Ben Kenobi

Son of Solo

The line, coming in a dramatic moment in The Forces Awakens, is powerful in its brevity and delivery. Han Solo, helping to plant charges which he hopes will give the Resistance an advantage in destroying Starkiller Base, sees the film’s villain Kylo Ren standing alone on a bridge, a bridge which spans a seemingly bottomless chasm. At this point in the film we know that Kylo Ren and Han Solo are related, that Solo is Ren’s father. However, it is not until Solo advances towards the dark-shrouded man that we  suddenly and unexpectedly learn Kylo Ren’s given name. “Ben!!!!”, Solo shouts to get the villains attention, doing so and beginning a conversation which, we also know, ends just as suddenly and unexpectedly when Solo is killed by his tormented offspring.

There are any number of ways one could approach/discuss the events which unfold in this dramatic scene in The Force Awakens. And, I am sure I could provide some well-developed and, I’d like to believe, insightful thoughts on it. But my intentions in this brief conversation far less overarching, and I am much more interested in providing, for now, a small morsel of consideration regarding the moment Han Solo shouts the name Ben.

To begin, when I heard Solo pronounce Kylo Ren’s true name, I was, undoubtedly like many others, struck by the fact that Ben is also the pseudonym used by Obi-Wan Kenobi whilst he lived on Tatooine (Ben Kenobi). Assuredly, this is an indication that Han Solo and Leia Organa named their only child after the famed Jedi Master, perhaps as a way to honor the man who, from a certain point of view, brought the lovers together. Plus, if we backup and consider the countless ways The Force Awakens borrows from/echoes A New Hope, it seems appropriate that the film includes a character named Ben. And yet, that Kylo Ren’s real name is Ben has another equally important and symbolic meaning, one that resonates as loudly as Solo’s voice when the name leaves his mouth.

A Hebrew name originating in the Jewish Tanakh, Benjamin (the anglicized form of Binyamin) is often translated in two distinct ways: “Son of the south” or “Son of the right hand.” Thus, taken alone as a masculine noun, “Ben” quite literally means “Son” and/or “Son of” (Yeshua ben Eleazar ben Sira = Joshua [Jesus] son of Eleazar son of Sira). Ben is used in both given names and surnames of Hebraic origin, although philologists who study Hebrew will be quick to point out that “Ben” is used in a number of other ways as well.

While I would enjoy delving deeper into the nuanced meanings and usage of “Ben” and “Benjamin” in Biblical texts, my reason for noting its usage as a masculine Hebrew noun should be fairly obvious. On the one hand, Han Solo is not just yelling the name “Ben!!!” to get Kylo Ren’s attention, but he is also, quite literally, yelling “Son!!!” On the other hand, we can translate the name Ben Solo as the “Son of Solo.”

I cannot say with any authority that the writer(s)/director of The Force Awakens, when  choosing the given name for Kylo Ren, were aware that the name Ben could be translated as “Son” or “Son of.” While it is likely that the name was chosen to create superficial connection with Ben Kenobi, I am never-the-less left wondering whether Ben was also chosen because of it’s original Hebrew meaning. Still, intentional or not, the meaning in the name Ben is present, rippling outwards as it leaves Han Solo’s lips. With these complimentary meanings in mind – “Ben” = “Son” and “Ben Solo” = “Son of Solo” – the potential for new insights about The Force Awakens may emerge. And if they do, I hope you will share some of those insights with me.

Ben Kenobi: Desert Father

Theory: Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Since The Force Awakens hit theaters, the idea that Rey is related to Obi-Wan  has picked up quite a bit of steam among pockets of Star Wars fans. I’ve not only seen this theory show up across the interwebs, but I have a handful of close friends who are pretty adamant that Rey is directly related to Kenobi. On the surface of things, I’m really not surprised by this theory. If one doesn’t believe Rey is a Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi does feel like he should be the next likely choice. Plus, it is a rather easy leap to go from Skywalker to Kenobi, particularly since Kenobi makes an auditory appearance during Rey’s Force Vision sequence in The Force Awakens. At one point during the Vision, we hear Kenobi say “Rey” while, at the end of the Vision, Kenobi can be heard saying “These are your first steps.”

