Ben Kenobi

Luke Skywalker: The Loss of Innocence

Frantic to return to his homestead to warn his family about an impending Imperial raid, Luke arrives too late. Slowing down in his landspeeder, the young man leaps out and calls to his uncle Owen and aunt Beru as black smoke billows from his burning home. Scanning the destruction, Luke locks eyes on the smoldering carcasses of his guardians. Not only was he too late, but the extermination was absolute. Luke may have expected, as he sped closer to home and could see the smoke on the distant horizon, that he would find the limp bodies of Owen and Beru. But he surely did not expect such an abhorrent scene – the grotesque, distorted skeletons of his loving uncle and aunt. One cannot help but wonder -and certainly the thought must go through Luke’s mind – if his uncle and aunt suffered in their final moments of life, tortured by the pain of being burned alive.

Grotesque
The grotesque corpses of Owen and Beru.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This short but disturbing moment in A New Hope is one that never fails to move and pain me. Admittedly, the event is a narrative necessity, albeit a disturbing one, a way of jettisoning Luke from the confines of his childhood connections into a larger world. Seeking adventure and desiring to leave home, even petitioning his defiant Uncle at dinner the night before to allow him to leave, Luke’s adolescent dreams can not be fulfilled. There is no longer any resistance standing in his way and he can join Obi-Wan Kenobi on his valiant quest to defeat the Empire.

And yet, as the scene concludes with Luke standing there in the quiet desolation of his childhood as the smoke billows and the carcasses continue to smolder, I have always wondered: what did Luke do next?

Skywalker Alone
What did Luke do after this moment?

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

This is not a question that demands a definitive answer. In fact, I would be furious if the Lucasfilm Story Group was to provide an “official” or “canonical” account regarding Luke’s actions (or his thoughts/feelings) when the scene concludes. On one level, this is because this scene in A New Hope, which we can link with Luke’s sad return to Obi-Wan and his admission that he can now join the Jedi Master’s journey, work with seamless fluidity even though they are separated. We do not need to be told what Luke did in the interval because the narrative intention in A New Hope is to move Luke from one stage of life to the next. The innocence of his childhood is literally destroyed and he will now venture forth into the responsibilities of adulthood.

On another level, any “official” explanation would usurp the imaginative faculties of fans, taking away the opportunity for one to insert their own thoughts and feelings into the heart-wrenching moments before, during, and after Luke arrives. Not knowing what Luke does, or the emotional turmoil he experiences, is in many respects what makes the death of Owen and Beru so powerful. Without explanation, other than the pained look on young Skywalker’s face as he views the carnage of his familiar surroundings, we are left to fill in the gaps, all of which enables our own, individualized connections with Luke, and the film, to flourish.

And so, the question – what did Luke do next? – percolates in my mind precisely because my imaginative faculties, aided by the emotion which the scene evokes inside of me, consistently arrives at a number of possible explanations. Just as I can believe Luke simply turned around, walked back to his speeder and left his home, I can just as easily imagine that Luke feel to the ground and broke down in tears. Or maybe Luke dropped to his knees and screamed, bellowing out the agony and guilt of not being there to protect his loving family.

Perhaps Luke sprung into stoic action, choosing to carefully bury the bodies as he internally contemplated the loss of his innocent and simple life. Digging graves next to those of his great uncle Cliegg and great aunt Shmi, Luke placed the wrapped bodies of uncle Owen and aunt Beru in graves he methodically dug. The burial complete, Luke returned to his land speeder and drove off into the Tatooine desert, taking nothing but the memories of his family, his home, and his youth with him.

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.