There’s this scene in the A New Hope radio drama that went hand in hand with something I’d been yelling about for awhile–the connection between these two important lightsaber battles in the OT.
In the first one, it’s Obi-Wan and Darth Vader meeting again on the Death Star, as Luke watches. He’s devastated when Vader kills Obi-Wan, who stands back and leaves the choice in Vader’s hands, which leads to the aftermath of Luke’s pain because he’d only just started learning to be a Jedi, then he’d had that ripped away from him, too.
In the movie, there’s only a brief moment of comfort, but the radio drama expands on it in a really organic way:
LUKE: “He just… stood there, Leia. Just stood there and let himself be cut down.”
LEIA: “Oh, Luke….”
LUKE: “Why wouldn’t he defend himself?”
LEIA: “I can’t explain it to you, Luke. The Jedi lead their lives according to what they believe the Force demands of them. It’s not always something the rest of us can understand.”
This is the very first time Luke has seen an actual fight with a Jedi against a Sith Lord. At the time, he doesn’t understand why Obi-Wan didn’t defend himself, and Leia can’t explain it, either, only that Jedi follow what the Force demands of them, that it’s not something a non-Jedi can always understand.
Time marches forward, of course, Luke trains on Dagobah with Yoda, he learns the ways of the Jedi, ultimately bringing him to a confrontation with Vader and the Emperor. As I’ve dragged those quotes out many time, the purpose behind Obi-Wan and Yoda’s training wasn’t that Luke was meant to go out and kill Vader, but that he had to be prepared for the possibility that Vader would try to kill him and that there may not be another way to stop him.
Even on the Death Star, Obi-Wan offered Vader the choice. He stepped back. He didn’t defend himself. He warned Anakin that, if he did this, Obi-Wan would become more powerful than he could imagine. Vader still struck him down. That is what Obi-Wan and Yoda were warning Luke about, that there was the possibility of this.
Luke, when the critical moment comes, throws away his saber not because action isn’t the answer, but because the moment was about falling to the dark side. Because he attacked Vader viciously, he was hacking away at Vader’s arm, his anger was being stirred up by the Emperor, by the threat to Leia, and Luke genuinely struggled with those things.
He looks down at his hands, the ones that have just cut off Vader’s arm and the ones that were used in such anger. And THAT is when he throws his lightsaber away, THAT is when he decides he must be a Jedi. To reject the dark side, not the lightsaber. (Otherwise, why would he have kept his lightsaber at all?)
Just like Obi-Wan showed him all those years ago when he too stepped back and left the choice in Vader’s hands.
It’s not about throwing the weapon away because weapons are bad or that you should never fight (the whole Rebellion storyline would contradict that notion, if nothing else!), it’s about acknowledging the anger within himself and refusing to seize on it. It’s about giving the choice to someone when the time is right. Lightsabers are not inherently bad, otherwise kyber crystals would never call out in song to the Jedi they’re meant for. Defending yourself and protecting others with a lightsaber is not inherently bad, the movies are full of moments that are purely heroic in their use. It’s about the individual moments and the individual choices.
And Luke learned that from Obi-Wan.
Not because he rejected the Jedi’s idea of what it means to be a Jedi, but because he stayed true to what Obi-Wan–a Jedi of the Jedi Order down to his very bones–showed him in that very first duel on the Death Star.
Luke’s idea of what a Jedi is comes from Obi-Wan and Yoda, two of the people most true to the Jedi Order of the prequels. And when he throws aside his weapon to show that he’s refusing to let the dark side grab hold of him, he’s following in their footsteps, the same footsteps his father once walked with Obi-Wan and Yoda. He is a Jedi like his father. And Luke’s idea of what that means is Obi-Wan and Yoda.
That’s why the circle of these movies works so well even on their own–these two battles are bookends to each other, the first and the last we see in the trilogy itself.
When Luke refuses to keep striking at Vader on the second Death Star, it’s not a rejection of them, but an embracing of how he finally gets why a Jedi might not defend themselves, just as Obi-Wan didn’t defend himself on the first Death Star.