Obi-Death-Wish-Kenobi

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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.

 

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Flying is for Droids

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M: And now for something completely different!

K: By which we mean “lighter than our typical soul-crushing Star Wars fare.”

M: Obi-Wan has a pretty bad attitude when it comes to flying and droids. For someone who laughs sarcasms in the face of death, why such strong opinions about such inherently benign things?

K: “Flying is for droids,” nicely sums up Obi-Wan’s feelings about both of those things.

M: A double-hitting snark. But really, I think that Obi-Wan’s disgust with both flying and droids is one of the most hilarious aspects of his character. Here we are, sitting at home, looking at the Star Wars universe, wishing we had droids and could fly.

K: Have you HEARD me talking about how much I love X-Wings? I would kill for one of those!

M: He’s such a flipping hipster about it. You know what his preferred mode of transportation is? Riding an Eopie. Or Walking. And an eopie looks like a shaved camel with a grubby little elephant snout, and they are known, primarily, for farting.

K: (For those of you wondering about Obi-Wan’s affinity for eopies, see Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller.) I had a thought about why he hates flying–in a single person fighter, he’s the only one he’s responsible for. And we all know how much Obi-Wan cares about his own safety.

M: 0%. Okay, maybe like 11.38%, but that’s just because he’s worried he’d let someone down by dying.

K: Exactly. So, when he flies, he actually has to care about his own life and safety because they’re the only ones he has control over.

M: Darling Obi-Wan, please care about your life. I mean, Vader does! Obsessively, even!

K: Hahaha. I wonder if he’s afraid of heights too–he’s had enough bad experiences, what with all the dangling off stuff he does.

M: Haha, a different conversation because he hangs off of precipices by one hand basically every day of his life, but yes, possibly.

K: Actually, as someone who IS afraid of heights, I think it’s probably pretty unlikely. He doesn’t exhibit the usual signs of, I don’t know, avoiding standing close to sheer edges or jumping out of skyscraper windows.. And of course, he always has the Force to catch him. But, in space, you’re not going to fall, you’re going to be sucked into a vacuum, which sounds much scarier. So maybe the hatred of flying has more to do with that.

M: Honestly, I think he just gets motion sick.

K: OMG of course! He’s always clutching the armrests when Anakin starts making crazy turns and staring desperately at the horizon line.

M: Exactly. He’s definitely dizzy. Plus, he is in SERIOUS mom mode when flying. Like, you know he’s pressing the invisible brake pedal with all his might.

K: Oh yeah, the imaginary parent brake gets a workout when Obi-Wan flies with ANYONE. But especially with Anakin.

M: So, he’s about to barf, Anakin says “let’s try spinning, that’s a good trick!” and Obi-Wan has to pretend he’s not going to lose his space-cookies. Additionally, I imagine this is a point of embarrassment for him. I mean, the cool kids fly yellow speeders and spin, duh. And here Obi-Wan is, hanging out with a much younger, more risky Jedi, who is admired galaxy-wide, and let’s face it, he wants to pretend he’s cool too!

K: And the thing is, he IS a good pilot–even Anakin, wonderboy pilot extraordinaire, says he is. He’s just not a flashy one.

M: Yes, definitely not flashy. It’s Obi-Wan “making full use of his inherent discretion,” as Dooku says (Labyrinth of Evil, James Luceno). Obi-Wan thinks of everything in the long-term. It’s what got him constantly into trouble with Qui-Gon (living force, yadda yadda, living force), and so there’s no WAY he’d take any sort of risk by being flashy or unsubtle. He’s got to be the one with good judgment.

K: But, he also wouldn’t be anything less than a great pilot, because what if he’s the only one who can pilot the ship and save everyone? Wait, that sounded a bit too Anakin.

M: That’s where they think similarly. Just, Obi-Wan hopes he can save everyone, while accepting that maybe he won’t be able to, and Anakin needs to save everyone cause he’s the Chosen One and crap.

K: Well yes. Little messed-up dummies. But where Anakin would thoroughly enjoy doing a daring landing with a damaged ship and a full crew depending on him (or at least he would after the fact), Obi-Wan would hate every minute and be muttering under his breath the whole time. Given all the tells he has, (like that muttering) I find it hilarious that he tries to deny that he hates flying in AotC. He seems to get over that though, he’s a lot more open about his dislike in later novels and in RotS.

M: Haha, glad he gets over trying to deny it because it’s terribly obvious. Obi-Wan was born with a grandpa’s soul, and I think he tries to play cool for a bit, but ultimately he can’t deny his grandpa-ness or all of the sarcastic remarks building up in his head. Kids these days, with their texting and murder, and also their flashy flying and newfangled droids.

