The Master and the Apprentice: The Force Between Holding Onto the Light or Falling to the Dark
Meaghan Kelly | On Jun 20, 2015
In Fall 2014, Joshua Sikora led a Media Studies class examining the cinematic work of George Lucas, from his experimental student shorts to his groundbreaking six-film Star Wars series. This article, written by Creative Writing student Meaghan Kelly, explores how Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role as a mentor evolves across the Star Wars saga as he trains two generations of Skywalkers. We also invite you to check out other articles from the class as they’re posted throughout the summer.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the most pivotal characters in the entire Star Wars saga. A strong argument exists that Obi-Wan not only plays a critical part in helping Luke reject the Dark Side, but long before that is also influential in pushing Anakin away from the Light. Both Anakin and his son are under Obi-Wan’s training, yet one falls and the other does not. Much of the difference lies in how Obi-Wan’s teaching evolves from one Skywalker to the next.
Obi-Wan begins training Anakin after his own master, Qui-Gon Jinn, has been killed. Obi-Wan looked up to Qui-Gon like a son to his father, and it was Qui-Gon that first intended to train Anakin as well. When Qui-Gon dies, this responsibility falls to Obi-Wan instead. Because of this, the nurturing father-son relationship is not to be found between Anakin and Obi-Wan. While Anakin does say to his mentor, “You’re the closest thing I have to a father,” Obi Wan does not view their relationship this way. He sees Anakin as the little tag along brother who must be carted around. Anakin is the problem child, the inconvenience, the burden. Obi-Wan grows to love Anakin, but even in the end sees him as a brother, while Anakin desperately longs for a father.
While Obi-Wan tries to do his duty as a Jedi Master because that is his personality, he does not do it in the right way. He does not take the full responsibility towards Anakin, missing the critical element of encouragement. Instead, he constantly berates, admonishes, and corrects every action that Anakin does. This sends Anakin spinning, searching for some place of praise and acceptance. Here, Palpatine — secretly an evil Sith lord — easily glides in with his reassurance that Anakin is the greatest Jedi there will ever be.
By the time he is given the opportunity to train Anakin’s son, Luke, Obi-Wan has learned his lesson, taking on a much more encouraging and fatherly role in the young man’s life. He looks out for Luke’s protection against the sand people and the storm troopers who murder Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. He is the first person to give Luke any kind of look at who his father was.
Added to this, soon after they meet, Obi-Wan tells Luke that they must go together to Alderaan to answer the cry of Princess Leia. Luke balks at the idea, whining about the distance. Though Obi-Wan is clearly unhappy, he says, “You must do what you feel is right, of course.” This is not the most encouraging statement, but it is a pivotal moment where Obi-Wan demonstrates his willingness to relinquish control. He accepts that his desires may not happen and that they may not even be the correct course of action. Putting his full confidence in Luke enables the young boy to make the first real choices that are his own, away from the wishes of his uncle. Obi-Wan has learned that sometimes you have to let someone make a decision and simply trust them. The outcome is not an issue. This displays how much Obi-Wan has changed since his days of dictating every action to Anakin.
Another difference between the two teaching styles is found in what Obi-Wan tells his students. He does not tell Luke anything. He does not predict the future or provide any answers. He does not tell him about Vader being Luke’s father or the fact that Leia is Luke’s sister. He does not promise that Luke can make the shot in the Death Star. The only time he explains anything is after Luke has figured things out for himself. Obi-Wan does caution, “Don’t give in to hate,” and he gives guidance by telling Luke where to find Yoda. Even with this caution, Obi-Wan is careful to not give specifics. He says nothing about what Luke will find when he arrives on Dagobah. This teaching style allows Luke to make mistakes and learn from them as well as figure things out for himself. He learns how to identify evil on his own, but he can also see when hope still survives in a situation. Having learned this skill, he is able to see the good in Vader and the lies behind everything the Emperor says.
The instruction that Anakin receives from the younger Obi-Wan is quite different because there is no attitude of caution. Obi-Wan is quick to tell Anakin exactly what will happen. In Episode I, he promises, “You will be a Jedi.” During Episode II, he tells Anakin, “Dreams pass in time” and that politicians are “not to be trusted.” Episode III has the most of these definitive statements. Obi-Wan says, “You are too close to the Chancellor,” and “It will not be long before the council makes you a Jedi Master.” Possibly the most memorable line, however, is during the final battle on Mustafar when Obi-Wan yells, “Well, then you are lost!” Some of these statements turn true and some of them prove false. Yet, it is not the outcome that is important. Obi-Wan outlines everything for Anakin, always dictating, always saying when things will go badly. He is sure of all his opinions and dictates the outcomes without allowing Anakin to discern things for himself.
