Excuse me, master! As previously reported, the most tantalizing questions about the upcoming Star Wars series — Obi-Wan Kenobi — might have more to do with Anakin Skywalker than ostensibly about his master.
Recently, leaked images have given us an idea of how Anakin’s dadbod becomes Darth Vader, but now there’s a new wrinkle. Another filming leak could suggest that Obi-Wan Kenobi will directly address the oldest Darth Vader question ever — why exactly did Vader need that suit? Wild speculation ahead.
Darth Vader’s bacta tank, explained
As revealed in leaked concept art and one possible set-image from Obi-Wan Kenobi, it appears Anakin Skywalker will once again have his body submerged in a bacta tank. In canon, this idea dovetails with our first glimpse of Darth Vader in Rogue One. In that film, when Orsen Krennic (portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn) sees Vader in his castle on Mustafar, one of the Dark Lord’s servants enters a room containing a bacta tank.
When Rogue One was released, director Gareth Edwards said depicting Vader in the bacta tank was a choice designed to “show some humanity” underneath the armor. But, Edwards also pointed out that the healing power of bacta would be useful to Vader because of the pain caused by his burns and scars. Again, in 2016, Edwards said: “He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable.”
Rogue One takes place in roughly 0 BBY, meaning it happens in the same year as the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope. Because the timeline of Obi-Wan Kenobi is roughly ten years after Revenge of the Sith (19 BBY), this means the upcoming series takes place somewhere around 10 or 9 BBY. In other words, about a decade before we see Anakin in Rogue One, he could have already been using a bacta tank.
In Rogue One, the thinking is that the healing bacta mitigates the pain Anakin experiences from his lightsaber wounds inflicted by Obi-Wan. But is that the only reason? Has Anakin simply been using a bacta tank for pain relief for 19 years? Maybe there’s more to it than that.
The Darth Vader bacta mystery
Here’s the weird thing with bacta in the Star Wars universe: In theory, it's this miraculous substance that can actually heal wounds completely.
While it seems unreasonable that bacta could regrow one of Vader’s severed limbs, it does feel strange that this special goo can’t do anything for Vader’s burns and scars. In fact, the entire reason that Luke was submerged in bacta in The Empire Strikes Back was to help out with the wounds inflicted by the Wampa. According to the canon entry for bacta on Wookieepedia: “Bacta was a thick, gelatinous substance with seemingly magical healing properties. It helped the body regrow tissue, including nerves, skin, and muscles.”
So, if bacta had the ability to regrow tissue, including nerves, skin, and muscles, why didn’t that work on Anakin? In fairness, this question might scan as Star Wars nitpicking, something we probably shouldn’t think about too hard or it ruins the story.
Then again, it seems possible that the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series may address the question directly. According to The Bespin Bulletin, scenes for the new Star Wars series were recently filmed in a large college swimming pool. Now, this might be a big leap (or a deep dive?), but what if Obi-Wan Kenobi depicts Anakin literally swimming in bacta?
Think about it. By bringing back Hayden Christensen as Anakin/Vader, the new series has to be giving us something new about that character's journey. Presumably, Anakin wouldn't necessarily want to have the physical limitations created by that fateful lightsaber duel, so it stands to reason he’d do anything and everything to reverse some of those effects. Hence, a ton of bacta.
If all of this is true, then the biggest mystery in Darth Vader’s story isn’t how he became Darth Vader but why he remained in that suit. In other words, Obi-Wan Kenobi could give us the answer to a Vader question hiding in plain sight: If Anakin has a bacta tank, why didn’t it work?
Obi-Wan Kenobi is expected to debut sometime in 2022 on Disney+.