Obi-Wan Kenobi is my favourite Star Wars character. And I firmly believe he’s the best hero of the saga. “Too big a stretch,” you think? Hear me out.
“Hello there”, as the man in question would say. When one thinks of Star Wars heroes, one tends to picture the Skywalkers first (Anakin, Luke, Leia– even R2, 3PO, and Rey technically count). That clan gets all the credit, with a bit of love shown to other fan favourites like Yoda or Jar Jar. But the most heroic hero of Star Wars is a “supporting character” named Obi-Wan Kenobi: the character without whom Star Wars’ story falls apart. He’s Star Wars’ most self-sacrificing champion of the light; most vulnerable badass; most relatably flawed Master of the force; and most inspiringly steadfast tragic figure.
*Spoilers for Star Wars movies 1-6. And some vague allusions to The Clone Wars spoilers. NOTHING ABOUT THE NEW SHOW*
A LIFE DEFINED BY SACRIFICE
Heroes ought to be measured not just by their accomplishments, but how hard they struggle for those accomplishments. Because they who find success through hardship are more admirable than those who found it through luck or privilege. And nobody in Star Wars struggled harder for their successes than Obi-Wan Kenobi. A hero’s life is one of sacrifice by practice and Obi-Wan’s life, more than any other Star Wars character, is defined by his sacrifices.
His 40+ year-long story across the saga demonstrates how humility and inner strength triumph over natural talents and those who take “the path of least resistance”. Let’s walk through his main sacrifices now, chronologically:
Firstly, a young Kenobi gave up his chance for a normal life in lieu of one devoted to the Jedi order and its ideals. Right away you’ll argue with me that he had no choice in this matter– that he was taken into the order as a child and raised within it. All true. But Jedi have been known to leave the order (Dooku most famously). Staying with the Jedi for his life WAS a choice he made.
This choice demonstrates Kenobi’s strength of will, as a Jedi’s life was never easy pre or post-Order 66. He was forced into perilous situations from adolescence, had to stay mentally, physically, and spiritually in shape, and would consciously spend his days dedicated to the Force and the Republic– not himself.
He was not even allowed romantic love, as per the Jedi’s flawed code. But the ethics of the Jedi code aren’t up for debate right now. The point is that he had to abide by them, and believed in their power to create his best self. So Obi-Wan forced himself to give up his true love, whom he found as a young man, so that he might remain in the Jedi’s service for the greater good.
His Master and father figure’s sacrifice in The Phantom Menace was another turning point in the young Jedi’s life. Qui-Gon died fighting a great evil– died fighting for his principles and the light side. This death set an early example for Obi-Wan to follow for the rest of his days: not only was living for one’s principles important; one had to be willing to die for them as well.
Obi-Wan then sacrificed the prime of his life– his Jedi Knight years– to train Anakin Skywalker, because the boy had nobody else he could rely upon. That’s like choosing to adopt a kid and be a single parent in your mid-20s! Obi-Wan, up to this time, struggled between living for himself and the Jedi order. But now his life was intertwined with someone else’s in a way he could not break.
Kenobi later sacrificed the remainder of his youth to a great war, so that democracy could flourish in the galaxy. He gave up the back years of his life to care for a boy who could restore peace for that galaxy (even though it would have been the perfect time to FINALLY live for himself). And he ultimately gave his life to ensure that boy could live on and cast light upon dark times.
Why do Obi-Wan’s sacrifices make him better than Star Wars’ other heroes? Because he gave up more chances for happiness than everyone else to be one of the “good guys” and stayed on that path, even when gifted opportunities to leave it. The Skywalkers (and Rey), however, mostly became heroes to escape lives they didn’t want anyway. And multiple of them were happy to give up that life when things got hard for them.
Anakin took the path of least resistance in order to reach his life’s goals. He gave up being a slave to become a Jedi (obvious choice), but he gave that up to be a Sith (’cause it would help save Padme, ’cause he couldn’t bear to lose her), then gave that up to be a good guy again (because of his family, again)– getting a lot of innocents killed along the way. And sure, Anakin had a Padawan too. But she was forced upon him! He didn’t choose to train Ashoka, nor did he even want to at first. So that was technically a sacrifice, but it means less that it’s not one he made willingly.
What about the twins though? Luke went from farmer to Jedi (because he had nowhere else to go once his family died). Another obvious sacrifice. Though he made many sacrifices of note… till he became a bitter old man who quit heroics when he couldn’t face his failures (see: letting his own problems trump the greater good). He failed to maintain a sacrificial lifestyle.
