Films | Show | Books: Star Wars
Featured Characters: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn
Writer’s Note: Time to be hella weird in the internet/therapists (inter-therapist? internerapist?) office with me, friends. If this author working out her own nonsense through the lens of a made-up father/son relationship of two male Jedi in an imaginary cinematic universe isn’t your bag, then tread lightly, you have been warned.
The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters in the year 2000 (which predates the birth of so many people reading this article!), and like most children raised on Han Solo’s scraggly, roguish shoot-from-the-hip-in-a-well-fitted-henley-rebel-without-a cause-appeal, I was salivating for the movie.
The film was a mild to aggressive disappointment at the time, and it vanished fairly quickly from my memory. I forgot all about Jar Jar, the Jedi Council, and Palpatine. I forgot how vaguely anti-Semetic the ‘Trade Federation’ is (and later the ‘banking clan?’ to say nothing of the racist overtones of Jar Jar and the Gungans? Really?). The only thing I remember thinking about it was that it was not a very well-made film that lacked much of the life, humor, and human-ness of the original trilogy. Everyone was funny in the first three: Han, Chewie, Leia, Obi-Wan, the robots, Yoda, the stormtroopers — even Luk,e in his wide-eyed Iowa farm boy way, got in a good zinger here and there. Darth Vader was even funny sometimes.
So anyway, The Phantom Menace didn’t really stick with me, except for one singular moment: The scene when Qui-Gon Jinn rejects Obi-Wan Kenobi in front of the Jedi Council so he can train Anakin Skywalker.
I recall with perfect clarity the look of shocked and swallowed heartbreak on Obi-Wan’s face, followed by anger and jealousy and sorrow. I remember in pristine HD detail how Qui-Gon’s eyes shifted slightly to the right in regret and shame, knowing he hurt his student but unable and/or unwilling to assuage or help at the moment. He couldn’t even look as Obi-Wan stepped forward to defend himself: furious, bereft, and unable to keep the pained betrayal from his tone.
This scene is transcendent because nearly all of us know in our very blood what Obi-Wan experienced — harsh, abrupt rejection by a loved one. All thinking and feeling humans relived our own rejections with him, and that’s why it’s such an important scene.
That’s why the relationship between Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi is so resonant and powerful. That’s why it’s the only scene I initially remembered from The Phantom Menace. That’s why I’m writing this fanfic that, hopefully, someday, I’ll find the strength of will to finish. That’s why I’m writing this article. That’s why you clicked on the link and are reading these words right now — because somewhere inside you, you felt betrayal at that moment as well.
Frankly, there’s not a whole lot otherwise (in movie! canon) to interpret for Qui-Gon. He is in one film. He dies at the end. In terms of screen time, he should probably be an unimportant character — a mere plot device. But the legacy of Qui-Gon is almost incalculable in Star Wars — the shadow he casts over Obi-Wan, Anakin, and their relationship is long, fraught, and unbelievably complex.
Qui-Gon’s death at the hands of Darth Maul defines Obi-Wan for much of his life; he is Anakin’s Master, but both of them know that Qui-Gon should have taken that role and that undercurrent of ‘I didn’t want this / it should’ve been Qui-Gon’ subtly and insidiously influences both of them. Obi-Wan accepts his role as teacher, and while he certainly tries his best, training the Chosen One does nothing for his anxieties. In fact, it only amplifies his tendencies to look to the future, to project and plan and try to control an uncontrollable outcome. For his part, Anakin is a child of emotional intelligence and pure, unfiltered instinct, longing for human connection, warmth, and love. Anakin wants to do as he has always done, as Qui-Gon instructed on the pod racetrack — ‘Feel, don’t think. Use your instincts.’ He doesn’t want to think, he only wants to do, and Obi-Wan’s constant attempts to circumvent his instincts only drive the two further apart.
