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This bio of Obi-Wan Kenobi will, I hope, briefly illustrate why he’s my favorite character in the Star Wars universe. He has his flaws, yes, and is ultimately outplayed by the Emperor in the Prequels. However, he is perhaps the galaxy’s sole genuine source of hope, as Leia so famously quotes.
Since the character of Obi-Wan is so widely explored across the films, animated series, books, and now the upcoming Disney+ series, I won’t cover absolutely everything that happens in his life. Don’t worry though, there will soon be a wealth of information about him on this site.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a human Jedi. Born in 57 BBY, he is from the planet Stewjon and was taken from his family to train at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.
Qui-Gon Jinn, a somewhat controversial Jedi, takes Obi-Wan on as his Padawan learner. Jinn teaches him restraint and, crucially, a deep connection to the Force. He also encourages Obi-Wan to disobey Jedi tradition when it’s necessary to do so.
Not long after becoming Qui-Gon’s Padawan, master and apprentice are both involved in protecting Duchess Satine Kryze from assassins on Mandalore. Spending more than a year on the run, Obi-Wan and Satine fall in love, but ultimately both decide to continue on their respective paths in the Jedi Order and politics. Their flirtatious relationship would never cool off.
In 32 BBY, when Obi-Wan is about 25 years old, Supreme Chancellor Valorum sends him and Qui-Gon to negotiate with the Trade Federation, which has imposed a blockade around Naboo. Realizing they have been compromised, Nute Gunray – the leader of the Trade Federation – sends battle droids to execute the two Jedi. They escape and flee to the planet’s surface as part of the vast invasion’s landing force.
Jar Jar Binks leads them through the planet and reaches the Naboo capital of Theed, where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan rescue a few influential politicians, including Queen Amidala and her servants/decoys. They escape in transport and intend to head straight to Coruscant, but the hyperdrive is damaged in the escape, forcing them to head to Tatooine for repairs.
Qui-Gon, a disguised Padme, Jar Jar, and R2-D2 meet Anakin Skywalker, a young slave boy owned by the Toydarian Watto. Skywalker wins a podrace and thus secures replacement hyperdrive parts for Jedi’s ship, as well as his freedom. Darth Maul races out of the desert to confront them as they escape. Although Jinn tires, he gets away, and the ship takes off for Coruscant.
On Coruscant, the Jedi Council refuses to train Anakin, fearing his attachments to his mother and unchecked Dark Side tendencies. Although Qui-Gon is sure that Anakin is the Chosen One, prophesied to bring balance to the Force, the Council won’t change their mind. Jinn defiantly tells them that he will train Anakin, with or without their permission, and that Obi-Wan is ready for the trials. Instead of reaching a definite conclusion, Windu sends Jinn and Kenobi back to Naboo to protect Queen Amidala and bait Maul.
On Naboo, as Queen Amidala and her team break into the palace to capture Nute Gunray, Darth Maul confronts them. The two Jedi stay behind to fight him off, leaving the rest to complete the mission.
After pushing Maul back for some time, the Sith Lord manages to separate them and runs Qui-Gon through with his lightsaber. The older Jedi had begun to tire as Maul stunned him by hitting him in the face with the hilt. Obi-Wan then engages Maul and slices him in half. Just before his master dies, he promises to train Anakin in the ways of the Jedi. Jinn reassures him that he is the Chosen One.
As Obi-Wan takes Skywalker on as his apprentice, he struggles to teach him restraint in the same way his master taught him. He realizes that Anakin sees him as a father figure and forms an attachment similar to that he has with his mother, Shmi.
Once the Clone Wars begin, Anakin is given much more independence. Although he’s still rash and impulsive, Skywalker is given much greater control over his forces through his promotion to Jedi Knight. From this moment, he and Kenobi behave more like brothers.
During the Clone Wars, Anakin is assigned Ahsoka Tano as a Padawan. Obi-Wan ends up acting as her master in many ways, too. He is one of the only Jedi Council members to vote against her expulsion from the Order (the others being Yoda and Plo Koon).
Through this time, Obi-Wan notices Anakin’s struggle with the Dark Side and tries to help him where he can. However, Anakin’s secrets – such as his relationship with Padme and his slaughter of the Tusken Raiders – mean he finds it difficult to trust anyone, even Obi-Wan, and never asks for help directly.
When General Grievous kidnaps the Chancellor, he and Anakin mount a daring rescue attempt, with Skywalker killing Count Dooku in the process.
