K: Issue 7 of the Marvel Star Wars comic has a great moment in which Obi-Wan confronts some of Jabba’s minions on Tatooine during his exile there and one of them says “It’s too hot for death wishes, old man.” My immediate reaction to this line was “Clearly you’ve never met Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
M: Obi-Wan, amongst all of the other sad things of his life, seems genuinely unperturbed by death. Perhaps even eager to meet it.
K: Today, we discuss this phenomenon and how it makes us want to take Obi-Wan by the shoulders and shake him while demanding that he care about himself for once.
M: (Which Admiral Yularen practically does at one point in the EU, a moment that made me LOL.) I feel like we should start at the end and then circle back to the beginning. Obi-Wan’s presence in the OT is defined by his death. He gives himself up and disappears into the Force during his final duel with Vader.
K: That’s pretty much the culmination of the death wish. He “fights” (although, can we even call it a fight after watching the prequels?) with Vader until Luke shows up and then he just lifts his lightsaber and is like “Ok, I’m ready, let’s do this.” He gets this peaceful smile on his face too.
M: For him, it’s finally over.
K: Well, except for Force ghost duties, but that’s another topic.
M: (Haha I’m sure he’s not too pleased about that– “You stupid kids brought me out of my eternal rest!!!”)
K: But yes, he doesn’t have to keep dealing with the constant struggle that is his life.
M: I mean, in part you can hardly blame him, he does have a rather horrible life. But his death wish originates far earlier than that– it goes back into his mostly happy Padawan days.
K: We should clarify here that this thing we’re calling a “death wish” is not Obi-Wan being suicidal. He just never seems bothered by near-death experiences–in fact, he’s usually downright amused.
M: I’m reminded of that line from Peter Pan: “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” I think he simply views death from a very Jedi perspective: He’s ready to let go if need be and explore the next part of existence.
K: Yes, exactly. But the sheer number of times he almost dies… that’s something else entirely. A lot of the time, we hear about these experiences is because Obi-Wan is telling some “amusing anecdote” that makes the listeners all go “what the heck, dude, that’s not funny, you almost died.” Which seems to confuse him, haha.
M: There’s the instance in Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller when he’s on a mission with Bail Organa and has a terrible nightmare flashback of when he was a Padawan and fell into a pit of flesh-eating firebeetles. Bail is rightfully freaked out, as Obi-Wan screams in agony… but when Obi-Wan wakes up and reluctantly tells the story, he acts like it’s no big deal. Bail, horrified, says “It must have been… terrible.” To which Obi-Wan politely responds, “Not at all. It was hilarious.”
K: Bail’s response, and my own, is just shocked disbelief that the word “hilarious” would even occur to Obi-Wan when discussing such an event.
M: And Obi-Wan doesn’t really understand why Bail is upset at all– from his point of view, there was “no harm done” so there’s no use in being traumatized.
K: It’s like he doesn’t understand that to any ordinary person, a single event like that would be beyond traumatizing. While for him, it’s just any other field trip with Qui-Gon.
M: Yeah we’re not even started on examples. To quote from the Jedi Apprentice series: “‘I was unavoidably detained in a freezer,’ Obi-Wan said with a grin.” Oh, and this one, when Qui-Gon mentions that his attempt to free his apprentice from a torture collar could result in injury : “‘Or behead me,’ Obi-Wan pointed out cheerfully.”
K: *shakes head* Oh Obi-Padawan, you cheerful little dummy.
M: And it doesn’t end with sassy little Obi-Padawan. Obi-Wan’s go-to plan with Anakin is something like “I’ll be the punching bag distraction while you go take care of the main threat.” In Labyrinth of Evil, this is even referred to as their normal plan. For Obi-Wan to go into a death-trap as a distraction.
K: To be fair, it usually works. Well, as far as Obi-Wan and Anakin “plans” ever work. But that doesn’t make it less disturbing for Obi-Wan to be so chill about it.
M: Haha, I was sort of doing a catalog of Obi-Wan’s near-death experiences in Clone Wars, and honestly the only time he seems bothered by nearly dying is when he’s captured by the Death Watch on Mandalore, and even then I think he’s only annoyed because that means Satine was right.