In a way, Anakin never really lets go of the few moments he had with Qui-Gon — he may make reference to Obi-Wan as a father figure in Attack of the Clones, but in reality, Anakin doesn’t respect and revere his mentorship as he does Qui-Gon’s. This is not to say he didn’t love Obi-Wan; I think all Star Wars canon makes it abundantly clear that he did, but loving someone is not the same as respecting or revering them. It is a tangled gordian knot of generational Jedi trauma — Obi-Wan: taking charge of Anakin, picking up his Master’s cause in the grief of sudden loss, perhaps always a hair resentful of this child who robbed him of his own Master, and in many ways, his own path as a Jedi Knight. Anakin, sensing that Obi-Wan took him on because he felt compelled to do so (disregarding that Qui-Gon also agreed to teach him because he was compelled — the Council gave him no other choice), rebelling against his instruction and subconsciously not sharing himself as openly as he might have with Qui-Gon. Palpatine: ever the ultimate Slytherin, seeing an opening and jumping right in, taking the space in Anakin’s heart where Qui-Gon might have lived if Obi-Wan was unable by personality and upbringing to fill.
The point is, you can’t talk about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan without also talking about Anakin. He is the fulcrum that redefined our heroes, both in their relationship with themselves and each other. This article will cover the events of the first three films, particularly The Phantom Menace, some of the events of The Clone Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi, a small but pivotal scene in Tales of the Jedi, and the books Master & Apprentice by Claudia Black, Padawan by Kiersten White, and Brotherhood by Mike Chen.
Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon: The Early Years
What we know about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s early years together comes from the two books that Disney commissioned/left in canon: Padawan and Master and Apprentice. Despite some mild inconsistencies, the books fit fairly well together, painting a picture of an inscrutable Jedi Master paired with an over-anxious and insecure student who is desperate for approval, relentlessly seeking reassurance that he is worthy of tutelage, and angry and resentful when he can’t get it. In an unfortunate parallel, Qui-Gon, who never shares his feelings (despite his abundant respect for his young charge), also feels that he himself is unworthy and even unable to teach such a gifted boy.
The books make it clear that despite all this non-communicative dysfunctional miscommunication, they love each other abundantly, each with their whole hearts. In Padawan, Obi-Wan struggles to adapt to and understand his Master, so much so that he does the Jedi version of running away, taking a ship meant for a joint mission, setting off on his own to prove himself worthy in Qui-Gon’s eyes, and of being a Jedi altogether. The subsequent adventure is notable not only for the exceptionally well-drawn characters but also for the abundant queer content, Disney effectively putting their stamp of approval on Obi-Wan as some flavor of fluid queer; as a fellow queer human, this made my heart warm like it was sitting in front of a fire in winter (and also made triple sense why the character always resonated with me, we find ourselves however we can in a narrative).
The book is also noteworthy in that this is the first time in the current Disney canon (Legends is still fun, but unfortunately no longer applicable) that Obi-Wan steps away from authority to do his own thing. He is painted as shy and somewhat introverted in Padawan, desperate to be the best Jedi he can, and so in awe of Qui-Gon, he can barely speak (even after three or so years of tutelage), so this defiance is borne of desperation and years of pent-up insecurity finally coming to a head. In the subsequent adventure, he helps a group of abandoned children (the metaphor! I cannot!) solve the mystery of their planet, and finally, the Force opens up to him fully for the first time. It is interesting that he had to be alone and away from all the symbols of his failures to accomplish this — that the Force eluded him while he struggled to understand it but came to him only when he gave up trying to control outcomes and accepted not only his present circumstances but also himself. (Kiersten White writes for all of us who try too hard, and we salute her for it.)
Many of us were salivating for Padawan in the hopes of the first serious Disney!canon story about Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, but the Jedi Master is present mostly as a looming background presence. He makes a few brief appearances at the start and one closing cameo but otherwise functions as a memory ghost for Obi-Wan, popping up in his recriminations as he goes through the trials and tribulations of the story.
The book doesn’t dig into the one real meaty tidbit it drops in the opening chapters: that Yoda forced Qui-Gon to take Obi-Wan as a student. Obi-Wan hearing this story was a catalyst for him striking out on his own to prove himself, but while it is a major inciting event in the book, we never find out if it’s true or if it was something the other boy was making up to cause pain. Hopefully, we will discover more in future books if that story is real.
(Side note to my readers at Disney: I will happily write that story for you. I will happily write ALL THE QUI-GON AND OBI-WAN CONTENT. Give me permish/payment to google docs the hell outta these two gents, and I will write all the stories. We need an entire mountain of early!canon between these two, and that’s not just my daddy issues talking. That is one hundred percent the will of the proletariat, as even an idle filter of the Star Wars tag on ao3 can prove.)
