Dec 21, 2016

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Real Hero of Star Wars

Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Real Hero of Star Wars
Ben Smith

When I was a kid, Obi-Wan was the old man of the Star Wars crew, the wise mentor figure.  He fulfilled the role of the wizard originally, when George Lucas was first constructing his story using iconic heroic archetypes.   Luke Skywalker was the interesting young Jedi in training, while Kenobi was just the old man that taught him (briefly) about the ways of the force, and kind of sucked at fighting with his light saber.  Like Kevin Smith once said (paraphrasing) “he may have been the least played with action figure in your collection, but Obi-Wan was absolutely essential.”

When you’re a kid (or at least when I was a kid) you never really intellectualize that old people were once young, and may have even been badasses.  Even though he has lines about being a Jedi and fighting in the Clone Wars in that original movie, I’m pretty sure I never paid attention to those parts until I saw the Special Edition rerelease on the big screen in 1997 (give or take).

Then along comes the prequels.  Those movies may have a lot of problems, but Ewan MacGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is not one of them.  (It’s perplexing how such objectively terrible movies have so many great individual characters.)  Obi-Wan’s mesmerizing light saber battle with Darth Maul at the end of The Phantom Menace, is the primary reason I went to see that movie 3 times in the theaters, despite all the Jar-Jar-ness that came along with it.  (Personal note, I was in technical training as a newly enlisted member in the military, so it took quite a bit of effort, and cab money, for me to get out and see that movie.  Yet, the Matrix completely stole its thunder that summer, deservedly.)  Never had we seen anything close to that level of fighting skill in the original trilogy.  I remember Lucas saying when that movie came out, that in the original movies you have basically an old man, a man in a giant robot suit, and a largely untrained boy that use light sabers.  He really wanted to highlight how amazing a fully trained Jedi was in the time of the Republic, and he succeeded completely.

Over the course of the prequel trilogy, while Anakin manages to become increasingly more whiny (not helped by Hayden Christensen’s terrible delivery of those, to be fair, awful lines) Obi-Wan Kenobi is always there to be a shining beacon of pure undiluted heroism.
Here’s a brief rundown of Kenobi’s biggest feats:

  • As a Padawan, he fights and defeats Darth Maul, a Sith Lord
  • Singlehandedly takes on an entire droid army, and kills General Grievous
  • Fights and defeats a Dark Side enhanced Anakin Skywalker

In all fairness, the primary burden of the narrative for this type of story falls upon the central character.  Anakin and Luke, in the case of both trilogies.  They have to learn and grow and train, and often times are depicted to be, frankly, annoying.  (This is one of my last favorite approaches in fiction.  It may be accurate or realistic for young characters to make bad decisions and generally be annoying, but it doesn’t make it entertaining.  In the case of Anakin, I think it was a major mistake.)  Meanwhile, there’s a sidekick or partner like Han Solo with all the swagger and great lines.  No burden falls on their narrative.  That might not entirely be an equal comparison for Kenobi in the prequel trilogy, but while Anakin has to bear the burden of his destiny as the chosen one, Obi-Wan can focus purely on being the least conflicted, most genuinely noble character in the entire franchise.  Never once does he do anything that benefits solely himself.

In every movie, Obi-Wan meets every challenge head-on, without reservation, without complaint.  He may not succeed every time (Count Dooku being his biggest Achilles heel) but he comes very close.  Even in Revenge of the Sith, during the climactic battle to try and salvage what they can of the Jedi order and save the galaxy, Obi-Wan succeeds in beating Anakin, while Yoda fails against the Emperor.

Obi-Wan had trained Anakin since childhood, and considered him his closest friend and ally, a brother even.  I cannot imagine how much his betrayal must have hurt, but despite all that, Kenobi still volunteers to watch over Anakin’s secret son Luke.  Basically sacrificing what remained of the rest of his life to ensure the safety of the child of the man that would eventually kill him.  All he gets in return for this sacrifice, is a life of solitude in the desert, and an all-too brief relationship with Luke, before Darth Vader finishes the job.  Still, undeterred, Kenobi returns as a Force ghost, to continue to mentor Luke so that through him, he might get final redemption for his friend Anakin, along with redeeming the entire Jedi order, and saving the galaxy.    

In life, and in death, Obi-Wan Kenobi only ever thought about what was best for others.  He was the best Jedi, and the best person.  Here’s hoping we get to see more of him on the big screen one day.

1 comment:

Gustavo said...

I'll never accept that after defeating Vader in Epi. 3, Obi Wan just couldn't find it in himself any mercy, any friendship, any love, well, any THING to end the agony of his former padawan. He left a guy he helped raise to burn to his death... After having severed his three remaining natural limbs!

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