This is not the post you are expecting it to be. Read on and see what I mean…
It’s a Star Wars question so common that I rarely think about it: since Obi-Wan uses his lightsaber to cut off Ponda Baba’s arm in the Mos Eisley Cantina, why does the arm bleed? A fair question to be sure – technically, there shouldn’t be any blood because the wound should be cauterized when the blade goes through the arm. When others are dismembered by lightsabers, like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back or Zam Wesell in Attack of the Clones, their wounds are cauterized, there is no blood. But Ponda Baba is the exception, his wound is a bloody mess and I haven’t the slightest clue how to explain it. Perhaps Ponda Baba’s race, the Aqualish, are incapable of being burned and only bleed when wounded? Or maybe Obi-Wan cut the arm at just the right angle to open an artery but not cauterize it? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.
But I’m not really interested in solving the dilemma about the bleeding arm (though I think my “Aqualish always bleed” approach makes sense). Instead, I’d rather take this moment, since I have your attention, to pose a much different question about this particular incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina…
Why does Kenobi dismember Ponda Baba and kill Baba’s partner, Dr. Evazan?
This is a question I have wrestled with for some time, with the starting point to answering it always being the most obvious explanation: Kenobi is simply acting in self-defense.
Initially, Luke is the one who is threatened by Evazan and Baba, and when Kenobi intervenes to calm the situation, the two nefarious individuals become rather violent. Kenobi ignites his lightsaber and, rather quickly, puts an end to the scuffle. The deed finished, the bloody arm lying on the ground and the groans of pain being heard, Kenobi stands resolute with his blade upright. And, just as quickly as the incident began, the scene moves along and we are introduced to Chewbacca and Han Solo.
Now, first and foremost, I certainly think Obi-Wan is allowed to defend himself and Luke. But the issue I’m raising in the question is not whether Kenobi can act or should in self-defense, but how he acts in self-defense.
To me, the issue of the bleeding arm is a distraction from the real issue inherent in the incident – the fact that one of the last remaining Jedi, a Jedi Master no less, chooses to kill one individual and maim another. When Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba become enraged and attack Old Ben, why is Kenobi’s immediate reaction also a violent one? Surely a Jedi Master could disarm these two in a less confrontational manner, doing so without the need to call upon the Force in an obvious, attention grabbing way. Kenobi needn’t, for example, use the Force to throw the two across the room. Rather, using his finely tuned Force skills, Obi-Wan could have easily incapacitated the two, making them trip over their own two feet if he wanted.
But, that isn’t what happens. Instead, we are left with the absurd reality that Kenobi uses deadly force, inflicting pain and death without the slightest bit of remorse. And this is where things get tricky. Suggesting, for example, that Kenobi’s actions are of the Light Side of the Force would entirely undercut the fact that the Light Side does not lend itself to the destruction of life. At. All. So no, I absolutely do not think Kenobi is guided by the Light when he strikes down Evazan and wounds Baba.
Does this mean, then, that Kenobi was being guided by the Dark Side? Well, if he does the deed out of anger and malice, then sure, we could say he is using the Dark Side. However, we have no idea what Kenobi is thinking in the moment, so it’s hard and a bit unfair to suggest he is dropping into the Dark Side without knowing his thoughts. Then again, dishing out pain and death are specialties of Dark Siders…
So where in the name of Malachor do we go from here? Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea. The fact that Kenobi kills Evazan and maims Baba opens the door to a cacophony of thoughts and questions, the Light Side/Dark Side being just the tip of the iceberg. Thinking about the incident for some time, and now putting the thoughts into a post, I am pulled in numerous directions with no clear-cut end in site. Part of me wants to absolve Kenobi because he is one of my favorite characters, another wants to chastise him for not acting the way a Jedi Master should act, and yet another wants to throw papers into the air in frustration (maybe I will).
In lieu of all of my hair going gray thinking about this, I want YOU to chime in. Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments and, as a team, think about Kenobi killing Evazan and maiming Baba. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about Kenobi’s actions during this short but violent incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
According to Wookiepedia, Evazan doesn’t get killed in the fight. I think Obi Wan wanted to show Luke just what a lightsaber could do when put in the right hands. He was also protecting his boy and not taking any chances.
Thanks for the comment, Martin, and apologies on the delayed response. Hard to keep up with all the comments when “real life” gets in the way.
So, Wookieepedia is apparently citing a Character Encyclopedia that came out after I wrote the piece. Haven’t read that reference book yet (I tend to skip buying them) but I will check it out and see what it has to say about Evazan. It is rather curious since the Star Wars Databank implies that Evazan died, which has actually been the standing take on the scene for years. Still, I will check it out and see what it has to say and amend the piece accordingly.
In regards to Obi-Wan specifically, whether he killed Evazan or not really doesn’t change the otherwise strange fact that he uses violence in that situation. I can definitely see where you are coming from, the idea being to not only protect Luke (which is fine, though we can question the “how” in his decision to do so) but doing so because of who Luke is. But given that Kenobi is a Jedi, the very first Jedi Luke has ever met, it does raise a rather curious dilemma: the first time Luke experiences a Jedi using a lightsaber, the Jedi uses it to harm not one but two lifeforms. Considering that earlier Obi-Wan was able to mind-trick the Stormtrooper the group encountered, he could just as easily have dispatched the two thugs harassing Luke with a mind-trick or a bit of a Force push (or some other Force manipulation that would disarm the two without maiming). That Kenobi resorts to injuring – and even killing (depending on scene interpretation) – is what is problematic, it flies in the face of who/what the Jedi are.
i believe that from the experience that Obi Wan had with the sight of murdered younglings, and the effects of being in exile as a hermit, his first instinct was to eliminate the threat of force that he perceived.
Just my opinion.
Or, more practically, Lucas hadn’t fleshed out everything about the Jedi yet. Had he written and made ANH after the prequels, things would probably have been done differently.
Quite right indeed. However, the dilemma has to do with the internals of the SW universe, the fact that when all of the stories about Kenobi are taken into account, this is a rather unsettling action for the Jedi Master to take. While, as you note, an external explanation can be used to dismiss the issue in question by pointing to the storyteller not having all of his elements together yet, this is irrelevant to me as I consider the moral/ethical choices and actions of a character.
I’ve never assumed Evazan to have been killed in this scene. (And since he had the death sentence in 12 systems, I’d say Ben let him off easy.) And let’s face it, another mind trick here, after the one with the sandtroopers, would have been pretty dull, storytelling-wise.
Well for 44 years I thought it was Evazan who got his arm cut off. I think the scene let the moviegoer know that it was an outlaw anarchy nation and just about anything goes without consequence….
I have zero problems with a Jedi killing individuals who pose a deadly threat. Jedi led armies in the Clone Wars. They weren’t using debating skills to defeat the Separatists. Attack is the best form of defence, so you can justify a preemptive attack, so long as it is done to defend the existence of something or someone.
Be that as it may, one who is fully committed to the Light Side of the Force will preserve life at all costs. There is no doubt that the Jedi engage in combat for a variety of reasons, and that in doing so they end up taking life. But I would argue – and I believe Star Wars has established this both spiritually and ethically in both the old and new canons – that violence is incompatible with serving the Light. In this vein, I would argue that when Kenobi draws his lightsaber he is NOT doing so in service to the Light Side.