I Choose to Believe: Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace

Emily

When you think of Obi-Wan Kenobi, what first comes to mind? Is it Obi-Wan as a Jedi Knight, just 25 years old when we first met him in The Phantom Menace?  Or do you think of the reluctant teacher, the Master to Anakin Skywalker’s headstrong youth in Attack of the Clones?  Perhaps it is the battle hardened General, trying to keep the Republic together while his apprentice walks a different path from Revenge of the Sith? Maybe  you think of the first time we met Obi-Wan, as old Ben Kenobi, a desert hermit with decades of secrets at the start of A New Hope. The same man captures our hearts in so many different ways throughout his life.

Project Stardust has chosen to showcase The Phantom Menace in a series of pieces, so I want to focus on the padawan learner version of Obi-Wan. I want to look at three key moments in Obi-Wan’s journey. First, his relationship with his master, Qui-Gon Jinn. Second, his sudden elevation to Knighthood due to the discovery of Anakin Skywalker. Finally, his duel with Darth Maul and how emotional responses dictated the course of Obi’s journey on Naboo.  

When TPM opens, we encounter him as the apprentice of Qui-Gon Jinn on a negotiation mission for the Chancellor of the Galactic Republic. The two Jedi are ambushed by the Trade Federation and escape to the blockaded planet of Naboo. From the first moments of the film, TPM Obi-Wan comes across much more brash and quick to action, a contrast to the older version we first came to know in 1977. 

Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have a respectful yet contentious relationship throughout both TPM and in the canon novel, Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Qui-Gon is uncertain about his  young apprentice. Jinn was apprenticed by Dooku, one of the Lost Twenty, and this shapes his own tutorage of his own pupil. Qui-Gon has never been the typical jedi, and Obi-Wan is drawn to the structure provided by the Order. MA explores that conflict of personalities, allowing both master and apprentice to learn and grow from one another.

At the start of MA, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are out of sync with one another, each harboring private uncertainties about their Master/Padawan relationship. This is thrown into sharp clarity when Qui-Gon is offered a place on the Jedi Council. If he accepts it would mean releasing Obi-Wan as his Padawan and sending him to train under another Master. The two Jedi travel to the world of Pijal, a planet ruled by a Jedi regent and his young ward, Her Serene Highness, Fanry. 

While on Pijal, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and fellow jedi (as well as Dooku’s padawan before Qui-Gon) Rael Averross search for the leaders of the Opposition, a terrorist group that wishes to stop Fanry from signing a treaty that would disenfranchise resident of the lunar moon, and give incredible power to Czerka Corporation to operate on the planet. 

Jinn spent some of his own apprenticeship learning about the Jedi prophecies, and while on Pijal, he has a series of visions that make him believe the treaty should not move forward. This directly conflicts with Kenobi, who believes that the Jedi serve the Republic, and that means making sure the hyperspace lane opens and the treaty is signed. 

Jinn conferes with Yoda via holo, and the diminutive Jedi Master imparts important advice to Qui-Gon: “Many ways there are of serving the right. We work within our mandates, and there do as much good as we can. To do otherwise, to substitute our judgement for that of the Republic, is to repeat the mistakes of the past.” Kenobi and Qui-Gon are forced to work through their differences, learning that perhaps together they find the best answer than what they would discover on their own

The two Jedi are much more in sync with one another after the events of MA, which takes place 8 years prior to the start of the prequel trilogy. By the time of TPM,  the duo have had more time to learn from each other and have formed a deep bond. Though respectful, Obi-Wan challenges several of his Master’s decisions and is uncertain of the prophecy that Qui-Gon believes manifests in Anakin Skywalker. Though certain in his beliefs, Qui-Gon now has more patience and understanding to answer Obi-Wan’s concerns and questions. The two may still not always understand one another, but their bond is now unshakable.

With the arrival of the nine year old former slave to his life, Obi-Wan’s place at his Master’s side is usurped. Qui-Gon believes that Anakin would benefit from becoming his Padawan learner, and that Obi-Wan is ready to take his Trials to become a full fledged Jedi Knight. Anakin was too old by the standards of the Jedi to be taken for training, a trait he shares to a lesser degree with Obi-Wan himself. While Anakin is age 9 during the events of The Phantom Menace, we learn in Master and Apprentice that Obi-Wan was not discovered until age 3, a full 2.5 years later than most of the force sensitive children taken into the Jedi temples for training. 

Taking children into the custody of the Jedi as early as possible deters the infant from forming bonds with their family and is the first step to forgoing attachments as they learn the ways of the Force. With Obi-Wan well into toddlerhood, and Anakin as a full grown child, these two characters have had the chance to form attachments to a familial life before they came to the Order, something very few other Jedi have any experience with. Perhaps it is this commonality that enhances the bond between Obi-Wan and Anakin later in the saga as both struggle with attachment in their own ways. Anakin’s relationship with his mother definitely influences his path in the future and her loss is a profound catalyst for his journey, both by leaving her behind and her eventual death.

Both Kenobi and Skywalker had families before they came to the Order, had felt the love of a family member, the touch of a mother’s hand, and heard songs sung into the twilight as they went to sleep. This leads them to form an atypical bond, more of a family unit versus the traditional bond of Master and Apprentice. As Kenobi himself says later in the prequels: “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.” 

In part, attachment to his master is what leads Obi-wan to eventually take on Anakin as a padawan. Fresh into becoming a full knight himself, the gravity does not fully come to Kenobi until years later. The theme of owning up to one’s mistakes is a thread that runs heavy through not only the relationship of Jinn and Kenobi, but also later in the relationship of Kenobi and Skywalker. It is Kenobi who too late realises that by taking on Anakin as an apprentice, perhaps he was not what the former slave child needed. It is a lesson that has galactic implications, and one that Obi-wan will carry with him as Old Ben Kenobi. 

As the Trade Federation assaults Naboo, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan encounter Darth Maul, the apprentice of Darth Sidious. The two Jedi duel with the Sith Lord under the palace in Theed, eventually leading to Obi-Wan becoming separated from his Master and the Sith. Maul impales and kills Qui-Gon, leading to a rage-filled Obi-Wan to attempt to avenge his Master. This becomes a battle of apprentices, sith against jedi, with the fate of Anakin in the balance.

One of my favorite lines in Master and Apprentice is “Anger sometimes refused to leave the soul except through the body” and I feel like this is the perfect lens to view the Duel of the Fates through. Qui-Gon never gives into his anger, anchoring himself via meditation. Maul is wrapped in his anger, using it to strike down the Jedi Master. Obi-Wan takes his anger, and attempts to use it to attack and best Maul one on one. This nearly costs Obi-wan his life, and in the end leads to Maul being separated from the lower half of his body. Anger then keeps Maul alive, and these two met several more times over the course of the prequel trilogy, leading to a final duel on Tatooine prior to A New Hope. It is in that final duel that we see Obi-wan release his anger, while Maul becomes the victim to his own.

With Qui-Gon dead, Obi-Wan takes it upon himself to train Anakin, as he promised his Master. Anakin loses one of the few people to ever believe in him and Obi-Wan loses someone he views as a father figure. Two lost people, a young man and a boy, are now on a path together. This path will define the galaxy far, far away as we know it over the course of the next two prequel films. It will in fact define the destinies of so many in the galaxy for decades to come. 

Looking at Obi-Wan’s growth over the course of the film, he has to trust that Qui-Gon knows him best, that he is ready to ascend to Knighthood, and takes on an apprentice of his own. The apprentice has become the Master, as we move forward towards Attack of the Clones