The overall character arc of Padawan is Obi-Wan truly accepting himself, and his relationship with Qui-Gon is strained and uncomfortable until he does. Qui-Gon is thrilled to see the change in his student, but it is also clear — even on the last page — that Obi-Wan still does not fully understand Qui-Gon, which leads nicely into the main emotional arc of Master & Apprentice.
Master & Apprentice
Master & Apprentice takes place one year later when Obi-Wan is 17. He is now angry and frustrated by Qui-Gon’s sedate and seemingly untrusting leadership: they don’t go on missions, Qui-Gon does not include him in his work except as research assistant, and refuses to teach Obi-Wan any saber technique other than most basic forms. Qui-Gon, for his part, is equally at odds with his student. He can’t connect to his obstinate and difficult charge, and he doesn’t understand why they struggle to form a typical Master/Padawan bond. He questions and blames himself as to why they always seem out of sync, and his conclusion is that he is not the correct Master for the boy, that he must not be gifted or wise enough to teach a student of such promise.
If Padawan is a book about Obi-Wan finding balance in the Force, accepting and learning to have faith in himself, then Master & Apprentice is about Qui-Gon doing the same. In it, we see him growing into the man we meet in The Phantom Menace: his experiences with the ancient Jedi prophesies on Pijal lead him to openly defy a direct mandate from the Jedi Council for the first time, to place his understanding of the will of the Force above the will of his superiors.
The trust he places in the prophecy and his own instinct save the day allow readers to truly comprehend how that faith drives him to do the same in The Phantom Menace. Through the events of the book, we gain new insight into his bullish and stalwart certainty when he meets and encounters Anakin, leading Qui-Gon to reject both the Council and Obi-Wan to follow his feeling: that finding Anakin was the will of the Force, and he had no choice but to obey, no matter the cost. Now we understand Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in a whole new way when the two men argue on the terrace of the Jedi Temple in the first film:
“Do not defy the Council, Master, not again.”
“I will do what I must, Obi-Wan.”
We do not know how many times Qui-Gon defied the Council in the past (Obi-Wan uses the words’ not again’, he may have defied the Council a hundred times following the events on Pijal), but Master & Apprentice gives us the reference to what defying the Council means to both of them: the impossible position it places Obi-Wan in, the lives Qui-Gon puts at stake by said defiance, the way their experience in the book shapes the two of them into the men we meet in the movie — Qui-Gon guided by his intuition to the point of reckless rejection of the young man he loves as his own son, and Obi-Wan cautious and measured as a response and in opposition/to balance the man he looked to as his father.
It is also essential to understand in these two stories that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon coming into their own happened independently of each other. Yes, they were physically together in the events of Master & Apprentice, but Qui-Gon largely chooses what to do about his dream visions on his own. He does not tell Obi-Wan about his invitation to the Council or his decision to defy the Council. Obi-Wan, for his part, finally stops looking to his Master to tell him what to do and contacts the Council for instruction on his initiative, agreeing to represent the Republic in Qui-Gons’ stead. These choices not only end up being the correct course of action but also bring the two closer together. Qui-Gon develops a healthy and loving respect for his student’s principles and methods even if he disagrees with them, and Obi-Wan no longer needs constant validation from his Master, having helped save the mission on his own. They finally realize that as different as they are, it is better to work with an occasional disagreement as it teaches compromise, patience, and, most importantly, trust – in themselves and each other.
The Phantom Menace
My major critical problem with this movie is that there is not enough of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan together; there are only a few moments sprinkled in the final edit revealing their actual relationship outside the mundanities of ‘saving the universe’ and such. Truthfully, Qui-Gon spends more character time with Anakin than Obi-Wan, which is irksome to me as a bigger fan of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s relationship than anything having to do with Anakin.
From the few moments we get, it’s clear that Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon have a teasing and quiet camaraderie. Obi-Wan makes the occasional sideways comment with a sly, acerbic, and sarcastic smile, and Qui-Gon rolls his eyes inwardly and tries not to smile while sternly reminding Obi-Wan to stay in the present:
Obi-Wan: I have a bad feeling about this, Master.
