How did Obi-Wan know what Vader looked like before he confronted him? "He is more machine now than man"

  • .....? Kenobi says this in Episode VI, after he has revealed to Luke that Vader and Anakin are one in the same (rather than the lie...omission...that Kenobi initially led Luke to believe that Vader was a different person from Luke's father). At this point, we know that Kenobi did indeed know Anakin prior to becoming Darth Vader. In the original trilogy, we are not given any indication that Kenobi and Vader haven't met previously before their battle in EpIV - just that Vader had been waiting a long time for the meeting – NKCampbell Sep 24 at 19:43
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    I guess the counter question is why would a Jedi Master need puny visual sight to recognize and identify arguably the most powerful Force user in the known universe? – corsiKa Sep 24 at 22:20
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    @NKCampbell in fact, Vader in Ep IV mentions Obi-Wan as "my old master", and taunts him about how the tables had turned since their last encounter "...I was but the learner...now I am the master". Clearly it was intended to be obvious that Vader and Obi-Wan had known each other. – Robert Columbia Sep 25 at 0:35
  • @corsiKa Especially since Kanan (? the one from Rebels) is canon, a blind jedi who has no problem identifying the people around him. – kevin Sep 26 at 13:14

Because Vader was a well-known individual in the Empire.

Vader quickly became a highly visible symbol of the Empire, serving as Palpatine’s fearsome enforcer. He hunted down fugitive Jedi who had escaped Order 66, as well as ferreting out enemies both within and without.
Darth Vader - Databank

(emphasis mine)

And if you are wondering how Kenobi knew Darth Vader was Anakin Skywalker, he saw it in the temple hologram.

OBI-WAN moves to a panel and flips some switches. He sees a HOLOGRAM of ANAKIN slaughtering JEDI, including the YOUNG ONES. OBI-WAN and YODA react.

OBI-WAN: (continuing) It can't be . . . It can't be . . .

As ANAKIN surveys the carnage, a DARK-ROBED SITH LORD enters. ANAKIN turns to DARTH SIDIOUS and kneels before him.

ANAKIN: The traitors have been taken care of, Lord Sidious.

DARTH SlDIOUS: Good . . . good . . . You have done well, my new apprentice. Do you feel your power growing?

ANAKIN: Yes, My Master.

DARTH SlDIOUS: Now, Lord Vader, now go and bring peace to the Empire.

OBI-WAN watches in horror. Tears well up in his eyes.

OBI-WAN: I can't watch any more.

OBI-WAN switches off the hologram. The TWO JEDI stand in silence for a few moments.

YODA: Destroy the Sith, we must.

OBI-WAN: Send me to kill the Emperor. I will not kill Anakin.

YODA: To fight this Lord Sidious, strong enough, you are not.

OBI-WAN: He is like my brother ... I cannot do it.

YODA: Twisted by the dark side, young Skywalker has become. The boy you trained, gone he is . . . Consumed by Darth Vader.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

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    is that Jedi Temple scene a deleted scene? I don't remember it at all – Ivo Beckers Sep 25 at 10:42
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    I don't know why you included that last part. Obi-wan didn't have to see a hologram, he saw Anakin/Darth Vader himself on Mustafar in Ep III, after the hologram incident. After all, it was Obi-wan that gave him a good reason to wear the famous breathing mask. – kingledion Sep 25 at 12:16
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    @kingledion I think that was more a reference to how Obi-Wan knew that his name was Darth Vader. – GamerGypps Sep 25 at 12:27
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    Complete aside: Yoda's last line also provides a reason why Obi Wan would consider Anakin to be dead. It was suggested from a trusted source, and it was necessary for him to internalize that belief to be able to defeat him. – jpmc26 Sep 25 at 17:57
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    @IvoBeckers That scene appeared in the movie, around 1h37m. It's right in between Palpatine's speech to the Senate and the big fight on Mustafar. – duskwuff Sep 25 at 22:08

First, Obi Wan knew Vader was Anakin. As this question points out, he saw Palapatine address Anakin as "Vader" in a security hologram at the Jedi temple during the events of Revenge of the Sith.