K: I also love the contrast in the opening of RotS, where Anakin is manually flying, grinning as he puts his starfighter through all kinds of crazy maneuvers, while Obi-Wan gives his astromech control with a nervous “Nothing too fancy, R4,” and then just grits his teeth and bears it.

M: Speaking of RotS, it’s also a great place to discuss his dislike of droids. I’m thinking of the elevator scene when he starts complaining about Artoo…

K: Yeah! And Anakin gets all defensive (“He’s trying!”), because he treats his astromech like a person basically. (See also, Artoo gets lost in Clone Wars and Anakin risks his and Ahsoka’s lives to get him back.) Which just confuses Obi-Wan to no end.

M: Obi-Wan is very aware that these things are metal, and he just does not understand them or why people would treat them as beings rather than tools.

K: Important to note: Jedi don’t use droids, as a general rule. Like, they are almost never found in the Temple. He probably didn’t see very many during his childhood, or even during his apprenticeship.

M: Yes, interesting. Droids would certainly be unsettling if you weren’t used to them. Also, Obi-Wan definitely has a predisposition for living things, perhaps passed on to him by Qui-Gon “pathetic lifeforms” Jinn. I love that he rides that freaking lizard in RotS (which he obviously gets a bit attached to, bad Jedi!), and in Clone Wars he often rides animals or is rescued by them (my favorite being that manta-ray thing on Kamino).

K: Yes! Anakin would have grabbed one of those spinny wheel car things Grievous drives to chase him. Obi-Wan’s like, “Where’d my lizard go??”

M: Maybe I’m reading too much into this (that was a joke, I definitely am), but I like to think of it as Obi-Wan longing for a simpler life in general. He just wants a pot of tea and a good book, and in his hipster-grandpa view, droids are just over-stimulation and over-complication. As is a lot of “modern” Star Wars life.

K: Hence him not using blasters. “So uncivilized.”

M: And let’s not forget Oldie-Wan. Plenty of evidence in the OT, too. Ever since I was a child I’ve found it hilarious that he hovers over Han’s shoulder in the Falcon, practically wringing his hands. He is sooooo anxious about flying there, too. And OMG, speaking of ANH, the look he gives R2-D2 when he first sees him kills me every time.

K: Me toooo. He’s like “Are you KIDDING me right now, Artoo?” And Artoo just beeps smugly.

M: Little punk droid.

K: As much as droids are weird and unsettling and whatever, and as complicated as robot ethics are, the Star Wars fandom LOVES them some droids. So it’s interesting to have Obi-Wan, (and often, the other Jedi,) treat them so dismissively, while we’re all getting attached and writing headcanons about how Artoo teaches swear words to BB-8.

M: And don’t forget Skippy the Jedi Droid (look it up). It IS an interesting dichotomy and one I’ve wondered about. I think it puts the audience in Anakin’s POV, and punctuates the description of the Jedi as a hokey old religion. But really, I think the Jedi just don’t know how to use them so they act all superior about it.

K: Yes, the Jedi are very good at acting aloof and superior about the things they don’t understand (*cough* Anakin Skywalker *cough*).

M: And, lest we forget, the Sith seem plenty comfortable with their droid army. To them, the Jedi’s discomfort with new technology is indicative of how outdated the Jedi are, and ultimately something easy for Palpatine to exploit.

K: Yep! But the Jedi are all about life, nature, etc. Droids, even nice/friendly/sassy ones, don’t comfortably fit in their world. The Jedi can’t even sense droids in the Force, which I’m sure has to be disquieting.

M: Ok, I have to go back though because I’m just giggling to myself about Oldie-Wan and Artoo still, like when Luke’s saying the transmission is gone and Obi-Wan’s like “I seem to have found it” like DUDE you know you didn’t “find” it and you’re lucky Threepio isn’t on to translate Artoo’s indignant response.

K: Bahahaha, it’s a good thing Luke can’t understand Artoo as well as Anakin (especially at this point) because, even though he’s a very trustworthy and circumspect droid all things considered, I’m sure Artoo could (and would) tell him some stories.

M: Which might be why Obi-Wan doesn’t like droids. Or flying. I bet Artoo has pulled something on him at one point or another.

K: WIth Anakin as Artoo’s owner? Certainly. Also, a thought: Anakin probably treats Artoo as a friend because he doesn’t want to be the owner of something that can talk to him.

M: Okay, OUCH, I thought we were being “light” hahahaha. Whatever: “Another happy landing!”