Qui-Gon: Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration in the here and now, where it belongs.
Obi-Wan: But Master Yoda says I should be mindful of the future-
Qui-Gon: But not at the expense of the moment. Be mindful of the Living Force, young Padawan.
Obi-Wan: (heaves a small, exasperated sigh) Yes, Master.
This is the dialogue exchange that made me fall in love with them. Qui-Gon reminds Obi-Wan to stay present with all the mild annoyance of a dad telling his son yet again to stop skateboarding down the stairs, and Obi-Wan responds with the Padawan equivalent of, “but mom said I could do whatever want” — while this is truly the stuff of iconic legend, it’s also this script moment that defines both men: Obi-Wan is anxious and planful, and in the future, Qui-Gon is steady, centered, and in the present. Through this exchange, we can trace the nervous anxiousness of Padawan, the angry and resentful youthful insecurity of Master & Apprentice, and the inscrutable and silent man who tried to guide him in both.
I’d also note here that the novelization of The Phantom Menace is much more revealing — perhaps the most revealing of all Star Wars canon as to how these two genuinely feel about each other. Here is Qui-Gon musing to himself about his Padawan:
“Obi-Wan was the son he would never have. He was the future he would leave behind when he died. His hopes for Obi-Wan were enormous, but he did not always share his student’s beliefs.“
Later on in the novel, Obi-Wan has similar thoughts about his Master:
“Qui-Gon was like a father to him, the only father he knew. He was angry that the Jedi Master would dismiss him so abruptly in favor of the boy, but he realized, too, the depth of Qui-Gon’s passion when he believed in something. Training this boy to be a Jedi was a cause Qui-Gon championed as he had championed no other in Obi-Wan’s memory. He did not do so to slight his protégé. He did so because he believed in the boy’s destiny.”The Phantom Menace: Star Wars: Episode I by Terry Brooks
Tales of the Jedi
Let’s pause briefly in Tales of the Jedi to examine a scene that occurs just before the tumultuous Jedi Council meeting mentioned above. Dooku approaches Qui-Gon in the hall, inquiring about the Sith encountered on Tattooine and expressing concern that he will not be there to protect his former student. Qui-Gon responds with this:
Qui-Gon: You need not worry about protecting me, Master. Obi-Wan fills that role now, and he acquits himself…quite well.
Dooku: I should like to meet him someday. You are always singing his praises.
These are the only words we have in visual canon that tell us how Qui-Gon feels about his Padawan; he is always “singing his praises” — while I don’t know what that means for such an inscrutable and taciturn character, it’s clear that his pride and affection for Obi-Wan live close to the surface, at least when Obi-Wan is not around. It’s wonderful to hear, but a small part of me (the part that self-identifies with Obi-Wan and his abandonment, in case it hasn’t been clear yet that I am using this character like a wet rag to process my own nonsense) wishes Obi-Wan could have heard it too (I wish I could have been audibly validated more as well!). Perhaps if he (me!) knew how Qui-Gon (my dad!) truly felt about him (her!), it might have helped at the moment when Qui-Gon accepts Anakin as a student shortly after.
(Just making sure we’re all taking the same journey here and that everyone is one hundred percent clear on where I’m coming from! You’re welcome!)
The Phantom Menace | Part II
With that in mind, let us turn our collective attention to the meeting that changed the fate of the Star Wars universe: Qui-Gon taking Anakin as a student.
Their relationship up until this point is its usual mixture of mostly working well together punctuated by occasional argument: Obi-Wan raises objections here and there to Qui-Gon picking up “strays” like Jar Jar and Anakin but eventually accepts his Master’s choices with an exasperated resignation that all of us with obstinate partners recognize. By and large, they do exceptionally well in the field — rescuing Padme and her entourage from Naboo, keeping everyone safe escaping Tattooine to arrive safely on Coruscant. The film makes it clear they know how to work through their difficulties to a successful resolution, but the Jedi Council meeting changes everything.