Later, when Anakin turns to the Dark Side in a manipulated, misguided attempt to save his wife’s life, Obi-Wan is heartbroken. He travels to Mustafar to defeat the newly named Darth Vader. Despite being pushed back by his former apprentice’s relentless power, Kenobi’s wisdom takes the fight. He cuts off Anakin’s limbs but can’t bring himself to murder his unarmed friend, instead leaving him to die in the lava river.
Obi-Wan cries and screams at Anakin before taking his lightsaber and departing to find Bail Organa and Yoda. On Coruscant, Yoda failed to topple Darth Sidious, so the remaining Jedi must go into exile. Obi-Wan takes Anakin’s son, Luke, to Owen Lars, Anakin’s step-brother on Tatooine. Here he remains, keeping watch over the child as he grows into the galaxy’s salvation.
Believing that Anakin’s redemption is impossible, Kenobi concludes that Luke must be the Chosen One rather than Anakin.
In the year 2 BBY, Maul, having survived his injury 30 years prior, tracks Kenobi down. The two face off in a final duel, in which Obi-Wan dispatches his old foe. He holds him in his arms and respectfully burns him on a funeral pyre.
When Luke comes searching for him, now known as Ben Kenobi, he takes the youngster with him as they travel off-world searching for Leia. Onboard the Millenium Falcon, with Han Solo and Chewbacca, the crew runs into the Death Star and are pulled in by a tractor beam. After they land, Han, Chewie, and Luke set off to rescue Princess Organa while Ben sneaks into the reactor core to turn off the tractor beam.
He manages to do this successfully but is confronted by Vader on his way back to the Falcon and allows his former friend to strike him down so that Luke and Leia can escape. His body immediately disappears, frightening Vader as he concludes – rightly – that Obi-Wan has become so powerful with the Force that he’s learned to preserve his consciousness after death.
Throughout the rest of the Original Trilogy, Ben would appear to Luke as a Force Ghost, guiding him through his various trials, temptations, and feelings.
Both Yoda and Obi-Wan kept that Vader was, in fact, Anakin Skywalker, Luke’s father, from the boy, so his judgment wouldn’t be clouded, and he could defeat him in battle. However, Luke learns this for himself and immediately refuses to kill his own father. The two wise Jedi instruct him that he must. Ultimately, Luke proves them both wrong, saving his father and defeating the Emperor in one move.
In this way, Luke Skywalker is the cumulative wisdom of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin embodied in one man.
Although we have yet to see how Obi-Wan’s Force Ghost continues to interact with the new Jedi Order or the Resistance, it’s certainly an avenue that might be explored in the near future. In the meantime, I’m particularly looking forward to the new Disney+ series that is due to air sometime this year (2022).
- Phantom Menace – Obi-Wan is confused why Qui-Gon will not submit to the Jedi Council and become a member. He doesn’t see (until it’s too late) that the Jedi are becoming too politically involved in the Republic, drawn in through the guile of Palpatine.
- Phantom Menace – he meets a young Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine, whose blood he measured as the most Force-sensitive of any Jedi.
- Phantom Menace – after slicing Darth Maul in half, Obi-Wan promises a dying Qui-Gon Jinn that he will train Anakin: the Chosen One. Later, he convinces Yoda to allow him to train Skywalker, and the Jedi Master reluctantly agrees.
- Attack of the Clones: throughout the episode, we catch glimpses of Obi-Wan’s overconfidence. This represents his vague understanding – so far – of the threat of the Sith and how weak the Jedi are becoming. He (along with most of the Jedi) is humbled by Anakin’s attempt to rescue him, the tragedy for the Jedi on Geonosis before the clones arrive, and the disastrous saber fight with Count Dooku.
- Revenge of the Sith: Obi-Wan is now on the Jedi Council. They are all clearly aware of the presence of the Dark Side, clouding their vision and their connection to the Force. Kenobi knows that the Council is beginning to corrupt itself as they blindly trust in their own wisdom. Palpatine is posing a significant threat. On behalf of the Jedi Council, he personally asks Anakin to spy on the Chancellor, his good friend.
- Revenge of the Sith: Kenobi defeats General Grievous in single combat, effectively ending the Clone Wars.