What could Kenobi’s words to Rey mean!?!?! What do they imply about his relationship with this curious orphan from Jakku? Only time will tell, but for some people his words to Rey are at least partial proof that she is directly related to the former Master of Anakin Skywalker and guardian of Luke Skywalker.

But here’s the thing: I don’t buy it. Actually, not only don’t I buy it, I think it would be a massive mistake for Obi-Wan to be Rey’s grandfather. Do you hear me Lucasfilm – IT WOULD BE A MASSIVE MISTAKE!!! 

Listen, I’m fine with all types of speculation and theories, and say more power to ya if you believe Rey is directly related to Obi-Wan. But keep this in mind: if Kenobi has a granddaughter, that means he had a son or daughter of his own, which means he had sex. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time believing Obi-Wan Kenobi, during his nineteen years in exile on Tatooine, took the time to flirt with someone, let alone have sex with anyone. A relationship of any kind, be it a committed affair or a one-night stand just doesn’t fit who Kenobi is – a Jedi Master, sworn member of his Order and devoted follower of the Light Side of the Force, with a moral obligation to protect the child of his former padawan at all costs.

In fact, in those moments when he was not actively watching over or protecting Luke, Kenobi-in-exile on the desert world of Tatooine should always be viewed as a hermit.

Granted, it is easy to overlook Kenobi’s religious isolation since his early life was massively expanded by the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars animated series. The Obi-Wan who comes to mind for many a Star Wars fans is undoubtedly the younger, more active (and attractive) Jedi Knight/Master who battled Darth Maul and fought in the Clone Wars, not the wizened old man living a life of poverty and spiritual contemplation as he watches over a young boy. Yet, it is important to remember that it is the older Kenobi that informs all of his other iterations. While the stories about his younger life provide interesting and exciting depth to his character, it is his introduction in A New Hope that sets the tone for how we are to view him, and at least in part, how we should view the Jedi Order. 

When the mysterious old “wizard” named Ben first appears in A New Hope, elements of hermitic life bleed off of him. He wears simple and unassuming robes, lives in solitude on the edge of Tatooine’s Western Dune Sea, and he speaks about his devotion to the mystical and mysterious energy field known as “the Force.” For all intents and purposes, Kenobi is meant to be a pop culture re-imagining of a Desert Father.

Beginning their religious practices in the late 3rd Century CE, the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of Early Christianity were ascetics who lived in seclusion – some as hermits, others in small communities – primarily in the deserts of Egypt. Believing it necessary to withdraw from society, these monastics lived austere lives, believing the harsh desert environment would teach them to eschew the need for material possession and tame their ego. As well, the Desert Fathers engaged in numerous spiritual practices – to name a few: recitation of scripture, interior silence and prayer, kindness and hospitality – all with the hope of becoming closer to and united with God.

Menas

Now in the Louvre, this icon of Jesus (right) with St. Menas (left) is from the sixth century and is one of the oldest in existence. That Ben Kenobi happens to look a bit like this depiction of Menas, a desert father, is coincidental, though the resemblance is striking.

Now, it is absolutely worth pointing out that the above paragraph only scratches the surface of the Desert Fathers and their place in Early Christianity. Then again, my intention is not to write an academic treatise on them and the way they influenced Christian monasticism (here is a link to book if you are interested in learning more about them). Rather, my brief description of these ascetics is to highlight the obvious: Obi-Wan Kenobi shares a number of similarities with them, similarities that are clearly present in George Lucas’ seminal film. Again, that Kenobi lives on a desert world is one thing, but that he is also a hermit, a member of once grand religious order, lives an austere life, and is devoted to his “god” (the Force) is reason enough to view him as the Star Wars equivalent of a Desert Father. And, as such, it is imperative that this fact not be undercut by Kenobi’s going off and having “relations” that would take him away from his moral duty of safeguarding Luke Skywalker and, as was added in the 2005 film Revenge of the Sith, his spiritual aspiration of learning to preserve his life force upon physical death. Both are religious commitments which Kenobi is wedded to on Tatooine, duties that he, as a character, would not shun out of a desire for companionship or sexual enjoyment.