A new fan theory about an old question
My favorite fan theories are those that seek to answer the unanswered question.
There are many unanswered questions in the Star Wars universe. Some of these questions have been answered. At times those answers seem needless and arguably diminish the romance of previous gaps in the audience’s knowledge—questions like “who stole the plans for the Death Star” or “what exactly is the Kessel Run?”
Others remain unanswered. Or there are conflicting explanations, each floating around, contradicting and shifting.
Of these questions, one of them looms large in mind: why is Obi Wan Kenobi such a liar?
“From a certain point of view…”
I am far from the first person to point out Kenobi’s penchant for dishonesty. The most significant of his lies is the oft-cited:
A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi knights. He betrayed and murdered your father. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force.
This lie occurs in the same conversation during which Kenobi gives Luke a lightsaber, a gift accompanied by further lies (discussed below.)
What makes this lie even more significant is that it’s delivered in the same conversation as Kenobi revealing to Luke that, actually, Luke’s uncle is a big liar:
Luke: No, my father didn’t fight in the Clone Wars. He was a navigator on a spice freighter.
Kenobi : That’s what your uncle told you. He didn’t hold with your father’s ideals; he felt he should’ve stayed here and not gotten involved.
Of course, the Kenobi’s big lie is revealed first in The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader famously reveals himself to be not Luke’s father’s murderer but Luke’s father himself.
When Luke confronts his ghost mentor about this, we get this interaction:
Luke: Obi-Wan. Why didn’t you tell me? You told me Vader betrayed and murdered my father.
Obi-Wan: Your father was seduced by the dark side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed. So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.
Luke: A certain point of view?
Obi-Wan: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Anakin was a good friend. When I first knew him, your father was already a great pilot. But I was amazed how strongly the Force was with him. I took it upon myself to train him as a Jedi. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong.
Even then, this doesn’t quite add up with what the prequels show, as it entirely omits Qui-Gonn Jinn and suggests Yoda had a much heavier hand in training than the prequels ever indicate.
The rest of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lies
Other lies he delivers to Luke, while less significant, do stack up when one pays attention. Lies like:
- “I have something [a lightsaber] here for you. Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn’t allow it. He feared you might follow old Obi-Wan on some damned-fool idealistic crusade like your father did.”
- “I don’t seem to remember ever owning a droid.”
- “I haven’t gone by the name Obi-Wan since oh, before you were born.”
There are various interpretations of why Obi-Wan Kenobi lies so much. A quick Google search can surface many of these. Plus even if you don’t Google it, you might stumble into it via Google’s “People also ask” questions:
Many debates exist on this topic on online forums, but there are a few articles, with some of my favorites being: This is Why Obi-Wan Kenobi Lied to Luke Skywalker About His Father on Tor.com and From a Certain Point of View: Was Obi-Wan Right to Say Darth Vader Killed Luke’s Father on StarWars.com. There is even a (pretty good) article calling him “a manipulative monster“.
A few of the explanations, found across message boards and forums and the above articles, include
- He was trying to protect Luke
- He was trying to motivate Luke with the right reveals at the right times—using Luke as a weapon
- He was using Luke as bait, considering Luke expendable because Leia was available as a backup plan
- Lying is an inherently Jedi quality, central to the religion itself
There is a also non-narrative explanation for Kenobi’s lies: Lukas didn’t realize Kenobi was lying because Lukas was slapping the story together as he went. While that might satisfy a more literal fan, it does not satisfy through the lens of a fan theorist.
While I think there are shades of truth to each of these, there is another explanation that has not been explored in any blog post, article, or forum I’ve seen.
So why does Obi-Wan Lie So Much?
What I’d like to suggest that Kenobi was conditioned to become a liar due to spending nearly two decades as a wanted fugitive in complete solitude.
There is evidence one might consider here:
- The moment Luke mentions “Obi-Wan”, the old man is happy to call himself that—after decades of literally not hearing the name and not being able to openly use it with anyone. It’s as if he’s relieved.
- Every interaction with everyone has to essentially be in the guise of “I’m an old hermit” or “I’m the crazy old wizard who gets in little fights with sandpeople.”
- We see him continually lying throughout A New Hope to not just Luke. The famous “not the droids you’re looking for” is provided in the midst of Jedi mind trick lies.
- He seems to have internalized some of his own lies, as demonstrated by when he runs into his old pupil Darth Vader and—instead of calling him Anakin or Skywalker or even Vader—refers to him as “Darth”, as if that’s a title Kenobi buys into or even like he think it might be Vader’s first name.
What is a Jedi mind trick, if not a way to get those with weaker minds to see reality in the way you want them to? Kenobi is a wizard with a laser sword living in a cave. A fugitive who could be hunted and destroyed the moment the Empire decided to do so. His saving grace is that no one realizes where he is, that he matters, and—when they do encounter him—he lies to them.
It can be tempting to think that Kenobi’s lies about Luke’s father, Luke’s uncle, and all the rest of it is because of some greater scheme. But it might make more sense if Kenobi was spit-balling all of it as he went. He told lies because lies were the only thing he knew after twenty years alone.
Looking for another Star Wars fan theory? Here’s one about Chewbacca.