“I will train him then. I take Anakin Skywalker as my Padawan apprentice.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Obi-Wan stiffen in shock. He saw, as well, the sudden flicker of hope that crossed Anakin’s face. He did not respond to either, keeping his gaze directed toward the Council. “An apprentice, you already have, Qui-Gon,” Yoda pointed out sharply. “Impossible, to take on a second.” “We forbid it,” Mace Windu advised darkly. “Obi-Wan is ready,” Qui-Gon declared. “I am!” his protégé agreed heatedly, trying unsuccessfully to mask his surprise and disappointment in his mentor’s unexpected decision. “I am ready to face the trials!”The Phantom Menace: Star Wars: Episode I by Terry Brooks
To call back to earlier in this article/mountain of rabbinic dramaturgical nerdery, this is the man who followed his instincts and trusted the Force despite the Jedi Council in Master & Apprentice, and his faith in his own belief saved many lives that day. Here too, he is backed into a corner by the Council; his very last option is to take Anakin as a student himself, and in the end, he has no choice. It was not his desire to hurt Obi-Wan, but it is the consequence of trusting his instincts over all other concerns.
This moment flows into the brief exchange they have on Naboo, where Obi-Wan apologizes and Qui-Gon does not (should have been reversed tbh, not that I wrote elaborate self-indulgent fanfic about it or anything), but he does offer his student the kind of farewell words he should have given before the meeting, or even directly after:
Qui-Gon: You have been a good apprentice, Obi-Wan, and you are a much wiser man than I am. I foresee you will become a great Jedi Knight.
With these words, they are once again a team — a thoroughly mismatched pair, yet still in balance: Qui-Gon is tall, broad, and stately, radiating calm and centered focus, while Obi-Wan is short, slight, and quicksilver with one eye in the future because that’s what’s necessary to keep his Master and his impenetrable emphasis on the present safe. As much as the elder chastises the younger for always projecting ahead, he needs Obi-Wan to be that way, because someone has to be. Someone has to think about the future and what might happen. Qui-Gon needs it, and no matter how much he rebelled against it, so did Anakin.
When Qui-Gon’s death comes in the final Battle of Naboo, it is brutal — and not only for the fact that this powerful, father-esque presence is now gone but also for the final words exchanged at that moment:
Qui-Gon: Obi-Wan, promise me you will train the boy.
Obi-Wan: Yes, Master.
Qui-Gon: He is the Chosen One. He will bring balance. Train him.
With these words, he wipes the tears streaking down Obi-Wan’s cheek and dies. The gesture of wiping away Obi-Wan’s tears is tender, caring, and loving, but even in his last moment with his weeping student, his heart is with Anakin. Qui-Gon’s failure of character here hollows out his death in a certain sense: he is no longer in the present, his mind is in projections and narratives and stories and futures that have not happened, in bringing balance to the Force and the training of this powerful child. He charges Obi-Wan to finish his work and dies without a single word of encouragement or affirmation of love.
The emotional withholding is part and parcel of the whole Jedi gig. I would never pretend our boy was innocent of these sorts of crimes — Obi-Wan repeats this pattern of distant behavior with Anakin. The disaster-lineage generational trauma of never sharing or allowing for deep feelings propels the Star Wars story forward, for better and for worse, but honestly, mostly for worse. I wouldn’t expect Qui-Gon to melt into a puddle of gooey affection, but it is significant for both characters that he dies without giving Obi-Wan the dignity of closure. By making his last words an entreaty, he was essentially leaving his student with a question that Obi-Wan would never be able to answer correctly, which is why deathbed requests are horrible and should be banned from storytelling altogether.
Attack of the Clones
Brief Aside: I am pulling the car over to rant about Obi-Wans’ hair for a moment: I LOVE THE PARTY MULLET. This ‘hairstyle’ was 100 percent an effort on behalf of hair, makeup, and costumes to dim down Ewan McGregors’ transcendent angel-motorcycle hotness so that the idea that Padme would be attracted to a teenage boy rather than Ewan McGregor would be even mildly plausible, and it is this author’s contention that they failed. Not that Hayden Christiansen isn’t a wildly attractive man in his own right, and he made for a very attractive young man, but it’s sheer hilarity to imagine that she would fall for a teenager she only vaguely remembered as a kid instead of Ewan McGregor, because again, not even a mullet, a scraggly beard, and a poorly-cut costume can dim the light radiating off his aesthetic blessings, the end-
My thesis on the party mullet aside, the relevant moment in our journey in this film is when Obi-Wan finally comes face-to-face with Dooku when he is imprisoned on Geonosis. At this point, he knows Dooku is a traitor to the Republic, but he finds it hard to reconcile that with the man who trained Qui-Gon and becomes even angrier when Dooku invokes his old Master’s name to sway him from the Jedi.
