The relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin has always been caustic. The former was thrust into the role of master from a deathbed promise made to his own. With it came a sense of duty and purpose, tying together forever the fate of teacher and student.
Despite Obi-Wan’s clear fondness for Anakin, and the latter looking up to his master, it becomes clear that they see one another in entirely different lights. Obi-Wan thinks of Anakin as a brother, while Anakin sees his master as being more like a father; a replacement for the one he never had.
Anakin went without a male role model for much of his young life, until meeting Qui-Gon. For the first time the boy had a mentor to look up to, confide in and respect. It made the pain of his loss that much harder to bear, and loss was something that would come to define his life as a Jedi and his journey towards the dark side.
No doubt his saving grace in these early years was the influence of his loving mother, Shmi. A stand-in for the Virgin Mary, Shmi is the very embodiment of innocence. Her pure heart hasn’t been sullied by a life of servitude under the unforgiving suns of Tatooine. The selflessness inherent in her nine-year-old son is a direct result of her presence. When taken away from her, Anakin’s fear, anger, attachment and jealousy bubble up to the surface.
Yet it would be short sighted to ignore Anakin’s need for a father. Like Rey in The Force Awakens, he searches for a paternal figure in the men he meets. With Qui-Gon dead, he turns to his new master, Obi-Wan.
At just 25 in The Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan is still only an apprentice himself, and possesses many of the same attributes he would later chastise Anakin for – being headstrong, impulsive and impertinent. It’s as if by scolding Anakin, he is easing his own past, perhaps to atone for his behaviour under Qui-Gon now that he can now longer apologise.
Having become a Jedi Knight after the apparent death of Darth Maul, Obi-Wan was elevated to master. There was no time to acclimate and he learnt instead by doing. Though unprepared, he did the best he could, and admits that any failings in Anakin’s training are Obi-Wan’s alone. This he confesses to Yoda in the Obi-Wan and Anakin graphic novel. In the same conversation, regarding Anakin’s intention to leave the order, Obi-Wan understands that if his Padawan leaves, then so must he. So inseparable are their fates.
Anakin was by no means an easy Padawan, with his abilities bringing arrogance and ego – traits that should have otherwise been expunged. They catch the Chancellor’s eyes, and so during his training, Anakin becomes fast friends with Palpatine. It’s a toxic, manipulative relationship, to be sure, but one which satisfies Anakin’s need for an older male role model. At last he has the positive reinforcement, encouragement and confidant he craved.
If Palpatine is Anakin’s idealised version of what a father figure should be, then Obi-Wan is the reality. In Attack of the Clones, he reprimands Anakin in public – in front of Padmé, even – embarrassing and belittling him. It only serves to drive a wedge between them, Anakin growing increasingly disdainful of his master, and feeling as though he’s being held back from his potential.
It’s through no fault of Obi-Wan’s own that he can’t reciprocate the way Anakin sees him. The rift between them comes to a head when he cuts him down and leaves him for dead on the ashen shores of Mustafar. Then he uses the past tense – “You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you”.
He seems to ignore Padmé’s last words, that there is still good in Anakin. Later, with Luke, he and Yoda both advocate destroying Vader rather than breaking through to that last kernel of goodness. While we see the Force ghost of Anakin alongside his old master in Return of the Jedi, the audience can only assume that Obi-Wan now forgives and accepts him. Maybe there was some off-screen bickering we weren’t privy to.
By thinking of one another as father and brother respectively, both Anakin and Obi-Wan are guilty of forming attachments that contribute towards the other’s demise. But perhaps also to their salvation. It was love, after all, that saved Anakin and brought him back to the light. Right from their early relationship as master and student, Anakin and Obi-Wan saw each other in different ways. Obi-Wan could never be the strong father figure Anakin needed in the way that Qui-Gon could have been, or that Palpatine professed to be. And Anakin was a brother in as much as there was rivalry and arguments between them. It was doomed from the start, with an end already written across the stars before the saga began.