Leia did pretty well for herself on the whole, though I’d argue her sacrifices don’t equal Obi-Wan’s. She, so far as I’ve seen, was never even tempted by a life outside of galactic service. That’s admirable, but it’s hard to argue she sacrificed anything if she always did exactly as she wanted in life.
Also: it was Obi-Wan’s sacrifices which ensured that these people got to do great things and be renowned, while he never saw similar glory for his heroism. All the aforementioned people did great things. I’m not denying that. But Obi-Wan Kenobi’s heroic deeds, which were as impactful as anyone else’s, were achieved at the highest personal cost in the SW franchise. And that makes him the most heroic person of an exceptional bunch.
VULNERABLE BUT NOT WEAK
Branching off my prior argument (about the struggles of heroism): Obi-Wan’s sacrifices also mean more than those of the Skywalkers because he’s far less powerful than they are. Maybe you’re one of those fans who only respects power? But part of Obi-Wan’s appeal to me is his relative vulnerability to Star Wars’ other main heroes (Anakin, Luke, Rey, Yoda, and even Ashoka in her later years).
Obi-Wan is the least powerful main Jedi in the saga by a wide margin (I’m not counting Cal, Kanan, or Ezra because they have less to do with Star Wars’ main storyline)! He’s not an exceptional force user, the most talented fighter, the smartest person, nor the wisest. He’s merely a hard-working Jedi who earned his place among the greats!
No other Star Wars hero gets defeated so much without looking like a weakling. Count Dooku, for example, beats him to a pulp every time they face off! Jango Fett beat him as well. Could you imagine any other Star Wars character losing so consistently, yet treating those losses so matter-of-factly? Obi-Wan doesn’t self-pity because he lost a fight. He just grows and learns. No wonder he doesn’t believe in luck: because he worked his butt off for every victory he ever had!
Obi-Wan also has a noted fear of flying. He might be a powerful badass, military General, and well-regarded hero, but he’s scared by something even common humans like Han and Lando can pull off. This little detail only heightens the character’s bravery. Many of the things he does, he does with a healthy level of fear and caution. And that’s easier to connect with than all-powerful, fearless warriors who rarely show signs of struggle.
But think of what the man accomplished, even with these relative vulnerabilities: he’s the first Jedi in 1000 years to defeat a Sith (when he was just a Padawan)! He also killed Grievous in one-on-one combat– the warrior who killed a great deal of Jedi. And he defeated a young Darth Vader– the most powerful man in the galaxy– while fighting on defence!
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a testament to the belief that heroes need not be the best at everything to accomplish their goals. In a saga where natural talents often allow characters to coast off their power or grow arrogant, Obi-Wan’s decades of honed determination allow an above-average Jedi to fight Star Wars’ best combatants and sometimes even beat them (or at least make it out alive)!
TOOK THE MORAL HIGH GROUND, BUT STILL FLAWED
Obi-Wan Kenobi finds a near-perfect balance between flaws and moral righteousness. He’s not so flawed as characters like Anakin, nor as unflawed as someone like Rey. He’s just a good man who makes lots of mistakes. And this makes him one of the most realistic characters in the SW franchise.
For one thing: Obi-Wan is a bit of a shill for the Jedi code. And, as I mentioned further up, that code has many problematic elements which many in the galaxy would balk at. He doesn’t follow this code to a tee, but he’s generally by-the-book and can be too rigid in his beliefs. As he later learns: “many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” He lived his truth for decades before figuring out it wasn’t so air tight as he thought.
Obi-Wan often failed to consider that the Jedi themselves were flawed, until it was too late. For example: he never understood why Qui-Gon defied the almighty council’s wishes so frequently. Kenobi couldn’t fathom them being wrong! And Obi-Wan shows stubborn belief in the Jedi when he declares “Only a Sith deals in absolutes”, which is in itself an absolute! So he’s hypocritical without realizing.
This rigid belief in the Jedi way is, perhaps, his biggest flaw. It’s the reason he could never help Anakin through his discontent with the order. Obi-Wan failed to understand why Anakin was upset because Obi-Wan felt the order was more just and fair than it actually was.