K: Hahaha! Yes. He keeps telling her to hurry up while she’s trying to shut down the machine that’s supposed to crush him, but it’s not in a panicked “oh no, I’m going to die!!” kind of way. It’s more like “This is so inconvenient and I don’t want to have to hear you saying ‘I told you so’ once we’re out of here.”
M: He’s much more concerned about who gets the last word, and he can’t get the last word if he’s dead.
K: Having the last word is literally more important to Obi-Wan than actually escaping danger most of the time. What were some of the other instances in Clone Wars that you found?
M: Well, he faces death in just about every episode he’s in, but we really start seeing this “Screw it, I’ll go die if it gets us out of this mess” attitude in season 4.
K: Well that’s appropriate, since it sometimes feels like the entirety of season 4 is just Obi-Wan getting beat up over and over by various enemies.
M: Beginning with the Slaver Arc, which is terrible and amazing for SO many reasons. But it all starts off with Obi-Wan agreeing to engage in single combat with a giant tiger man just to stall.
K: I think my favorite bit of that particular fight is when Obi-Wan’s lying on the floor after being thrown across the room and he just mutters “Come on, Anakin, hurry up,” and then gets right back up and charges into the fight again. The thing is, once Anakin has done his part, Obi-Wan immediately turns the tables on the Zygerrian slaver–he was restraining himself through that whole fight just so it looked real that he was constantly an inch from losing.
M: Noble, of course. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi we’re talking about. Whenever I watch that episode I can’t help but think of what he’d look like if this animated kids show actually showed blood or injury. *shudders* And, this is only the first time Obi-Wan gets beaten up within an inch of his life this arc. By 10 minutes into the next episode, he’s caught by the Zygerrians again.
K: But, in a fascinating–and also really upsetting–turn of events in the last episode of the arc, the bad guys catch on that getting beat up doesn’t actually hurt Obi-Wan (well, I’m sure it does physically but you understand what I mean). So they stop–and they hurt other people in his name instead.
M: A wickedly smart move, and a horrid thing to hear explained, though in the end Obi-Wan and our heroes are triumphant. And throughout the rest of the season he continues to act as a punching bag (when he goes undercover, when he fights Maul and Savage, etc.) And this isn’t just Clone Wars Obi-Wan. He acts the same way in the movies. Just think of his fight with Jango Fett, or the arena scene in AotC, or his fight with Grievous in RotS.
K: The thing is, Obi-Wan doesn’t care what happens to him as long as the end result is good for the galaxy. Which brings us to Mustafar, where Obi-Wan’s death wish hurts me the most. He’s more than happy to perish in boiling lava with Anakin if it means that he doesn’t have to personally kill his best friend.
M: You need to take the reins on this explanation, because I love your analysis of their lightsaber choreography.
K: Haha ok. Throughout the fight, Obi-Wan puts himself in deliberately perilous situations–once again being the bait (although this time Anakin is acting as the main threat instead of dealing with it). For example, when the mining base starts collapsing and the part they are on falls in the lava river. Obi-Wan and Anakin are on this swaying, dangerous floating piece of metal, clinging on for dear life. But despite that, Anakin is still doing his utmost to kill Obi-Wan, and Obi-Wan, instead of continuing to climb away, just starts doing increasingly dangerous stunts, like swinging out on a wire, because he knows Anakin will follow him. If he can get the lava to do this terrible job for him, he doesn’t mind dying as well.
M: Ok, my heart has broken over this for the millionth time. I can totally see that… Obi-Wan sort of lures Anakin out. Instead of playing offensive he spends the majority of the fight running from Anakin (well, Vader).
K: Exactly, he almost never takes the opportunity to attack–he doesn’t mind dying, as we’ve said. However he does know that he can’t let Vader live so if he dies, he can’t be the only one…gaah I hurt. But we’re getting off topic.
