The original Master and apprentice of Star Wars set the blueprint for all who followed.
Every Jedi needs a teacher -- and every Sith apprentice aspires to be a Sith Lord. Always Two follows the stories of teachers and students throughout the Star Wars saga, exploring their role in the story and what they learned from one another.
Although they knew one another for only a short time, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were the model of every Jedi Master and Jedi apprentice that came after. Before any fans knew the word “Padawan,” Alec Guinness and Mark Hamill sold the story of the farm boy and the old wizard sworn to protect him.
Before they met, Obi-Wan looked after the Skywalker legacy at the Lars homestead. During the Great Draught, depicted in Marvel’s Star Wars #7, Obi-Wan rescued Luke from Jabba the Hutt’s mercenaries and kept Jabba from unfairly taxing Owen and Beru Lars.
After they left Tatooine, Obi-Wan taught Luke core Jedi skills, but also modeled a way of life -- one that Luke had to examine, and which he sometimes disagreed with. Even though they thought when they left Tatooine that they were headed for refuge on peaceful Alderaan, Luke and Obi-Wan knew they eventually would have to face a dangerous galaxy. When it came to physical skills, Obi-Wan didn’t have time to do much other than lead by example. He spent valuable time on the Millennium Falcon teaching Luke how to use the lightsaber that had once belonged to his father. He also modeled Jedi mind tricks and lightsaber combat.
To find the origin of Obi-Wan, we go to a commonly cited source for the inspiration behind Star Wars: The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. In his scholarly review of world mythology, Campbell outlines the role of the mentor figure, saying that the role of the archetypal teacher grew out of that of a “supernatural helper,” who guides the hero through dangerous territory (sometimes through the underworld.) Campbell divides these figures into several classifications, including “helpful crone/fairy godmother” and “supernatural helper.”
Obi-Wan’s ability to help extended well beyond his death. That death modeled something else, too -- the mortality of the Jedi and the strange way in which they die. Obi-Wan’s death was the second time Luke had lost a father figure in a short period of time, and was the event that made Luke’s hatred of Darth Vader as personal as Leia’s was after Alderaan. That death needed to happen in order for Luke’s story to have more meaning. It was also the first time Luke specifically saw someone cut down by a lightsaber, and the first time the viewer sees a glimpse of the martial power of the Jedi. All of this combines to give more weight to the Rebels’ mission and the worth of the data they were carrying.
That influence carries over into Luke’s interactions with other people, too. He takes on some aspects of Obi-Wan’s personality as he grows throughout the trilogy, including the gentle tone when Luke talks to Leia, and his unnerving otherworldliness when Luke addresses Jabba. We see how the two value one another -- and how much Obi-Wan trusts Luke, since he leaves him to carry on the legacy of the Jedi alone.
Obi-Wan teaches Luke to align his moral compass with the light-dark dichotomy of the Force, but wasn’t always a shining example of moral judgement. He lied to Luke about what happened to Anakin, and only explained what really happened when Luke prompted him years later on Dagobah.
Whether or not he was justified in doing this is a big question. Obi-Wan’s life after the Jedi Order fell was governed by this kind of deceit: he needed to hide who he truly was from the residents of the Dune Sea in order to hide himself from the Empire. This is seen both in his behavior in the film -- living as he does on the edge of the Dune Sea -- and in Marvel's comics. If he hadn’t hidden himself, the Empire might have found Luke well before they found the homestead in A New Hope. Obi-Wan was also one of just a few guardians of the secret of who Darth Vader really was. And shocked by the idea that Darth Vader was his father, Luke tried to deny it -- until Yoda and Obi-Wan told him that the terrible assertion was true.
Obi-Wan’s core teachings helped Luke become a great Jedi and a greater person, but Luke also had to realize that his mentor could sometimes make the wrong decisions. In the end, it’s Luke’s faith in other people that leads to the downfall of the Empire. In this way, Luke and Obi-Wan’s story is the fulfillment of both the classic and prequel trilogies. In Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan failed to bring Anakin back from the dark side on Mustafar and, unable to kill him, left him to a terrible fate. That act is a complicated one, part betrayal and part pity. (If we go back to the Hero with a Thousand Faces comparison, Obi-Wan has led Anakin to the underworld -- but not out the other side.)
However, it’s Luke who brings Anakin back to the light. Luke becomes a Jedi in the same moment that he decides to spare Vader, using but also surpassing Obi-Wan’s teachings. Vader consistently recognizes Obi-Wan in Luke -- especially in the Emperor’s throne room. (In the novelization by James Kahn, the Emperor recognizes all of Luke’s Masters, tracing his lineage to Yoda and using Luke’s fear against him that way, as well.) This time, it’s when Luke reaches inside himself for inner peace. He never saw Obi-Wan model this particular behavior, under this particular circumstance -- but Luke is drawing on what he learned back in A New Hope and from Yoda.
Key elements of Luke and Obi-Wan’s journey together -- the use of a lightsaber, the trial-by-fire for a young Jedi, the struggle between the dark and the light -- became universal parts of the Star Wars story going forward, with other student-teacher pairs following the same path or taking it in vastly different ways. Like Obi-Wan, Luke has become a man in exile by the time of The Force Awakens. In the end, Obi-Wan’s teaching and Luke’s success both paved the way for the New Republic.
Megan Crouse’s work has appeared in Den of Geek, FangirlBlog, and Star Wars Insider. She podcasts on Western Reaches and Blaster Canon and can be found on Twitter at @blogfullofwords.