- Revenge of the Sith: just moments later, Darth Sidious gives the order to execute Order 66. Commander Cody, brainwashed by his inhibitor chip, fires on his former general and close friend, believing to have killed him. Obi-Wan survives and sneaks away from Utapau, only to be told by Bail Organa that the same thing has happened across the galaxy.
- Revenge of the Sith: Obi-Wan returns to Coruscant to disable a beacon telling all Jedi to return to the Temple. After killing the clones lying in ambush, he checks a security hologram to see who was responsible for the Temple attack. To his horror, he witnesses Anakin striking down younglings and realizes that Palpatine has turned him to the Dark Side.
- Revenge of the Sith: while Yoda faces Sidious, Obi-Wan fights Anakin – now Darth Vader – on Mustafar, where Anakin has just executed the remaining Separatist leaders. Although Anakin is more powerful, Kenobi uses his wisdom to win the duel, goading his old friend into an impossible move. He can’t bring himself to deliver the finishing blow and leaves Skywalker to die, taking his lightsaber.
- Rebels: Maul tracks down Kenobi on Tatooine, and the two engage in one last duel. As Maul realizes that the Jedi is there to protect someone, Obi-Wan’s stance hardens, and he ignites his lightsaber. The contest is quick, with Maul falling defeated. Kenobi explains that he believes Luke must be the Chosen One as his old enemy passes away in his arms.
- A New Hope: now known as Old Ben, Kenobi has spent the last 19 years watching over Luke Skywalker, keeping him safe. When Luke finds that R2-D2 is looking for him with a message from Leia Organa, he goes to see him. Obi-Wan saves him from aggressive sand people and heals him. At this time, he gives Luke Anakin’s lightsaber.
- A New Hope: after stormtroopers kill his family and burn his farm down, Luke travels towards Alderaan with Kenobi onboard the Millenium Falcon. With Han Solo and Chewbacca piloting them, they run headlong into the Death Star.
- A New Hope: Kenobi turns off the tractor beam, allowing the ship to escape. Vader confronts him as he returns to the hangar, and the two duel. Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to allow the Falcon to escape, his body vanishing.
- A New Hope: as the Rebels mount a last-ditch assault against the Death Star, Old Ben speaks to Luke through the Force. He tells him that the Force is much more accurate than his targeting computer. When Luke listens to him, he hits the exhaust port target and destroys the superweapon.
- The Empire Strikes Back: before the Battle of Hoth, Ben appears to Luke and tells him to head to the Dagobah system to be trained by Yoda.
- The Empire Strikes Back: Kenobi and Yoda warn Luke against traveling to free his friends, explaining that the Emperor wants his abilities and has clearly set a trap. Luke ignores them and is subsequently defeated by Vader, learning that he is his father in the meantime.
- Return of the Jedi: Ben explains that he didn’t tell Luke that Vader was his father so that he would be able to defeat him. Kenobi still clings to the belief that Anakin, his friend, is dead, replaced by the evil Darth. He doesn’t believe Vader can be turned back to the light, but Luke proves him wrong when Anakin kills the Emperor, sacrificing himself in the process.
- The Rise of Skywalker: during Rey’s final push to prevent the Sith from rising again, the voices of Jedi who have become one with the Force encourage her, strengthening her. Obi-Wan is one of these voices, telling Rey, “These are your final steps, Rey. Rise and take them.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi themes
Obi-Wan, Maul, and Qui-Gon
The lightsaber fight with Maul is one of the most satisfyingly well-executed storyline arcs of the entire series.
Obi-Wan fights with the Soresu fighting style focused on defense. Qui-Gon, his former master, used a modified (less acrobatic, due to his age) form of Ataru.
In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul kills Qui-Gon, whose Ataru form wasn’t quick enough to keep up with the Sith Lord. Obi-Wan’s Soresu was enough to defeat his enemy’s spinning red lightsaber tricks, and he cuts him in half.
Maul then spends the next three decades working on ways to exact his revenge on *malicious voice* “Kenobi”. After using Ezra Bridger to make Obi-Wan reveal himself, he confronts his hated opponent one last time at a small fire in the desert.
After threatening Luke, Maul pushes Obi-Wan to ignite his lightsaber and fight him. One of them will die.
Kenobi initially takes his traditional Soresu stance, the form he’s spent his life mastering. This form is, no doubt, what Maul has spent the last thirty years training himself to defeat.
As the two prepare to duel, Obi-Wan switches from Soresu to Qui-Gon Jinn’s Ataru position – the same one his old master (and he) used on Naboo all those years ago. Maul notes the change in his opponent but maintains his position.