M: Well, what’s next is Obi-Wan’s exile on Tatooine. And this is when his death wish stops being this sort-of entertaining aspect of old-fashioned Errol Flynn heroism (as Dave Filoni might say), and turns into something completely tragic. Back to that same issue of the Marvel Star Wars comic we mentioned at the start, there’s this bit when he’s really struggling with the inactivity of life on Tatooine, and he writes (in his journal): “They were all gone. All the Jedi. And sometimes I wondered… if I should have gone with them.”
K: Dear Force, that’s painful. It’s such a switch in attitude, you’re right.
M: I think prior to RotS, Obi-Wan’s death wish is rooted in such noble instinct. He wants to save others, and as a Jedi he’s willing to let go of his life if it means helping others. He’s far more willing to die himself than kill another. But after RotS… he’s just guilty and sad.
K: Well and also, there’s this difference in the consequences of dying. Prior to RotS, if Obi-Wan died, then yes his friends would mourn him, but there would be others to carry on the work of the Jedi and it would be all right. But while he’s on Tatooine, dying would mean abandoning his mission–it would mean doing the wrong thing instead of the right thing. Which is why he can’t until Luke is on his way to joining the Rebellion and becoming a Jedi.
M: Obi-Wan won’t do anything selfish. UGH. Okay, one more example. Brace yourself.
K: Oh no.
M: This is from John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi, easily my favorite EU novel.
K: And probably the source of the most poignant Obi-Wan feels.
M: SO MANY FEELS, PLEASE HELP I AM NOT OKAY. Kenobi takes place about a year after RotS when Obi-Wan is first trying to just be “Ben Kenobi.” In this scene, Obi-Wan’s friend Anileen (another delightful Star Wars lady, who deserves far more than this parenthetical) is concerned about Obi-Wan. As are we all. She can tell that he’s hiding some sort of great sadness, but all he’ll tell her is that “something bad happened” to someone he knew.
K: Oh dear, is it that scene?
M: *through tears* Yes.
K: *chokes back a sob* Carry on.
M: I’ll just write this out all literary-like, beginning with Anileen:
“You’re lying to yourself. This thing, this bad thing– it may have happened to someone else. Someone you cared about, I’m guessing. And that means it happened to you, too.”
Ben resisted. “I don’t–”
“Yes, you do. Something horrible happened, Ben, and it’s ripping you apart. Maybe it’s why you’re here. But you’re trying to go on like you didn’t care, like you weren’t–”
She paused. His hands back on the railing, he looked up at her.
“You were there,” Anileen whispered. “Weren’t you? When this bad thing happened,” she mouthed. “You were there.”
Ben closed his eyes and nodded. “It didn’t just happen,” he said, hardly breathing. “I caused it.”
Anileen’s mind raced. Raced and veered into dark imaginings that she wanted to dismiss. But Ben was serious about whatever it was, and she had to be, too. “You… you hurt someone?”
“They hurt themselves,” Ben said, “I came along at the end– the very end. But I was also there at the beginning. I should have stopped it.”
She shook her head. “You’re just one man.”
“I should have stopped it!” The railing shook. “I failed! It was on me to stop it, and I didn’t. And I will have that on my conscience forever.”
Anileen’s eyes looked left and right. The fence quaked so hard under his hands that she thought the very posts might fly out of the ground. “Ben, you can’t blame–”
“You can’t know.” He turned and clutched at her shoulders, surprising her. “I failed everyone. Do you have any idea how many people have paid for that? Do you know how many people are paying, right now?”
“I only know one,” she said.
K: *curled up in the fetal position* Why do you hurt me in this way?
M: *attempting to pull it together* Okay, well, first of all this is just tragically beautiful and it sums up Obi-Wan so kriffing well. But also, I think it really puts Obi-Wan’s death wish in perspective. We can joke about how it’s amazing that he lived as long as he did, given his penchant for hanging off of precipices and making dangerously sassy remarks in front of terrible villains, but it all comes down to the fact that he seems mentally impervious to physical pain. What really tortures him is the idea that he might have caused harm to others. And that’s ultimately why Obi-Wan is such a tragic character… it’s the helplessness he feels on Tatooine and the knowledge that he’s hurt other people that haunt him, not pain or aging. It’s why he’s such a good Jedi.