Teacher Feature: Obi-Wan Kenobi

I’ve been sitting on this post for a little while, but I’m happy that I’m excited that I am finally presenting it to the public. This is my initial analysis of Obi-Wan Kenobi as a teacher and Jedi master, as presented in the Original and the Prequel trilogies. As the quintessential Campbellian mentor figure, Kenobi is a perfect early pop-culture character to examine as a teacher, and certainly one of the first I was introduced to as a child of an avid Star Wars fan. In fact, he was one of the first characters I thought of when I began writing Teacher Features.

I will write a follow-up post after Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi finishes airing. I’m excited to see if my original conclusions still hold up with this new representation of Kenobi’s adventures. Is his exile still a time of self-reflection and atonement? How are his interactions with young Leia a pseudo-classroom? What does Leia learn from him about the Force and her inherent abilities? And WHAT will happen with Darth Vader?! I’m excited to find out!

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s exile is also one of self-reflection and a desire to atone for his blindness during the Clone Wars and Anakin Skywalker’s fall. As Anakin’s master, Obi-Wan shoulders the responsibility that he should have paid more attention to his Padawan’s needs and recognized that he was treading the path to the Dark Side. He, like his fellow Jedi Masters, believed in the simplistic belief that any attachment leads to fear and greed when instead he should have been teaching Anakin to let go of the fear to lose what he loves, not the attachment itself (Bortolin, The Dharma of Star Wars 9).

The Jedi Council’s blindness is apparent throughout the Prequel trilogy because they rely too fully on what Bortolin calls “the expert mind,” and they have lost “their beginner’s mind” (The Zen of R2D2 16–17). The expert mind believes it knows all and responds to challenges when confronted with different points of view. The Jedi Masters denied all evidence that the Sith were re-emerging, that they were being manipulated by the Chancellor of the Republic, and that they had forgotten their true ideals. The beginner’s mind, however, “takes compassion to listen to another person’s pain — to sit in silence with an open mind and refrain from trying to fix their problems” (The Zen of R2D2 16).

Obi-Wan Kenobi is guilty of having an “expert mind” time and time again throughout Anakin’s training. His first impulse is to correct Anakin or admonish him for jumping into conflicts head first. Instead, Obi-Wan should have listened to his student, guided him through these experiences, and allowed him to learn from his mistakes. Obi-Wan’s expert mind failed him throughout the Prequel Trilogy, and it is in his exile that he must learn to trust his beginner’s mind again and become one with the Living Force.

After Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side, Bail Organa, Yoda, and Obi-Wan decide the fate of the Skywalker children together. In deciding that the children must be separated, Obi-Wan volunteers to take Luke to Tatooine to be raised by the Lars family. In the novelization of RotS, he takes this mission as an opportunity to correct his mistakes. However, Yoda admonishes him and reminds him of a lesson that they had both forgotten. “Jedi training, the sole source of self-discipline is not. When right is the time for skills to be taught, to us the Living Force will bring them. Until then, wait we will, and watch, and learn.” Obi-Wan’s task, then, is not to replace Anakin with Luke and train him the way he should have been trained. Instead, his task is to trust in the Living Force and let Luke come to him to be trained when he is ready.

Finally, Yoda gives Obi-Wan a new task for him to undertake and new training for him to complete. Here, Qui-Gon Jinn’s training is about to come full circle as Obi-Wan sets off for Tatooine. When Obi-Wan dies in A New Hope, it is assumed that his consciousness has merged with the Living Force because he repeatedly manifests that consciousness with Luke as an ethereal voice and a “Force Ghost.” In The Dharma of Star Wars, Bortolin explains that by doing so he must learn the core of Buddhist practice, that compassion and love are the true paths to immortality. “… the power of immortality… cannot be achieved through greed or selfishness… True compassion, true love never produces suffering. … Real compassion and love are given to everyone unconditionally” (Bortolin, The Dharma of Star Wars 108). Obi-Wan demonstrates it by sacrificing himself to Darth Vader so that Luke can escape with Princess Leia from the Death Star (Lucas, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope). Qui-Gon Jinn, as a master of the Living Force, ensures that the Jedi Order returns to its original roots through the ashes of the Clone Wars. He was unable to complete his training in life, but in death, he was able to show Yoda and Obi-Wan the true path to Enlightenment, to becoming one with the Force. Qui-Gon began the cycle of exile as the path to Enlightenment, and so Obi-Wan and Yoda each had their paths to complete their parts of the cycle.

Text Sources:

Bortolin, Matthew. The Dharma of Star Wars. A Revised Expanded Edition. Wisdom Publications, 2015.

—. The Zen of R2D2: Ancient Wisdom from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Wisdom Publications, 2019.

Author: Elise TC

Fantasy Literature Scholar and Literacy Educator MA: Teachers College Columbia University and Signum University

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