Maul attacks, attempting the exact same move that killed Jinn: striking him in the face with his lightsaber hilt. Obi-Wan, though, knows what he was going to do and anticipates this, slashing his lightsaber down through Maul’s double-ended hilt and cutting him through the chest.
Thus, Obi-Wan’s wisdom and Maul’s reassurance in his own power are what decide the outcome. Qui-Gon Jinn is also, in a sense, avenged here.
Obi-Wan, Maul, and Anakin
Obi-Wan defeats Anakin in a similar way to the fight mentioned above with Maul, except it carries an even more significant emotional toll.
Anakin is clearly more powerful than his former master and has been pushing him back mercilessly for the entire duration of the fight. Obi-Wan is just about hanging on when he leaps backward, off the lava river, and claims the “high ground” on the bank. There’s also perhaps an allusion to the moral high ground here – Obi-Wan has stayed true to those he has sworn to protect. In contrast, Anakin has abandoned everything in his quest for the ultimate power.
The exchange of words goes as follows:
“It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground.”
“You underestimate my power!”
“Don’t try it!”
Obi-Wan knows he has Anakin cornered. He can’t jump below him because Kenobi will push him back into the lava. However, Anakin is so obsessed with his own power and how strong he thinks he is by this point that he’s more than willing to try leaping over the top of Obi-Wan.
This is a wonderful nod back to The Phantom Menace. Maul has Obi-Wan cornered, dangling over the planet’s core. He’s so confident in his victory and in his own strength (think back to Anakin) that he takes his time. This allows the young Kenobi the time needed to launch a surprise attack, leaping over the Sith Lord, Force Pulling Jinn’s lightsaber into his hand, and cutting Maul in half.
Here, Anakin feels he can replicate the exact same move, even though Obi-Wan knows it’s coming (“Don’t try it!”). Anakin/Vader attempts to jump over Kenobi, confident that his new Dark Side powers will give him the victory. Obi-Wan, of course, expects it and moves out of the way, ending the fight.
He defeats Anakin, in the same way, he would later defeat Maul – wisdom over talent, restraint over power.
Relationship with Satine Kryze
This topic could be dealt with in much greater detail. For now, I’d just like to compare the relationships between Obi-Wan and Satine with Anakin and Padme.
There are many similarities. Obi-Wan and Anakin are both Jedi. They both have their respective issues with the Jedi Order (although Anakin much more so). Padme and Satine both work in politics during a time of severe unrest (namely, the Clone Wars). Both lose their faith in the Republic Senate and are well aware of its corruption, although it takes Padme much longer to acknowledge.
It’s well-known that relationships are forbidden for Jedi. They are supposed to be compassionate but shun attachment (an issue the entire Star Wars saga deals with overall). Politicians, it seems, were not forbidden from having romantic partners but were often frowned upon for it. Thus, these two romances were always going to be doomed.
Obi-Wan and Satine clearly regret never renouncing their professions and running away together, as they explicitly say to each other. However, the galaxy could have been in a much darker place without them. Anakin and Padme are the opposite here. They marry in secret, meaning they live a double life – not publicly choosing either their Orders or each other. This secrecy eventually leads to Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side.
Satine is killed by Maul to exact revenge on Kenobi, to make him feel pain. Padme is killed by Anakin in a fit of rage when he believes she’s betrayed him to Obi-Wan. Both women, then, fall victim to the evil use of power and unchecked fury. Satine is murdered standing up for what she chooses, with Obi-Wan’s support. In contrast, Padme’s life is taken in tragic circumstances where she loses almost everything.
As the Star Wars saga deals with this theme, Luke Skywalker’s new Jedi Order permits attachment as he comes to understand the deeper meaning of loving each other. If both Obi-Wan and Satine and Anakin and Padme had been alive during this period, they would never have had to hide their feelings. They would have been trained to continue to use the Light Side of the Force to save and protect each other, and Anakin wouldn’t have had reason to fall to evil.
However, to reach this point, both romances had to have been doomed, paving the way for Luke Skywalker to teach the galaxy a better way.
Related Perks, Special abilities
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a master of Soresu, Form III. It is a defensive style of lightsaber combat, relying on efficient movements and subtle dodges to outlast and tire an opponent, cutting them down when they begin making mistakes. This is why Obi-Wan is sent to dispatch with General Grievous and his four lightsaber-wielding hands.