The only thing this accomplishes is placing Anakin in the middle of two opposing viewpoints: his master and Palpatine. Obi-Wan’s perspective is usually negative and talking at Anakin while Palpatine always sets up the problem for Anakin to find the answer. With Palpatine doing the guiding, Anakin is already much more likely to come to a negative view of the Jedi.
Another way to view the difference between how Luke and Anakin end is in the specifics that Obi-Wan teaches. When talking to Anakin, Obi-Wan speaks mostly about the ways of the Jedi. He reminds his apprentice of the commitment that Jedi cannot have physical attachments. In speaking of Anakin’s lightsaber, he says, “This weapon is your life.” Also, while it is meant somewhat as a joke, he tells Anakin that “If you spent as much time practicing your saber techniques as you do your wit, you would rival Master Yoda as a swordsman.”
Obi-Wan is mostly concerned with teaching Anakin how to be a Jedi. Whereas with Luke, Obi-Wan focuses much more on the ways of the Force. He takes far more time to explain what the Force actually is and what it does. He details that “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the universe together.” He encourages Luke to “Learn about the Force,” and explains that “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded.”
Whether teaching about the Force or how to be a Jedi, or any of the other differences, there are some similarities between the two relationships. Obi-Wan lobbies and fights for Anakin and Luke to receive Jedi training. He is protective of both, not wanting Anakin to fight Dooku or be too close to Palpatine and cautioning Luke about underestimating the Emperor and facing Darth Vader too soon. He also clearly loves them both, albeit in different ways. Mostly though, these details shine light on what kind of person Obi-Wan is as a character. Unfortunately, he is not always so upstanding.
Obi-Wan gets easily frustrated with Anakin. He tells his apprentice that, “You will learn your place, young one,” and “Calm down, Anakin.” He never seems to stay conscious of Anakin’s growth as a man, yet he repeatedly expects his pupil to be more obedient and mature than he really is. When speaking with Luke, however, Obi-Wan is very conscious of time. He is constantly instructing the boy, never wasting a minute with playfulness or inconsequential discussion. He also finds the strength to sacrifice his own life so that Luke can learn from his death.
This final act shows that Obi-Wan has finally learned to trust in the Force, rather than his own strength. With Luke, he is able to let go of his student. He has much he wants to teach and give Luke, but instead he allows himself to die for the greater good. Though he has a relationship with Luke, he can separate that from his duty and do what all Jedi must: let go. This in turn teaches Luke that he is also able to let go. He is ready to lay down his life for his father, and he knows that he can do it because he saw Obi-Wan lay down his life for Luke.
With Anakin, it is a different story. Once Obi-Wan learns that Anakin has turned to the Dark Side, he resists his duty of going to kill him. He tells Yoda, “He is like my brother. I cannot do it.” He does hunt down Anakin, however, but only reluctantly fights him. In the last moment, when Anakin is lying crippled and burned on the sand, Obi-Wan cannot actually deal the final death blow. It is not a matter of mercy. He has broken one of the most imperative rules of the Jedi Order. He has become attached to Anakin, his friend, his brother; and he is physically unable to kill him. This man of evil lying before him who has already killed hundreds of people is still the man he loved as a brother, and as Obi-Wan turns away, he makes his greatest failing as a Jedi. He cannot let go.
With all of these actions, it is easy to understand how Obi-Wan is such a vital character to the Star Wars saga. His failure to believe in Anakin pushes his pupil away and towards the waiting arms of Emperor Palpatine. Indirectly, Obi-Wan’s failings lead to one of the most feared villains in the entire galaxy. However, he also has just as strong of an impact over Luke, and by this time his method has changed. He teaches Luke about the Force, nurtures a confused farm boy, and sets him on his own two feet to figure out the world. When Luke throws his lightsaber away in the ultimate act of letting go, it is Obi-Wan’s greatest triumph. Indirectly, he has saved the galaxy from its greatest villains.