Dooku: “I am sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. Qui-Gon always spoke very highly of you.”
This line clearly was the impetus for the scene we dissected earlier in Tales of the Jedi — the writers taking a single line from the films and filling out canon as best they can, but I pause here to note that this is possibly the first and only time in his life that Obi-Wan has heard anything of what Qui-Gon thought of him, much less that it was positive. Furthermore, he has no reaction to hearing this, which is not surprising: the Jedi has very little reason to trust these words, not only because he never heard such sentiment from Qui-Gon himself, but also because when he hears them, he’s trapped on Geonosis by forces attempting to destroy what he’s sworn to uphold, so he can’t trust what Dooku is telling him, even though we (the fans) know the words are true.
Truthfully, you guys, it’s all really sad — it’s God’s own truth, but Obi-Wan will never know it. No matter how many times someone says, ‘Your dad was so proud of you,’ it will never mean as much when it comes from someone else, not the man who should have said it while he was alive.
“That business on Cato Neimoidia doesn’t count.”Obi-Wan to Anakin, Revenge of the Sith
Speaking of writers filling out canon from throwaway lines in the films, this mysterious classic from Revenge of the Sith is the catalyst point for Mike Chen in Brotherhood: he tells the story of what actually happened on Cato Neimoidia. I won’t go into the plot because that’s not the point of this article, but here’s the relevant gist — Obi-Wan attempts a mission on his own, he fails spectacularly, and Anakin rushes to his rescue, much to Obi-Wan’s dismay and ultimate resignation.
The way that Mike Chen writes Obi-Wan in this story is highly illuminating — he is the essence of control. He slows down situations with the Force to see and processes all his options before strategically picking one. All of this is in direct opposition to the man who trained him and the man Obi-Wan himself trained: Anakin acts on instinct and follows his gut. He asks no questions and thinks nothing through, just lopes from choice to choice like a ballet dancer, skirting the dark water beneath every time. By contrast, Obi-Wan is measured and calculated in every decision and in every step he takes.
Brotherhood is also a fascinating read in the sense that we truly get into these characters’ heads at a critical, sensitive moment: the first steps Anakin takes as a Jedi Knight, and the first time Obi-Wan is truly on his own, finally without a Master or a Padawan. It is not surprising in the least that Obi-Wan thinks of Qui-Gon pretty consistently, always asking himself, “What would Qui-Gon do,” and never quite feeling that he is worthy or enough for the demands of his life.
“He [Obi-Wan] thought back to his own early days, his ascension into Jedi Knighthood counterbalanced by the loss of Qui-Gon Jinn, and while his peers seemed to take their promotions in stride, his own circumstances created so many stumbling blocks. How long did it take for him to feel like he’d earned the title?…A memory fluttered through Obi-Wan’s mind, an exchange with his former Master he hadn’t thought of in nearly a decade. “Don’t center on your anxieties.”…Obi-Wan tried a different tactic: a simple question that he’d relied on from time to time over the past decade, and perhaps not enough: How would Qui-Gon Jinn approach the Cato Neimoidia situation?”Brotherhood by Mike Chen
What is surprising in this book is how often Anakin thinks of Qui-Gon: often recalling the elder Jedi in moments of great trepidation or anxiety. He remembers the steadiness of Qui-Gon’s voice, the feel of his hands on his small shoulders, recalling the advice to trust his instincts constantly. By contrast, Anakin does not think of Obi-Wan or Obi-Wan’s teachings in moments of trial. His memories of Obi-Wan are almost always tinged with frustration, anger, and annoyance, much like the boy in Attack of the Clones who declared that he had far outstripped his old Master in ability and chafed at the guidance and education Obi-Wan offered.
