During their final duel on the Death Star, why could Obi-Wan not sense the good in Darth Vader, the way Luke later did?

In Episode 6, Luke says to Vader:

I can feel the good in you.

Luke's senses were not as deep as Obi-Wan's, who had years of training and knew Anakin inside and out. So he should have sensed less.

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    I suspect that Obi-wan is somewhat distracted by the fact that his surrogate son has just murdered everyone he ever cared about along with rooms filled with children.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:46
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    when obi won fights vader in episode 3, vader is at the pinnacle of his darkness, when he fights vader in 4 vader doesn't know his kids are alive still. by the time luke fights him in episode 6, hes starting to have feelings towards his children and has the emperor trying to "hurt" them specifically which is re-awaking his humanity.
    – Himarm
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:48
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    I seem to recall Obi-Wan not being particularly good with the Living Force.
    – phantom42
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:57
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    @Himarm I suspect you can dig up some supporting dialog and turn that into an answer
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 20:01
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    I'm not so sure especially with all the prophecies and even force/luck jarjar around.Also she said exactly the same words with the same pronouncation as luke a few decades later so I take it it was a hint/premonition at episode 6 and thus a bit more than just wishful thinking
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 21:03

3 Answers 3

  1. Luke is more powerful than Obi-Wan. Both Vader ("The Force is strong with this one" from Ep. IV) and Emperor ("The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi" from Ep. V; and "you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the Dark Side of the Force" from Ep. VI) acknowledge it.

    In Legends canon, Luke explicitly is noted to have the same super-high Midichlorian count as Anakin, meaning he's stronger in the Force than Obi-Wan

  2. Obi-Wan especially isn't good at "minding the Living Force", as Qui-Gon noted in Episode 1.

  3. Luke has familial relationship with Vader, which probably helps attune their feelings and force connections to each other. Not 100% certain from canon, but can be inferred from, for example, Leia also sensing Luke's distress when saving him in Cloud City at the end of Episode V.

    Similarly, Vader can sense Luke's presence even when the Emperor cannot in Episode VI:

    Darth Vader: My son is with them.
    The Emperor: Are you sure?
    Darth Vader: I have felt him, my master.
    The Emperor: Strange that I have not. I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader.

  4. Luke is inherently compassionate in general (and this especially intertwines with Vader being his father) - which is in contrast with Jedi (like Obi-Wan) who are trained NOT to emotionally entangle themselves since a very young age:

    Darth Vader: He will come to me?
    The Emperor: I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you and then you will bring him before me.
    Darth Vader: As you wish.

  5. Obi-Wan is prejudiced against Anakin - this was the man who was his friend and "The Chosen One", who betrayed both their friendship and entire Jedi Order and entire Republic - and murdered a Temple full of Jedi younglings. Luke didn't have that coloring his feelings. (H/t for @Thomas noted in the comments)

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    I think #3 is the most convincing answer, and the benefit of the familial relationship between Vader and Luke is explicit when Vader senses Luke on the forest moon of Endor but the Emperor does not.
    – Null
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 16:33
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    I'm not sure if I buy your first two points. Both Vader and Palpatine say that Luke is strong with the Force, but they make no comparison to Obi-Wan, and don't Midichlorian counts indicate potential, not ability? Secondly, Obi-Wan in TPM is very different from Obi-Wan in ANH.
    – KSmarts
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:09
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    @DVK Well, that raises the question of whether Obi-Wan ever intended to win that fight, which is, AFAIK, a matter of interpretation. I hold that he did not, so that is not a valid comparison, but that may be getting into opinion-based discussion.
    – KSmarts
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:18
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    @KSmarts - "Escape is not his plan" - said the guy whose PREVIOUS tactical assessment of Obi-Wan was "Hey I'll rush a guy standing on the high ground over lava". Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 17:19
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    In addition to the points one thing is also the case: Obiwan has prejudice against anakin after the betrayal while luke does not have it and padme she was still in love with anakin. As it was often noted by yoda,.... even in the films emotions especially strong or dark ones can cloud ones perception even through the force
    – Thomas
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 19:21

My first instinct would be to say that Darth Vader had compassion for Luke, because Luke was his son, and not for Obi Wan (who was his enemy), and so Luke was able to pick up on that. Also, Darth Vader may have been "softened" by Luke's attempts to reach out to him, and this may have made his feelings come more to the surface.

I also think #3 is a strong possibility. Luke had a connection with Laia because she was his sister (after Darth Vader cuts his hand off, he reaches out to her telepathically.)

  • This is my thought as well. Anakin has feelings for Luke and did not want to destroy him. Luke picks up on this and senses the "good in him". However Anakin hates Obi-Wan and has no good feelings at all for him when he encounters OBi-Wan on the Death Star.
    – Mykewlname
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 15:01

"I hate to be the only non-scientist to point this out but..." It was simply because Anakin is Luke's Father, and Luke is his son. "The Force is strong with this one."

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    Welcome to Science Fiction and Fantasy SE, are those quotes from the screenplay or film? Do you have any other evidence to suggest that it is "Simply because they're related"?
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 14:45

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