It’s also why Kenobi couldn’t defeat Vader when they met as older men. He could keep his former apprentice at bay still, but Vader attacked more slowly and carefully than Anakin’s wild Ataru form in Revenge of the Sith. Thus, Obi-Wan couldn’t outlast his old apprentice and chose to sacrifice himself instead.
Alongside Soresu, Obi-Wan practiced the offensive strikes from Form I and Ataru (Form IV) to finish off his opponents. However, he would struggle to maintain these skills as he aged.
Obi-Wan wasn’t naturally gifted with the Force. Instead, he had to focus on study and self-discipline, training himself up to have a strong connection with it. In the end, Qui-Gon continued to teach him through the Force while in exile on Tatooine. Here, he learned how to preserve his consciousness after death.
Key relationships and Quotes (character)
- “You don’t want to sell me death sticks… you want to go home and rethink your life.” – a simple, not very disguised message for the world we live in.
- “Another happy landing.” – after crash-landing on Coruscant.
- “So uncivilized.” – on the defeat of General Grievous.
- “I have the high ground.” – as he begs Anakin to surrender.
- “If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.” – to Maul, showing Obi-Wan’s moral superiority over the Sith. Perhaps he could have said these exact words to Anakin, too.
- “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” – to Vader, as Kenobi recognized the importance of training the next generation and that his time had come.
Behind the scenes
He’s portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the Prequel Trilogy (and soon-to-be-released Disney+ series) and Alec McGuinness in the Original Trilogy. James Arnold Taylor voices the character in The Clone Wars series and Stephen Stanton in Rebels.
Alec Guinness famously thought the first Star Wars film was a little odd, with clunky dialogue and a funny storyline. However, the film instantly became loved worldwide, and he reprised his role as Kenobi’s Force Ghost for the following two films.
Ewan McGregor was chosen to portray the younger Obi-Wan in the Prequels due to his close resemblance and ability to mimic Guinness’s movements and intonation. He was, in many ways, a saving grace of the contested Prequels, finding a way to match the somewhat difficult dialogue and overuse of special effects with the character he portrayed.
Question: What time period will the Obi-Wan Kenobi series explore?
Answer: The upcoming Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi series will explore the time period between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. It’s not yet clear whether this will coincide with Rebels or be set slightly earlier (I would expect the latter).
Question: How old was Obi-Wan when he died?
Answer: Obi-Wan, as Old Ben, was only 57 when he was killed by Vader on the Death Star in the year 0 BBY. Of course, he became a Force Spirit and so is immortal in some sense.
Although it hasn’t been officially addressed, the general opinion is that he looks much older because of his time scavenging in the Tatooine desert. More significantly, he had to deal with the mental anguish of what his former Padawan had done.
Question: Why was Obi-Wan called Ben?
Answer: According to the Kenobi novel, Satine Kryze called Obi-Wan “Ben” while they were on the run together. Later, while operating an undercover mission to foil a plot to kidnap the Chancellor, he would go by the alias “Ben”.
The words “Old Ben” also have a certain similar ring to “Obi-Wan” – which may or may not be relevant.
Question: Was Obi-Wan weak with the Force?
Answer: Yes. The answer here might surprise some, but the Rising Force novel clearly shows that Obi-Wan wasn’t considered naturally strong with the Force (unlike Anakin, for example). Qui-Gon had to forcefully insist that he be even trained as a Jedi. What Obi-Wan lacked in natural ability, he more than made up for in his devotion to study, meditation, and his resultant understanding of the Force.
Coming to a knowledge of the Force in this way took much more effort than most Jedi. Still, it left Obi-Wan in a considerably advantageous position. With Qui-Gon’s help, he had taught himself the ultimate form of discipline, self-restraint. With this under his belt, he would be able to master all sorts of new Force skills in the future – most importantly, how to become one with the Force.
Obi-Wan learned a lot as he grew, first from Yoda and Qui-Gon, then from Anakin and Ahsoka, and finally from Luke. He developed into the Jedi we know and love, able to be both bold and wise.
In the end, he was unable to defeat Vader and instead chose to sacrifice himself to allow his friends to escape. Although he no longer believed there was anything of Anakin left, Luke redeemed his old friend, who then joined him and Yoda as they watched the victory celebrations on Endor. Here, the three finally made peace.
He’s an example of perseverance in the face of desperate odds and reminds me of the need to always take the time to see the broader picture.
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