Friday, June 10, 2022

Ben Kenobi's PTSD

 (Guest Post by Ben)

Obi-Wan Kenobi has been a fan favorite since, well, forever. The first words we hear out of his mouth in A New Hope are, “Hello there!” and, truth be told, we seem to forget that Obi-Wan has always been sassy Jedi we’ve come to know and love through the prequels and Clone Wars TV series. But there’s a side to him we don’t get to see much of in the original trilogy, and are only now beginning to understand through the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+. This is the cast-away, beat-down, exhausted, and haunted man that the galaxy owes its thanks. If he’s such a lovable, upbeat, and powerful warrior, then what’s up with this guy we’re seeing in the TV series? Where is our fearless leader from the prequels and Clone Wars?

Oh, he’s still there, but he’s got a lot to work through. As far as the timeline is concerned leading up to the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, our stalwart Jedi knight has seen it all. His master (Qui-Gon Jinn) was killed by the frightening Dathomirian, Darth Maul; his love—Dutchess Satine of Mandalore—is killed by that same Dathomirian monster; and his padawan, his brother not just in arms but as close as a friend as one can get, turns his back on the Jedi order and Obi-Wan is forced to kill him on Mustafar. As far as Kenobi knew, up until this TV series, Anakin Skywalker was dead. And these are just a few of the things Kenobi went through since joining the Jedi. And so it is that, when the Jedi are hunted for being representatives of truth, justice, and virtue, Obi-Wan retreats to a sedentary life on Tatooine, working a regular job and watching over the child Anakin doesn’t know exists.

And then he learns that Anakin not only survived, but is hunting him—along with all the other Jedi.

In Return of the Jedi, when Darth Vader learns that he has not just one child, but two, he  comments that Obi-Wan’s failure is complete. While Vader mentions the failure off hand, we know that it goes a lot deeper in Obi-Wan’s mind. As viewers, we can only see the surface of what Obi-Wan thinks of himself. Everything he fought for—and loved—was destroyed, and, despite trying his hardest, he was unable to put a stop to it. Qui-Gon. Satine. Anakain himself. These and more are the thoughts swirling around Obi-Wan’s mind when we see him in the TV series. He considers himself a failure. He considers himself less than dross. And, to add insult to injury, he has seen more than the human mind should be able to process with any form of sanity. Like Job in the Bible, it seems that he has lost everything and that there is no hope for restitution. And in his state, we can assume that Kenobi doesn’t believe he even deserves restitution of any amount. He is about as low as a person can get.

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s PTSD is wildly evident throughout the first three episodes. Owen, Luke’s uncle, is a constant reminder to him of his failure to protect Anakin. We see later that Kenobi had buried his weapons of war deep in the desert sand, a symbol of his refusal to take up the mantle of hero once more. This burial shows the viewer that Obi-Wan is finished with his role of guardian of peace and justice, and his reluctance to return to action is evidenced in the scene where he retrieves the lightsabers. 

Perhaps the most obvious case for PTSD is seen when Darth Vader knows Obi-Wan is spying on him and begins terrorizing the citizens of wherever it is they are. These are innocent people, yet the Sith lord shows Obi-Wan just how powerful he is—and just how little he cares about human life—by inflicting death and destruction on those around him. Obi-Wan thought he had already killed Anakin once; seeing this display of terror, it all comes back to him in sweeping flashbacks that effectively paralyze him for a time. When the time comes to confront Vader, Obi-Wan is visibly shaken and unable to fight. Vader claims it is his time away from the war that has made him rusty, but perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s seeing his friend—his brother—still alive after thinking for a decade that he had killed him. Perhaps it is seeing this brother of his leave death in his wake that solidifies the trauma he’s been holding in for the last ten years. Perhaps it’s the thoughts of all his failures coming back to haunt him, at how useless he’s been at protecting those he loves, that makes him run away rather than fight.

We are not in his head, so we can’t judge. We don’t know what he’s going through, but there’s obviously something deeper happening inside him than we are allowed to see on screen. This mental breakdown of one of the strongest and most-loved heroes in Star Wars shows us that anyone can break. As viewers, we have the luxury of knowing how it ends for Obi-Wan—on his own terms, coming back when he is needed most to once again save who he can. For him, in this series, Obi-Wan has a lot to reconcile, and as far as he’s concerned, he’s not ready for any of it.

Fortunately, Leia has been there to snoop around, finding cracks in the Jedi’s defenses that has kept him from completely breaking down since he left Anakin on the slopes of Mustafar. Whether either of them knows it or not, Leia is one of the last people Obi-Wan cares about, and he will do anything to help her. He still has that soft spot that makes him the best of heroes, and as the series continues, we can only hope for more interactions between the young princess and the aging Jedi. Leia has a way of tenderizing hardened hearts, and if anyone could use a little pick-me-up, it’s our man Kenobi.

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