force be with you.”
Over the years, it’s become a well-known exchange. Blast Points, one of our top ten Star Wars podcasts, uses the two lines to lead off their outro.
At first, nothing seems too out of place with Obi-Wan’s reply. After all, unless you’re encountering Revenge of the Sith for the first time during a timeline-order viewing of the saga (in which case, um, spoilers), you know where each of these characters ends up by A New Hope. What’s more, George Lucas knows we know. So a farewell makes sense.
On the other hand, do the characters know it’s the last time they’ll part as friends?
They’re strong in the Force, but “always in motion, the future is.” So, what’s with the “goodbye, old friend?” Standing in their boots, it seems like it could just as easily be, “See you when I get back.”
It could be just Obi-Wan being a touch dramatic. Ewan MacGregor’s young Obi-Wan (and James Arnold Taylor’s vocal portrayal in The Clone Wars) certainly has a certain panache. Consider, for example, how he enters Utapau later in the film.
Then again, Grievous is no push-over. This mission is no simple errand for Ob-Wan.
Even Anakin knows it. This scene begins with him telling Obi-Wan, “You’re gonna need me on this one, Master.”
Kenobi agrees, but Anakin must stay behind. He has a new mission, tasked by the Council to keep an eye on the chancellor. Nor does anyone else appear able to join Obi-Wan and give him some backup. Between the Battle of Coruscant, the Outer Rim sieges, and that droid attack on the Wookiees, by this point in the war, the Jedi seemed spread rather thin.
Kristin Baver notes in “Skywalker: A Family at War” that “Obi-Wan found it hard to shake a sense of finality in his parting with Anakin that day … it was if he sensed that this would be the last time he would look into his former Palawan’s eyes.”
You might even say that Obi-Wan Kenobi has a bad feeling about heading off to face Grievous on his own.
Parting as Brothers
Anakin may have sensed something similar. Before they part as brothers, he takes the opportunity to apologize for his arrogance and lack of appreciation for Obi-Wan’s training. Obi-Wan’s complimentary reply is genuine, but perhaps too little, too late.
In the years since Revenge of the Sith, between The Clone Wars television series and books and comics, we’ve seen much more of the pair’s relationship over those pivotal few years. It’s clear that as the war took them from one edge of the galaxy to the other, Master and Apprentice had few opportunities for heartfelt conversations like this.
In Stover’s novelization, he mentions “…a depth of feeling [Anakin] had only rarely glimpsed in all their years together.” Baver explains that while “Obi-Wan was a compassionate and kind soul, but not much given to praising Anakin … His calm, detached manner did not translate into a warm, nurturing presence – he had not been the mentor and father figure Anakin had needed.”
Parting as brothers, then, may have been a large part of the problem, a dynamic pivotal to the fall of Anakin Skywalker.
As Dave Filoni put it in Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian: “Qui-Gon is … the father that Anakin needs. … [Obi-Wan] is a brother to Anakin, eventually, but he’s not a father figure. That’s a failing for Anakin. He doesn’t have the family that he needs.”
When the erstwhile brothers meet again on Mustafar — and again a decade later on a barren moon — they meet as enemies. As Stover says, they meet with “just the two of them and the damage they had done to each other.
“Anakin Skywalker is gone. I am what remains,” Darth Vader tells an older Kenobi (Obi-Wan Kenobi, “Part VI”). “I am not your failure, Obi-Wan,” he says. “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.”
“Then my friend is truly dead.”
At least they’d had a chance to say goodbye.