Uncle Wan Kenobi
The last post I wrote was a horrific wall of text and grimness and nothing else, but today we’re going to be talking about Obi-Wan Kenobi which means that I can include pictures.
Now that yesterday’s shortcomings have been corrected, we can move onto today’s primary objective: making people feel sad about Obi-Wan Kenobi.
You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.
If you ask me what my favourite line in all of Star Wars is, I will make a face, squirm uncomfortably, spend the next several hours choosing the right four photos that look somewhat matchy-matchy so that I can post it on Twitter, and then live the rest of my life in a state of intense regret over the possibility that I may have just lied to everyone. In other words: I really struggle with favourites. Though I will eagerly jump on every single “Top 4 whatevers” meme bandwagon under the sun, I really have a hard time actually quantifying my fondness for things.
It isn’t the #1 favourite that is difficult: I can categorically tell you that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Green Arrow are my #1 favourites. It’s the #2, the #3, and the #4. Because while sure, I love Ahsoka Tano, and Rex, and Kanan Jarrus (rounding out my Top 4 from the last time did that), I also love Hera Syndulla, and Han Solo, Bo-Katan, Holdo, Hondo, and pretty much the entire cast of Star Wars Resistance, and would eagerly let Cara Dune break me in half and then thank her profusely for taking time out of her busy schedule to do so. I like lots of things, and I like them a lot. My passion, my enthusiasm, and my capacity for having favourites are an unlimited resource, to the extent that they’re a leading potential candidate for the thus far mysterious dark energy that is responsible for the expansion of the universe.
So why is this relevant? Because when I sat down to write this, I wanted to say that “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you,” was my favourite Star Wars quote. That’s a bold claim, especially in a world where “Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi” exists; and Kanan’s “because I have nothing left to fear” might have leapfrogged over Mustafar to become my favourite Star Wars moment; and there’s all the funny lines, and the fact that the first time I ever flew alone (and my first time I flew transatlantic) there were several delays that let me turn to the total stranger seated beside me and say “blast, this is why I hate flying“, which is the funniest I have ever been and life since has been a constant mild disappointment; but the point is, I effing love that line, and it has been rattling around in my head constantly ever since a few weeks ago, when Ahsoka described Anakin as her brother as well.
So sure, Ewan McGregor’s fantastic performance definitely helps. All of the emotions that belong to that scene definitely helps. The utter agony of it being past tense, the sucker punch of Anakin finally getting to hear that Obi-Wan loves him – to hear him say it – only for it to be too tragically late to make any kind of difference, definitely helps. The fact that we’ve just spent a movie watching Anakin slowly falling to the dark side, on the premise that it is attachment and fear of loss that is driving him, only to find out that Obi-Wan Kenobi – paragon of the Jedi Order – is just as guilty of the same kinds of attachments, definitely helps.
But mostly, it’s the word brother. I have a very strange relationship with brotherhood. I am a brother, but I do not have any; and I’m the youngest sibling by a decent margin, with my sisters nine and twelve years older. I have two step-brothers from my dad’s new wife who I’ve only met once, and two pseudo step-brothers from my mum’s fiancé who I’ve known for years, but those aren’t brothers. My best friend is like family, and in a lot of ways is the Anakin to my Obi-Wan (I said what I said, suck it up) but there’s a slight gender obstacle to her being a brother.
But then there’s my brother-in-law. My eldest sister’s husband. Their marriage has lasted more than half my life, and their relationship stretches back almost all the way to the start of my childhood memories. I remember the first time I met him (he made a joke about my sister, and so I tried to beat him up; I think I was seven), but I do not remember a time when I did not look up to him, and he is still what I want to be when I grow up. He’s the reason I ever saw Star Wars in the first place; the person who, when I asked “What’s Star Wars?” after seeing the Special Edition box set at the grocery sure, made sure I saw the “proper version” first instead; and he took me to see The Phantom Menace, which is where my love affair with this weird franchise really started. So when I hear that line, when I hear that word, I think of him; and from a certain point of view, that’s possibly an even closer feeling to what Obi-Wan means than if I actually had a proper brother. Technically not a brother, but absolutely a brother in every way that counts.
He’s also the father of my nieces. The eldest (who I call Snips, because it annoys her) was born about a year after Revenge of the Sith, and that is probably when Episode III became my favourite. Because if Anakin is his brother, then Luke and Leia are his nephew and niece, and that realisation completely changed Star Wars for me.
One of my most powerful emotional memories is holding Snips for the first time. It was my second week of university, just a week and a half after I turned nineteen. Before that, hospitals were a place where you went to have scary surgeries, or where you went to see grandparents who might not have been coming home. I remember the hand sanitiser dispenser on the wall, and using it so furiously that I covered my entire arms. I remember being handed this tiny, fragile little thing, never having been trusted with a baby before. Every time I watch Obi-Wan holding that baby Skywalker on Polis Massa, the expression on his face when he looks down completely confused about what to do and what to feel, it always connects me back to that moment. I cannot unsee Obi-Wan as an uncle there, and stupid as it sounds, I feel like there is a bond of common experience between us there, which is where I’m sure so much of my affection for him comes from.
