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May 13, 2012

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi master, mentor, serial liar.

What is up with Obi-Wan lying to Luke? First, he tells him his dad died. Then he tells Luke his father wanted him to have the lightsaber when he was old enough. Can’t the guy ever be honest?

Luke and Obi Wan

"So, Luke, did I ever tell you about that huge fish I caught?"

At first glance, it seems Obi-Wan is indeed full of creative twists on the truth, to put it politely. Just in the first few minutes after Team Luke arrives at Obi-Wan’s house, we have numerous questionable statements or assertions not supported by the events of the prequels. The biggest one involving the fate of Luke’s father is later addressed in Jedi so that won’t be touched here, but there are other questionable statements about Anakin’s lightsaber and the role of Luke’s uncle, Owen.

LUKE: No, my father didn’t fight in the wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.

BEN: That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your
father’s ideals. Thought he should have stayed here and not gotten involved.

And then later….

BEN: I have something here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damn fool idealistic crusade like your father did. [...] Your father’s lightsaber. You can tell it belonged to your father because the initials D.V. are engraved into… er, never mind. That’s… um, just forget about that part.

“So, let’s get this straight,” says the non-apologist viewer of Star Wars. “Thanks to the revisions in the prequels, Obi-Wan is now telling Luke another lie about his father wanting Luke to have the lightsaber. How was that possible when, as we clearly see in Sith, Anakin had no idea Luke even existed?”

Before we get into why Obi-Wan isn’t necessarily lying, let’s consider what this dialogue originally meant to the viewer in the pre-prequel era.

These bits of dialogue serve the purpose of showing us that there are off-screen interactions between the characters in question and give us a vague glimpse into some background info on the characters. When Star Wars was originally released, we assumed Obi-Wan had discussed Luke’s future with Anakin. That seems the most reasonable conclusion but that’s not the only possible explanation for Obi-Wan’s comments.

Without doubt, the prequels change the context of Obi-Wan’s comments, but before and after the prequels, this dialogue is vague and alludes to things we don’t get to see. Just because Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith didn’t explicitly clarify all this doesn’t mean Obi-Wan is lying or that this is a plot hole.

As with many things in the original trilogy, you have to be willing to let go of your initial ideas about what all this was. We now have the whole story albeit not all of the specific details to explain Obi-Wan’s comments. Does that make it a plot hole? No. It wasn’t a plot hole before the prequels and we weren’t shown what it all meant, and it’s not one now just because some of the details have been clarified. You need to consider it in light of the events we know now and bridge the gaps with new assumptions to replace the old assumptions.

Consider this exchange along with Uncle Owen’s “crazy old wizard” and Obi-Wan’s “I hear you’ve become quite a good pilot yourself” and you have a definite implication that Obi-Wan and Owen have met and talked a few times during Luke’s youth, probably about Luke’s future. And we know that Obi-Wan is secretly keeping an eye on Luke, considering when and how (and perhaps if) to begin training him as a Jedi. Perhaps Obi-Wan tentatively brought up the idea of training Luke, and Owen put his foot down.

BEN: Nice weather we’re having today, eh, Owen?

OWEN: Of course, it’s nice weather. We have two freakin’ suns, moron!

BEN: Ah yes, yes. I see that. Now about Luke–

OWEN: I told you already, I won’t have this kid going off to ruin his life with excitement and adventure and sex with exotic alien chicks! He’s staying here where he’ll have a good life whining and being bored out his skull like the rest of us. Now go on and stay away from him.

BEN: But I trained his father and we fought against the separatists during the Clone Wars. That was a honorable life.

OWEN: And look what happened to him thanks to you and your training. Anakin would have been better off just staying here and not getting involved. No, keep your idealistic crusades to yourself.

BEN: Ah yes, speaking of which… his father and I were very good friends, fought together side-by-side. He told me many times that if anything ever happened to him, that he wanted me to give his lightsaber to a member of his family. I thought perhaps that should be Luke.

OWEN: Not happening.

BEN: Oh but I think you will allow Luke to have it.

OWEN: Nice try, but those mind tricks only work when I’ve sucked down a couple bottles of blue rum.

BEN: Good day, Owen.

Before the prequels, we could only piece together interactions between Obi-Wan and Owen in our imagination. The prequels don’t change that, even by not addressing these comments. They just cast the discussion in a new light and hint at a few more specifics without fully revealing them.

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