“I’m really ahead of him.” In Attack of the Clones, Anakin Skywalker makes this casual boast about his master to Padmé Amidala and later, claims “It’s all Obi-Wan’s fault! He’s jealous! He’s holding me back!” Funnily enough, until now, we’ve never known specifically why Anakin said this. But now, thanks to a flashback in Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 5, everything makes sense. Here’s why.
Obi-Wans’ Anakin Skywalker flashback, explained
Episode 5 of Obi-Wan Kenobi begins with a cold open between Anakin and Obi-Wan sparring on Coruscant. When does this take place? Well, because Anakin is sporting his Padawan braid, and Obi-Wan and Anakin are still rocking their pre-Revenge of the Sith lightsabers, we can place this flashback sometime before the events of Attack of the Clones, and well before The Clone Wars.
Lightsaber continuity in Star Wars
One fun detail in this flashback: The lightsaber canon is very on point.
In Attack of the Clones, Anakin began with a unique blue-bladed lightsaber — not the more famous one that was later passed to Luke, and then Rey. This saber is different than his more famous one and actually has a hilt a bit closer to Darth Vader’s. This scene in Obi-Wan Kenobi is now, chronologically, the earliest onscreen appearance of that very specific saber!
Obi-Wan is also rocking his second saber, which looks very similar to his first one from The Phantom Menace. Again, this is not Obi-Wan’s more famous saber from Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and A New Hope. Like Anakin, Obi-Wan loses this saber during the events of Attack of the Clones, and both Jedi swing loaner lightsabers (not these ones!) in the final duel with Count Dooku at the end of Attack of the Clones.
The larger point: This flashback is very detailed, and could easily be watched in isolation before Attack of the Clones, which would give that film an entirely new spin. Speaking of which...
Why Obi-Wan held Anakin back
In Attack of the Clones, Anakin is not a Jedi Knight, he’s roughly 19 years old and still a Jedi Padawan. Now, in fairness, Obi-Wan Kenobi was still a Padawan at roughly 25 years old in The Phantom Menace, but Anakin feels like he’s not getting advanced to knighthood is a specific decision, and that Obi-Wan is “holding me back.” He tells Padmé, “I’m ready for the trials,” meaning the Jedi trials that prove you’re actually a Jedi Knight.
Presumably, Anakin demonstrated more power and ability than almost any other Jedi in history, so Obi-Wan choosing to hold him back is notable. In Attack of the Clones, we take Anakin’s angst and anger with Obi-Wan as given. But, in Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 5, we see Obi-Wan’s side of it. In the flashback which punctuates the entire episode, all the reasons for Anakin being “held back” become crystal clear.
During a furious practice duel, Obi-Wan says, “Your need for victory Anakin, it blinds you.” And then, in the final denouement of this flashback, Obi-Wan says, “You’re a great warrior Anakin, but your need to prove yourself is your undoing. Until you overcome it, a Padwan you will still be.”
Not only does this explain Anakin’s anger in Attack of the Clones, but it also extends to how we can think about Vader’s character in general. Even in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Ben is treating Vader like a Padawan, which is also the case in A New Hope. During Vader and Kenobi’s final battle, Anakin is desperate to prove that “I am the master now.”
Throughout Obi-Wan Kenobi, the specific physical danger for Ben and Vader is pretty nonexistent. We know how things end up for these two. But this flashback proves the series is playing a very different emotional game. Against all reason, Obi-Wan Kenobi has managed to deliver what would seem impossible: give a new dimension to the tragedy of Darth Vader by drawing this dark alter ego closer to the person he once was — Anakin Skywalker.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is streaming now on Disney+.