Star Wars becomes a very different story once you let Uncle Wan Kenobi into your heart. As a kid, it always bugged me a little bit that Princess Leia was in orbit of Tatooine when the Empire caught up with her, and that both her brother and her father’s mentor just happened to be there chilling out in the sand. In the original, it sorta glides past on the premise that it’s space fantasy, and that planets in Star Wars are just fantasy kingdoms in space, and of course the wizard just happens to live there because that’s what the story needs. Lucasfilm has added layers onto that: first with the Prequels turning Tatooine into the legacy home of the Skywalker family, then with Revenge of the Sith and later Rebels doubling down on the idea of Obi-Wan Kenobi dedicating his remaining days to watching over Luke, and finally with Rogue One confirming that Bail Organa had sent Leia there on purpose – a fan theory that I’d had for ages, and that my mum stopped me from hearing the confirmation of the first time at the cinema by asking “Is that Leia’s dad?” directly into my ear at exactly the wrong moment.
But Rogue One doesn’t quite go all the way. Bail Organa sending Leia to Tatooine is as much about his faith in his daughter than that. But if you think of Obi-Wan Kenobi as an uncle, things are framed a little differently. Watching over Luke becomes even more understandable, yes, but it also adds something really special to the spark that kicks off the entire movie.
“Years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars.” We know what Leia means by this. She’s referring to Bail Organa, because that’s the extent of her knowledge at the time. But she never mentions him by name, just that he is on Alderaan. It isn’t a difficult set of dots for Obi-Wan to connect, but of course, we know that Obi-Wan has dots to connect that Leia does not. He knows that Bail Organa – presumably the only person from Alderaan he knows all that well – took Anakin and Padmé’s other child. He’s sat there with Luke, watching a projection from Artoo, of the daughter of a Senator he once knew asking him for his help. Daughter of a Senator twice over, in fact. Bail’s daughter. Padmé’s daughter. Anakin’s daughter. This is a plea from his niece.
Now, I have had a niece say “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you are my only hope,” while dressed in exactly that outfit. They were even a twin. And while sure, the Meccano set I’d agreed to help her build the previous day isn’t quite in the same league as aiding the Rebel Alliance in destroying the Death Star, I can absolutely vouch for it’s emotional impact as a motivational tool.
For me, it makes Obi-Wan Kenobi’s path through A New Hope so much clearer. Here is an uncle, willing to drop everything with zero context and zero details, and rush headlong into the jaws of death, simply because his niece asked him to. Bringing Luke along is no longer a questionable choice by someone sworn to keep him away from danger, made by an old man nostalgic for his past; it’s a sentimental uncle, seeing an opportunity to reunite a family that the dark side tore apart. When he sacrifices himself, when he takes that last look at Luke, he’s not a disgraced knight from a fallen order willing to die because a new hope is there to lift the burden from his shoulders: it’s an uncle, looking proudly at his brother’s legacy, and knowing that the dark side is well and truly fucked now that his niece and nephew are on the case.
For me, it changes “from a certain point of view” as well: by which I mean the line and the sentiment, not the short story anthology, although that has it’s own fuel to add to this particular fire as well. Something I talk about a lot when I talk about Green Arrow (which I’m sure I will do on here obnoxiously soon) is how different relationships allow you to get away with different things. Oliver Queen’s personality and dynamics play out very differently in the comics, where he is a father, than they do on Arrow, where he is a brother.
I think that applies here to Obi-Wan Kenobi too. When he’s just a guy, when he’s a family friend, when he’s an associate of Anakin and nothing more, the way he withholds information and massages the truth is kind of an asshole move. It isn’t true from a certain point of view; it’s a lie. But an uncle is allowed to lie. An uncle is allowed to withhold things to protect a niece and nephew, it’s there in the job description. And while yes, it is still a lie, and while yes, the lie of an uncle is objectively no different from the lie of a random desert hobo, it is subjectively different. Functionally different. Not just to Luke, but to the audience as well. We do, and forgive, all kinds of acts and actions once love becomes part of the equation, and if Obi-Wan is an uncle, the way in which his obvious love for Anakin transfers to Luke and Leia becomes a much, much simpler thing.
Sure, that’s just the version of things that lives in my head and my heart. These scenes are all open to interpretation; mine may not be the same as yours, and it may not be the same as what George Lucas sees, or what he intended. But I like my version. I like my certain point of view. I like that it takes something that in isolation is just plot and narrative, and weaves it into the ongoing theme of the power and importance and danger of love and connection that runs from one end of Star Wars to the other.
He was your brother. You loved him. And so, you love them.