A hero’s death is often one to be debated, pondered, and revered. In the Star Wars universe, Obi-Wan’s death is a death that many question the reasoning behind. While his thoughts on choosing to be defeated by Darth Vader were never strictly laid out, there are quite a few reasons we can gather from the films.
Why did Obi-Wan let himself die? Obi-Wan let himself die because he knew he would become more powerful after death. Driven by wanting to mentor and guide Luke, he chose to both balance the force and become a Jedi-ghost with his death. Lastly, Obi-Wan aided the Millenium Falcon in its escape by keeping Darth Vader engaged for a time.
Regardless of your opinions on if Obi-Wan’s death was heroic or not, this article will reveal that there are quite a few reasonable theories for why he let Darth Vader kill him.
Facts of Obi-Wan’s Death Scene
Before we get into the three main theories of why Obi-Wan let himself die, we need to agree on all the facts surrounding his death in Episode IV: A New Hope. So, let’s remind ourselves of a few key points:
- Obi-Wan, also known as Ben, tells Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
- Ben smiles when he sees Luke enter the hangar where the Falcon is. He then raises his lightsaber out of the attack position and lets Vader cut him down.
- Obi-Wan’s body disappears, his cloak falls to the ground, and there are physical remains of his body.
- Luke does not initially understand what happened and yells loudly in anguish.
- Vadar pokes around Ben’s clothes with his foot, questioning where his body went.
- After Ben is gone, his voice tells Luke, “Run, Luke, Run.”
These events can all be seen in A New Hope and are not debatable. How we interpret them, however, is. The following sections discuss the three main theories about why Obi-Wan sacrificed himself.
Theory One: Bringing Balance to the Force
We know from Episode I: The Phantom Menace that Anakin is the Chosen One who will “bring balance to the Force.” Balance is defined by an equal weight on both sides of something. Translated into Star Wars lingo, that may mean equal power on both the dark and the light side of the Force. In Episode I, there are multitudes of Jedi, but only two Sith Lords. So, Anakin is destined to take down the Jedi to bring around the prophesied balance, hence his turn to the dark side.
In Episode IV, before Obi-Wan dies, the force is balanced between dark and light. However, Ben, a powerful Jedi, allows himself to be struck down by Darth Vader. By doing this, the balance is now tipped to the Sith. As most things tend to bring themselves back into balance slowly, Obi-Wan would guess his death would lead to one of two things:
- Luke becomes a powerful Jedi, like Obi-Wan
- OR one more Sith Lord will fall to balance the Force
This theory leads us to Episode VI, where Vader does bring the balance Obi-Wan sought in his death by killing the Emperor. However, in this, Vader also dies, leaving only Luke left. With this theory, though, the Star Wars universe will always be battling light versus dark if there are Force users around.
Theory Two: Escape for the Millenium Falcon
This next theory is a bit depressing, as it means Obi-Wan’s death is for nothing. But, sometimes life, even in the Star Wars universe, is unfair, so we must include this potential theory for Ben’s sacrifice.
Ben is facing Darth Vader while Luke, Leah, Han, Chewy, and the droids are finding their way back to the Millenium Falcon to escape. As Vader is the strongest power on the Death Star at the time, it makes sense that Obi-Wan would want to distract him, keeping his friends safe and helping them escape. Obi-Wan continues to battle Vader until he sees them beginning to board the Falcon.
While Obi-Wan may have kept fighting until they had fully escaped, Luke gets distracted from the escape plan as he sees his beloved master fighting Vader. Obi-Wan now probably knows that Luke would join the fight as long as it continues. So, Ben sacrifices himself to force Luke to get on the Falcon as quickly as possible. We can support this theory by the fact Obi-Wan tells Luke to run after he is already dead.
The issue with this theory is that after the Falcon escapes, Darth Vader says he let the Falcon go as he wants it to lead him to the rebel base. If he would have let the Falcon go regardless of Obi-Wan’s death or not, then sadly, Obi-Wan died for nothing. So, while this could have been a partial motivation for his death, we hope there is something more.
Theory Three: Stronger with Death
Obi-Wan knows he will be a stronger Jedi after he dies. He has mastered the Force so well at this point that he is confident he will be able to guide Luke through his voice and appearance even after death.
We see him hint at this when he tells Vader, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” This is referencing Episode III: Revenge of the Sith when Yoda tells Obi-Wan that Qui-Gon has found a way to come back after death using the Force. Yoda tells Obi-Wan during this interaction that he will learn this while hiding on Tatooine. So, we know that Ben has probably mastered this by Episode IV.
So, while Obi-Wan does wait to let Vader kill him until Luke’s escape is imminent, he also knows he will be able to guide Luke better wherever he is after death. With this, he does precisely what he told Vader he would do and lets him ‘strike him down.’ Since Luke does not know about this Jedi power yet, he is incredibly distraught. Darth Vader is also perplexed as he pokes the cloak with his foot. Neither Vader nor Luke has mastered the Force well enough at this point to understand what has happened.
A slight variation of this theory is that Ben chooses to enter into death on his own, and he simply times it well with Vader’s attack. Many think this because, in his death scene, Ben vanishes from inside his cloak while Vader is cutting him with his lightsaber. However, in other death scenes by a lightsaber in the Star Wars universe, the person under attack is sliced in half, and even some Jedi’s bodies remain and lie on the ground after death.
So, Obi-Wan may have disappeared before Vader sliced him, thus not giving Vader victory over him, and he still was able to become more powerful.
Obi-Wan Sacrificed Himself for the Light
While each of these theories is possible, Star Wars is all about hope. Rebellions are built on hope, and Episode IV is called A New Hope. Because of this, we can have hope that Obi-Wan’s death had a bigger purpose. Hope is faith in things unseen. Perhaps Obi-Wan had that same hope in his death. He was so in tune with the Force that he knew what would happen upon him being struck down.
With this, Star Wars fans can also have hope that one day only light will prevail for our favorite characters.