Why do Obi-Wan and Darth Vader fight so slowly in A New Hope compared to how they fought in Revenge of the Sith?
There are two ways to answer this question.
The first relates to the effort of movie-making and the era in which a movie is made.
The second is about storytelling.
In terms of moviemaking, Star Wars was filmed & produced in 1976 and featured a finely aged Alec Guinness clashing swords with a muscular man in a big heavy black suit.
No one expected the energetic acrobatics of Errol Flynn or Zorro.
This was a sword fight using ‘light swords’ and on-screen special effects that never ever been done before.
No one knew it was going to be one of the most examined and discussed films in history.
If George Lucas had, he would have made it better. But he didn’t and indeed, he swapped some $ points with Steven Spielberg!
There was simply no way that the sword fight between Darth and Kenobi was going to be as epic as what was eventually realized in Revenge of the Sith.
But in terms of storytelling, this is where things get interesting. What you witnessed was not a sword battle between a Sith Lord and a famous Jedi Knight, it was a conversation (watch it here).
Forget about the stylized fight between the two Jedi in Revenge of the Sith for a moment, what we were presented with was two foes that had fought some 20 years earlier where one left the other for dead.
And now, Vader is one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy.
We now have evidence of this in the ending of Rogue One when he took out the Rebels effortlessly with his saber and using the Force. That final scene of the corridor attack has become a classic Vader moment and it can be used to show that he could move menacingly fast if he wanted.
He could have killed Kenobi in an instant but he chose to play it out a bit, maybe so he could figure out what Obi-Wan was up to (he already had a plan though to let the Millennium Falcon escape).
One could conversely argue that Obi-Wan toys with Vader somewhat as well.
He certainly insults him with his sneering use of the word Darth. This repartee allowed Kenobi to give Luke time and chance to escape the Death Star.
The telling point is not this rope-a-dope of sorts, but Kenobi’s line “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” was important.
We didn’t know how it was important but we were given enough to know that with this knowledge, Kenobi was not afraid to die as he knew his death would be a significant event in addressing the balance of the Force, indeed Yoda had taught him how to become one with the Force.
He knew he was able to help Luke in another, more important way – and that came to be when Luke was doing the trench run on the Death Star and was able to give guidance.
It was a noble sacrifice and it set the path for Luke to become a Jedi and bring down the Emperor (Obi-Wan had no idea Vader was still to actually fulfill The Prophecy).
Blockbusters were now giant spectacles filled with epic action and featured vast amounts of CGI animation.
George Lucas was able to take the current state of CGI and use it to make his duel between two heroes one of the fastest flowing there had ever been.
He needed to as well for it was the climax of the prequel trilogy and the moment everyone had wanted to see since it was learned that Vader fell to the dark side. It had to be epic, anything less would have been a failure.
Extra for experts: Check out this theory about light sabers being used in the Star Wars movies.
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