Disclosure of bias: Obi-wan is my favorite character in all of Star Wars. And possibly in all of science fiction, with the exceptions of the H2G2 Trinity and the Star Trek Trinity. But Obi Wan stands alone.
It is often said, in the mainstream of Star Wars fandom, that nothing comes close to A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, two movies that taken as one represent a sublime perfection that all Star Wars media since have failed to replicate. Indeed, I myself still subscribe to this axiom, in that they are so foundational that scenes from these movies completely define what Star Wars is, not just as plot and character, but as tone. Everything since has been a reference back to these.
And yet, the Skywalker siblings were never really that interesting in themselves, were they? They were archetypes who existed to carry the story forward, vehicles for the viewer. And they were incomplete, requiring Han Solo to be made whole. Only once we got past these two Core movies and into Jedi do we truly begin to see more dimensions to who they are. As Drax might have fairly asked during a screening of Empire aboard the Benatar, Why is Luke? The answer comes in Jedi, and is just a half-answer at best.
The Prequels did what the Original Trilogy could not do – focus on two individuals who were given three movies, not just one, to be made whole. Always two there are, and in this case, we start out knowing their fates, which brings an immense pathos to seeing tousled Jake Lloyd and padawan-braided Obi-Wan on-screen that first time. Remember how we felt when the prequels were still just teasers, not even full trailers?
Remember seeing this image for the first time? Remember how it made you feel?
We all hated the prequels at the time because our expectations were set by the Core. But given 20 years, I’ve come to realize that these are the superior films in defining what Star Wars truly is. The Core films are tonally about Darkness being defeated by perfect heroes who effortlessly rise to the occasion. The Prequels are about flawed people who fail to stop the darkness from coming, and who must rise to the occasion despite their flaws.
Obi-Wan is the archetype of the latter – the warrior whose dogma fails him, whose structured world falls apart, and worse, whose family – whose brother – betrays him. By the time we catch up to him, he has fixated on protecting Luke as his sole remaining mission, to the extent that when the Galaxy needs him, he can’t – using duty as his excuse. He needs Luke more than Luke needs him.
Watching Obi-Wan climb out of that emotional hole, scene by scene, episode by episode, is the most rewarding coda to the prequels imaginable, because we have seen what he was and what he stood for, and here when all is lost, we have seen how far he is from there. And as a bridge to the Core movies, it is perfect, because the equanimity that he shows in every scene with Luke is now seen to be hard-fought, hard-won. He got there not by being Yoda-esque and wise from the start, but instead he had to fight, fall, and climb back up, and we were there for all of it.
Without the Prequels, this story has no weight. But that’s the great thing about Star Wars – it’s not just one story or one film, but a true saga in every sense of the word. When we see Luke 30 years later in the sequel trilogy, it lacks the same depth, because it just isn’t there. We don’t get to walk on Luke’s path with him through the darkness, we were not with him as he fell. And then he only gets an hour of screen time rather than six episodes of TV to climb back up.
The Core movies were peak Star Wars, but they no longer define Star Wars for me. The Skywalkers were the destination, not the journey. Perhaps Luke’s journey was the hero’s journey, but Obi-Wan had a far harder path – the Jedi’s journey.