Star Wars Saturday: The Failures of Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of my favorite characters in all of the Star Wars saga. Let's just ignore the fact that he was played by Ewan McGregor (*swoon*) and Sir Alec Guinness. He fights, offers sage advice, and takes a huge role in the Skywalker family drama.

I used to see nothing wrong with Obi-Wan. Back when it was just Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, I saw Kenobi as a man who sacrificed himself for his young apprentice and then came back a couple of times to aid the same apprentice in his path.

But now that I'm older, thoughts and opinions change things. Oh, and the prequels.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is a deeply flawed character in so many ways. It's almost depressing for someone who proclaims Kenobi as her favorite character of the prequels. When he says "I have failed you, Anakin," in Revenge of the Sith, he is almost making an understatement.

Let's take a look at the evidence:

The Phantom Menace

We meet Obi-Wan as a youth on the verge of becoming a full-fledged Jedi Knight. He's more calculated than his Master, Qui-Gon Jinn, and often is taken into scenarios with which he's not thrilled (Jar Jar, Anakin).

But after he takes on a Sith all by himself and wins (something that had not been done in over 1,000 years), he rushes to his dying Master and, in his grief, quickly agrees to his Master's dying wish without really even considering it.

What was his dying wish? Oh yeah - train a 10-year-old boy to be a Jedi even though the Jedi Council decided it was a bad idea.

Attack of the Clones

We see here that Obi-Wan's training of Anakin hasn't gone well. While Anakin has definitely improved in his powers - probably more than Obi-Wan was anticipating - he is still emotional, attached, and disrespectful. You wonder how many times he silently wished he hadn't just agreed to his Master's dying request.

While Obi-Wan is trying to contain Anakin's outbursts, he's also, in Anakin's words, "holding me back!" Instead of using Anakin's strengths to the Jedi's advantage (at least at this point, before the Clone Wars), he's trying to fit Anakin into the small box of conformity the Jedi at this time were so strictly following.

I have a (bad) feeling that Obi-Wan was aware of the relationship growing between Anakin and Padme as well, but chose to turn a blind eye to it. Even after the Battle of Geonosis, Obi-Wan only casually mentions to Mace Windu and Yoda that Anakin just so happens to be escorting the senator back to her planet. Did Obi-Wan see how passionate Anakin was during the Battle of Geonosis about Padme's safety? Why didn't he speak up?

Revenge of the Sith

During the Clone Wars, the relationship has changed between Obi-Wan and Anakin. Instead of master-apprentice, they are more brothers, wisecracking and taking down the galaxy. One of my favorite sections of the Star Wars novelizations is from Matthew Stover's take on Episode III. He says:

"Anakin and Obi-Wan will be there any minute. They say this as though these names can conjure miracles. Anakin and Obi-Wan. Kenobi and Skywalker. From the beginning of the Clone Wars, the phrase Kenobi and Skywalker has become a single word. They are everywhere...Younglings across the galaxy know their names, know everything about them, follow their exploits as though they are sports heroes instead of warriors...Together, they are a Jedi hammer that has crushed Separatist infestations on scores of worlds."

So it's heartbreaking to see when Anakin is being pushed by the Jedi Council (which Obi-Wan is on) to spy on Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's dealings, while Anakin is having visions about Padme's death and Palpatine is telling him all these ways he can save her. When Obi-Wan has the chance to really have a talk with Anakin, who is at his most vulnerable and probably should not be left alone, Kenobi leaves to settle things on Utapau. Yes, he pretty much ended the war, but he also left Anakin to finally turn over completely to Palpatine and the Dark Side, killing much of the Jedi Order in the process.

There's also the duel on Mustafar, when Obi-Wan says those tragic words, "I have failed you, Anakin."  While he was Anakin's brother, he also laid a blind eye on his personal life. Because of that, Anakin was desperately trying to keep his personal life together by finding a way to save Padme, leading him down the dark path.

And when Obi-Wan had the chance to kill Anakin and end the threat...he couldn't do it. His personal attachment for his brother was too much. He had failed Anakin, and continued to do so by letting him be resurrected as the half-android we know as Darth Vader.

A New Hope

But what about the end of Revenge of the Sith? Obi-Wan brings Anakin's son, Luke, back to Tatooine, likely to train him in secret. But thanks to Owen Lars' stubbornness, Luke isn't trained and goes for almost 20 years without realizing the power he has inside himself. (Someday we'll see this conflict between Owen Lars and Obi-Wan Kenobi on the screen, and I can't wait to see it.)

When Luke finally decides, after the death of his aunt and uncle, that he wants to be a Jedi, Obi-Wan decides not to tell him that Darth Vader is his father. This was a good idea in the long run - Luke would have prematurely rushed in to try and "convert" his father, only to fail - but Luke is left reeling after realizing that Obi-Wan lied him...or told the truth, from a certain point of view.

(Sidenote: on my last viewing of A New Hope, when Obi-Wan and Darth Vader are fighting and Obi-Wan catches sight of Luke, he looks from Luke to Vader with a most peculiar look. Alec Guinness' expression there is fantastic in retrospect, since it really implies that there is a connection between those two people...even if they don't know it yet. End sidenote.)

The Empire Strikes Back

Obi-Wan has connected with the living force, but still can advise Luke on several occasions. He leads Luke to Dagobah, convinces Yoda that it is up to him to train Luke (something Yoda probably assumed would be Obi-Wan's job), and then tries to keep Luke from confronting Vader on Cloud City.

All of these things are good. However, Obi-Wan is given the opportunity to tell Luke about his parentage, and decides that now is still not the best time, even though Darth Vader has discovered it for himself. Instead of it being revealed to Luke in a controlled environment, Luke is instead thrust the information by his own father...after he'd cut off his son's hand.

Talk about traumatic. We can blame Luke for being reckless, but Obi-Wan had a part, too.

Return of the Jedi

Obi-Wan, when confronted by Luke after Yoda's death, could just confess he was wrong to hide his parentage from Luke. Instead, he tries to backtrack and claim that what he said was sorta true. Plus, he decides that now is the time to tell Luke that he has a sister, and it just so happens to be that princess he was crushing on!

The Jedi Master is also convinced that the only way to defeat Vader is to kill him (something he couldn't do 24-ish years earlier). Luke, after a year of deep thought, thinks otherwise. He can sense the good in his father, and feels he can turn him back to the light side of the Force. In the end, it's Luke that is correct, thanks to something that Obi-Wan couldn't understand: the love of a father for his son.

It was always so sad to hear Darth Vader say "Obi-Wan was wise to hide her [Leia] from me. Now his failure is complete." I'd always just assumed that was Vader being a jerk. But looking back at all the ways that Obi-Wan chose poorly (to quote another famous movie franchise), Vader is really being truthful.

Obi-Wan's missteps end up leading to a triumphant end least that's what we believe before we know the events of The Force Awakens. And, in a movie sense, if Obi-Wan had done the right things we wouldn't have such a great set of movies to watch. But Obi-Wan was a flawed character from start to finish. His actions created, and then destroyed, the Empire. He had to live with that every day on Tatooine, and probably still "lived" with it as the Force ghost.

However, I still love the character. He is devoted and caring and never gives up. He is well-rounded, showing strengths as well as weaknesses. And in the end, we see him as a hero.

At least, I do. From my certain point of view.

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or 

More Star Wars articles by Claire Nat:
Fears and Star Wars
Why Star Wars is the Best Trilogy Ever


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