Yet Obi-Wan isn’t a “perfect” Jedi by any means. As mentioned: he took on a romantic partner at one point. And he loves using the mind-trick ability, which I’d say is morally questionable. But he only uses it for good, you might say? Alright. What about when he wanted Sleazebaggano to leave him alone at the bar, and used his powers to make the man back off (“You don’t want to sell me death sticks”)? It’s hilarious, but Master Yoda would likely disapprove…
Perhaps it’s fitting he so often uses the mind trick, because another of Obi-Wan’s flaws: he’s emotionally manipulative. The ends justified the means in Kenobi’s mind (with certain circumstances). Notably: he didn’t tell Luke about Luke’s father or his sister. Kenobi preferred Luke be uninformed of his potential attachments so that Luke could more easily kill Vader without remorse.
Kenobi tried to turn an innocent boy into a weapon for a near-dead cause. It was, ultimately, the right call. And he didn’t force Luke into anything. But the old Jedi code made him believe that attachments were a mistake: especially in this case. For if Luke knew of Vader before seeing his monstrosities up close, he might be inclined towards the dark side.
It’s important to note that Obi-Wan learned from some of his old mistakes in his later years. The way he trains Luke isn’t near so rigid as he teaches Anakin. Kenobi becomes more spiritual, understanding, and emulates more of Qui-Gon’s brand of Jedi-ism as he ages. He chooses not to force the Jedi’s stricter beliefs on Luke because, on some level, he realizes they were to blame for the order’s downfall. To be clear: he still tries to teach Luke the old ways, and attempts to guilt Luke for acting naively (to him). But he ultimately lets Luke pick his own destiny: something he never encouraged for Anakin.
Obi-Wan’s flaws are many, and they’ve resulted in serious consequences for him and others. He’s a relatable hero that way. But part of what makes him Star Wars’ best hero is that he can maintain a deep flaws without becoming an outright failure later in life (ala Luke) or a monster (ala Anakin). He shows that you can screw up in some pretty horrible ways and come out the other side an emotionally stable person who learns from their mistakes.
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s story is compelling enough drama to be that of a protagonist’s! I hope you’re familiar with the basics of it already, because it’ll take too long to summarize (this essay is long enough)… So I’ll just tell you why his story is underrated:
Star Wars’ main story rests on Obi-Wan’s life decisions: training Anakin, failing him, then training Luke to fix his mistakes. He even offers guidance from beyond the grave, because he refuses to let his failures flourish. It’s only at Return of the Jedi’s ending, in his final chronological appearance, that he’s reunited with his best friend and brother in the afterlife and he may finally rest in earnest. Without Obi-Wan’s heroic actions and well-intentioned failures, this franchise all but falls apart!
People like to think of Luke as the franchise’s main hero, because he’s the one who redeemed Vader and helped topple the Empire. But the majority of Star Wars’ films (1-4), The Clone Wars show, and the Obi-Wan Kenobi show are by in large, about the relationship between Vader and Kenobi– a flawed Master and his tragically misguided apprentice. The Emperor may be Star Wars’ main baddie, and Luke may be its most technically successful hero, but the best hero/ villain story of the saga is that of Obi-Wan and Vader.
And why do Obi-Wan’s tragedies make him the best hero? Everyone suffers some loss in this franchise right? Here’s a big example of my point for you: Luke Skywalker falls victim to many of the same traumas which befell Obi-Wan (his apprentice destroyed his Jedi order). But the former was left broken from his experiences, while the later picked himself off the floor and continued fighting. The so-called main hero of the franchise couldn’t handle tragedy like its major supporting character did! It’s rare I praise The Last Jedi, but Luke’s story in VIII retroactively makes Obi-Wan’s more inspiring.
Obi-Wan is Star Wars’ most steadfast hero. Nobody suffered the way he suffered and remained righteous through and through till the end. The main function of heroes is to inspire– and Obi-Wan’s emotional fortitude inspires me more than any other Star Wars character. Because he fails spectacularly and agonizes realistically, yet he endures, all whilst staying true to himself.
Obi-Wan Kenobi has played second-fiddle to the Skywalkers for 45 years. But George Lucas gave him one of the most epic roles in the franchise. Kenobi sacrifices everything for the greater good, whilst dealing with vulnerabilities and deep flaws, and builds the bedrock of Star Wars’ most compelling narrative. In short: Obi-Wan Kenobi is the GOAT of Star Wars and I will hear no different.
Who’s your favourite Star Wars character? And what about them invests you so much? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,
Thanks for finally writing about Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan doesn’t get enough love. Needed to make my best case.