Unlimited Power

Unpacking the Most Infamous Meme of the Star Wars Prequels

The higher the ground, the better the meme.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Star Wars
Celebrating the Prequels

One of the most famous pieces of geographical strategy from Sun Tzu, everybody’s favorite tactically brilliant Eastern Zhou era military philosopher, was: “When the enemy occupies high ground, do not confront him. If he attacks downhill, do not oppose him.”

Whether mankind collectively appreciates the value of high ground because of Sun Tzu or Revenge of the Sith, however, will remain an eternal question. Writ large, the prequel trilogy has gifted pop culture countless contributions to the library of memes; for every shot, every sequence, every line of dialogue, it seems, there’s an accompanying JPEG or GIF to memorialize each chapter’s minutiae. Obi-Wan Kenobi’s (Ewan McGregor) fateful final warning to his fallen Padawan, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), is arguably the greatest meme of the bunch, not because it honors Sun Tzu’s wisdom, but because it bungles it: “It’s over Anakin! I have the high ground!”

You Go Low, I Go High

What is the reason behind the meme-ification of “I have the high ground”? Maybe it’s the clunky delivery, maybe it’s the stilted dialogue. But whatever the case, the meme has transcended its notoriety and come back around to being beloved.


Taken literally, and solely in the action’s context, Obi-Wan’s words make sense. Beyond that, they’re baffling. As a coveted military advantage, high ground gives a mild edge at best to a couple of telekinetic space wizards capable of displays of physical prowess Sun Tzu never could have dreamed of. And while we’re at it, didn’t Darth Maul have the high ground in his confrontation with Obi-Wan at the end of The Phantom Menace but wind up with his torso far away from his legs anyways? (One theory supposes that Obi-Wan intended a subtle reference to Maul’s bisection, as if to goad Anakin into attacking him; it’s a compelling thought, but your mileage may vary.)

Revenge of the Sith forgets to play by the series’ own rules. Instead, it takes the easiest, laziest, fastest way to a conclusion. There’s no emotional payoff to Obi-Wan capitalizing on his high ground. There’s only accidental humor. But the legacy of the prequel trilogy, apart from perhaps leaving the door open just enough for future, broadly better, Star Wars projects to come to fruition, is accidental humor, expressed through thudding, tell-don’t-show writing; the involuntary punchlines feel baked in, as if Lucas put them there for his audience to find and use as captions for JPEGs and GIFs.

An Alternate (Less Meme-able) Ending

You underestimate the power of an inside joke.


But the final lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, prior to their reunion in A New Hope, didn’t have to end on a non sequitur over combat positioning. Nick Gillard, the stunt coordinator for the whole prequel trilogy, had a far stronger resolution in mind: With Obi-Wan prone and Anakin assured of victory, before the former juked the latter with a cool-sounding defensive maneuver resulting in the same series of amputations. Even the final exchange between them, the way Gillard described it to IGN in a 2020 interview, reads better: “I’m sorry it has to be this way, my master.”

We’d all be sorry, too, if not for the unintended endurance of the “high ground” line, which, again according to Gillard in his conversation with IGN, may not have been that unintended. Gillard and Christensen went to the same restaurant together for dinner every night while shooting in Australia; Gillard preferred walking the steep bank to get there faster, and apparently Christensen can’t handle an incline. “I have the high ground,” then, reads like an inside joke, a friendly bit of ribbing between the stuntman and the actor, which is cute and amusing as behind the scenes material, but not as a capper for the character arcs of two lead characters in a global franchise juggernaut like Star Wars.

Still: Where would we be without that venerated joke? Try imagining the Internet without the “For the Better, Right?” template or without the prequels, period. Try imagining popular culture writ large without them.

It’s not as if Revenge of the Sith would be a drastically better movie if George Lucas chose to run with Gillard’s vision instead of making things worse by sticking with his own. The main draw — the corruption of Anakin into Vader — is handled with lethargy rather than urgency; the dialogue both overdeclares and underserves the plot at the same time, leaving zero doubt over the subtext while simplifying it to an insulting extent.

Lucas, of course, isn’t a delicate filmmaker, much less a subtle one. But as Revenge of the Sith makes up for the prequels’ past sins — the craftsmanship, right down to the color palette and lighting, is a vast improvement — it commits a few of its own. Taking the high ground is one of them.

This article is part of the “Celebrating the Prequels” series, a two-weeklong series of articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace.

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