Anakin Skywalker represents the central hero and demon in the Star Wars saga, and his son Luke Skywalker represents redemption. But we also can’t overlook the persistent heroism shown by Obiwan Kenobi.
He’s one of the more familiar Star Wars characters. In the release of the Special Edition version of A New Hope original films in 1997, the crowd cheered when he appeared.
When I first saw Star Wars, Obiwan Kenobi was a wise old man who had special magic powers and insights. But we really didn’t get an impression of his heroism. We never saw him in action. We knew he fought in the Clone Wars alongside Princess Leia’s father. We also knew his love of Anakin Skywalker (which he never forgot about). But it’s hard to connect emotionally only by being told that he’s a great man.
If there’s one thing that the Prequels accomplished, it was to articulate Kenobi’s heroism in a very real way. For the most part, the prequel movies were based off of Kenobi’s dialog from the Original trilogy. His words really defined this era (and frankly of Star Wars in general). It’s an era where he came of age and thrived.
After the Prequels and especially after The Clone Wars, we know so much more about him as a character. Throughout his adventures he remains true to his values and continually showed courage in the face of fear and uncertainty.
Some of my favorite Kenobi hero moments (films only – The Clone Wars has too many to list):
- “Killing” Darth Maul (EpI)
- Fighting Jango Fett (though I think he should have won that fight) (EpII)
- Surviving Order 66 (EpIII)
- Killing General Grievous (EpIII)
- Defeating (young) Vader (EpIII)
- Saving Luke’s Life in the Cantina (EpIV)
- Help guide Luke in the afterlife (Ep IV, V, VI)
That’s a pretty good rap sheet, especially considering what happened to (almost) all the other Jedi. But it’s also clear that much of his heroics came in the prequels. It’s also, frankly, why the prequels are tolerable.
The Clone Wars were particularly insightful to his character as he was able to preserve his perspective that the Challenges of the War have clouded the Jedi’s ability to see The Force. Perhaps the most obvious being the council’s treating of Ahsoka Tano at the end of Season 5.
Star Wars is a bit of a strange and unique saga in it has often been told after the fact. The Prequels were told after the Original Trilogy; The Clone Wars the series aired after Episode III, but takes place prior to it. The same is true with Rebels and Episode IV. So in many cases, we know what happens later which effects what we think about now.
The beauty of being in this prequel-space (I’ll coin that term) is that it allows us to see something that helps us feel better about the story that we’ve already seen in a way that wasn’t intended in its original creation. Star Wars has really set the standard for this type of story telling. Kenobi is really the main beneficiary of this – second only to Vader/ Anakin. (Frankly, it’s arguable that the prequels shouldn’t have centered on Kenobi and had Anakin as a supporting character where the audience views Anakin’s downfall through the eyes of Kenobi. That would be consistent with the perspective offered in A New Hope).
I grew up watching the Original trilogy and to this day it still defines Star Wars for me. But they’re also as old as I am. And they’re set in stone. But these new creations (Prequels, Clone Wars, hopefully Rebels), it allows me to feel differently when re-watching the Originals. In watching A New Hope, there’s far more familiarity with Kenobi and a deeper appreciation and affection. He seems exponentially more heroic and familiar in a way that I didn’t feel before.
Kenobi really defines the Jedi order (though Yoda defines Jedi Wisdom) through his actions. He is also the benchmark through which we look at other characters such as Luke Skywalker and even Kanan Jarrus. He’s really an integral part of the Star Wars Saga as much as Anakin/Luke, but doesn’t really get (in my opinion) the accolades befitting of the character.