Second, from this question, it was apparently common rumor that Vader was part machine:

It was that genuflecting obedience, the steadfast devotion to execute whatever task the Emperor assigned, that had given rise to so many rumors about Vader: that he was a counterpart to the Confederacy’s General Grievous the Emperor had been holding in reserve; that he was an augmented human or near-human

Star Wars: Tarkin.

So even without considering Obi Wan's well developed force powers, it could be a reasonable statement to make.

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    Book page references aren't much use unless someone's got the same edition as you... – Valorum Sep 24 at 20:19
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    @Valorum Fair enough. I approve of your edit. – Harabeck Sep 24 at 20:20

Vader is a famous figure in the Empire. Although Obi-Wan is described as living as a hermit, he would have needed to keep some tabs on local Empire propaganda to help him stay hidden. It is likely that almost everyone in Imperial territory knew what Darth Vader looks like (with his armor on, at least). Obi-Wan would know that much too.

Obi-Wan is probably just guessing about Vader's cybernetic enhancements, but he has good reason to make the assumptions he does, because unlike most people, Obi-Wan knows the extent of Anakin's injuries. Vader lost most of his limbs on Mustafar, yet he is seen walking and using hands. Anyone who hears Vader speak knows he has a breathing apparatus, but most people probably think this is just part of the armor's function as a space suit. Obi-Wan, though, knows where and how Anakin's lungs could have been damaged. Given the medical technology of the series, it would have been safe for Obi-Wan to assume that Vader's limbs and lungs are cybernetic, because he just plain wouldn't have them otherwise.

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    Not to mention the arm Anakin lost to Dooku in Attack of the Clones. – Davidw Sep 26 at 4:05
  • How were his lungs damaged? – vikingsteve Sep 26 at 11:12
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    @vikingsteve him being half dead near flowing lava ought to do it. – 0xFF Sep 26 at 14:11
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    @user151841 well I mean, between the high temperature and the toxic gases that usually comes with lava, it seems pretty logical he'd get lung damage. The bigger question is how they had no trouble being there but I'll assume the Force takes care of it, and once he lost 3 members he wasn't exactly in a state to actively maintain that protection... – 0xFF Sep 26 at 17:49
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    @vikingsteve The junior novelization of Revenge of the Sith mentions that his lungs were seared by super-heated air as he was burning on Mustafar. I can't believe I managed to pull that out of my memory after 10+ years. – Kimberly W Sep 26 at 21:00

As others have stated, surely there was Imperial propaganda that depicted Vaders image. However it doesn't matter what Vader looked like in order for Obi-Wan to know him. Obi-Wan and Vader sensed each other's presence on the Death Star before they met face to face. Obi-Wan could have been wearing a snowman suit and Vader dressed as a toaster and they both would have known each other. This was, after all, master and apprentice who spent years training and fighting together in the clone wars.

Obi-Wan also knows that Vader at that point has lost an arm and two legs from his battles, so in order for him to be still around he would have to be "more machine than man" now.

When Obi-Wan sees Vader he is standing in the corridor with his lightsaber ignited, and then walks up to Obi-Wan and starts talking.
How many Dark lords of the Sith would be walking around on the Death Star waiting for him?
Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader

Vader hadn't seen Obi-Wan in years either. The last time he had seen his former master he looked like Ewan McGregor. Going by sight alone he would have been forgiven for failing to recognise him as the ageing Alec Guinness. But of course Vader sensed his old master was in the vicinity long before he encountered him face to helmet. If Vader could sense Obi-Wan's presence by the force alone, logically Obi-Wan could sense Vader/Anakin too.

Obi-Wan himself explained that the force "surrounds" and "penetrates" all living things. If that is the case it is also logical that those who are sensitive to the force can sense both the outer appearance of another living thing as well as their inner person. Obi-Wan could have therefore sensed that Anakin was "more machine than man" based on how the force surrounded and penetrated his remaining living tissue.

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