“Another memory arrived with a surprise…the strong hands of Qui-Gon Jinn on his shoulders, his soothing words whispering in his ears. It wasn’t the first time he’d felt the presence of the fallen Jedi. Whether a flash of deep memory or one of the Force’s great tricks in his favor, the presence always recentered him, in a way that Obi-Wan’s lectures never did.–“
“Obi-Wan, able to negotiate and improvise his way out of anything with grace and tact, now stood flustered because of an apparent scheduling problem. This is Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin thought with an amused sigh, frustrated by protocol and formalities in a time of war.–“
“Anakin thought back to a quiet moment with Qui-Gon, something hidden from everyone else, possibly even Obi-Wan, on the passage to Naboo. He repeated the fallen Jedi Knight’s words now, in a position where they’d never felt so true. “It will be a hard life. But in the end, you will find out who you are.”
“Anakin put his hands on her shoulders, just as Qui-Gon had so many years ago….He moved to sit down on the rickety deck plates, his intentions turning in a way that he wished Obi-Wan had done more often. Though perhaps his own stubbornness, his constant need to one-up his mentor, ate up so much of their relationship that a moment like this proved impossible.”Various quotations from Brotherhood, by Mike Chen
Despite all this, there’s a reason the book is called Brotherhood. It uses the referenced incident of Cato Neimoidia as the catalyst event for Obi-Wan and Anakin discovering that they are not, in fact, father and son or teacher and student, but brothers (“You were my brother, Anakin“) each raised and centered not by each other, but by Qui-Gon.
“It dawned on Obi-Wan that the young man’s actions reflected the teachings of someone else: Qui-Gon Jinn…Obi-Wan finally understood that he’d been wrong about what Qui-Gon meant to either of them…Anakin had said before that Obi-Wan was the closest thing he had to a father, but that wasn’t totally true. However brief or long, Qui-Gon molded both of them, ushering them into paths based on a belief that they had greater destinies. Their lives were not intertwined by the ties of Master and apprentice or any fatherly relationship. It was greater, longer than that, a bond that grew from the moment they shook hands on the queen’s ship above Tatooine. Obi-Wan and Anakin were forever bound by something without rules or obligations, something intangible yet powerful and fragile: the faith that Qui-Gon Jinn had in each of them.”
“This was Skywalker and Kenobi as they should be: a team built on emotion and intellect, bravado and control, fire and ice. And despite no longer having the formal bond of Master and Apprentice, they would always be connected. In fact, they were better this way. Qui-Gon Jinn would have agreed.”
“Anakin returned the smile, building a bridge between the two, perhaps even a silent acknowledgment of their equal status… “I wish Master Qui-Gon could see us now.”…Anakin barely mentioned Qui-Gon to Obi-Wan. How much did the slain Jedi Master occupy his thoughts?… “He would be proud of you,” Obi-Wan said, a pure sincerity in his voice. Qui-Gon, with such belief that Anakin was the Chosen One—whether or not that was true, it was hard to argue with Anakin’s accomplishments. “His faith would be rewarded.”
And later, Obi-Wan’s reflections mirror this:
“All because he did this without Anakin, without their constant pushing and reining in of each other’s boundaries, and Obi-Wan wondered if Qui-Gon had foreseen all of this—not just his own loss at the hands of the vicious Sith Lord on Naboo, but the fact that Qui-Gon would forever tie two opposing forces together, their partnership always edging toward spinning out of control but always, always finding a way to make a happy landing.”
“Another epiphany soon dawned on Obi-Wan: It also reflected on himself. For all the stubbornness, the arguments, the subtle disdain that they sometimes had for each other, a new form of Anakin was emerging, something more authentic and human coming through since his promotion. Their conversations still manifested as competition, but rather than trying to step on each other, they’d made a subtle turn to verbal one-upmanship. All it took was leaving behind the bond of Master and apprentice…Was Anakin like this because Obi-Wan tried too hard to live up to Qui-Gon’s dying request? If he had been more like Qui-Gon and less like what he thought a Jedi mentor should be, would Anakin have such defiance in him?…And finally, after so many years of self-doubt and petty gripes, Obi-Wan found himself starting to truly recognize Qui-Gon’s faith in Anakin….Did he believe that Anakin would make the right choice when called upon? …Without hesitation, without questioning or searching for justification, Obi-Wan found himself saying yes. Qui-Gon Jinn had a pure and unwavering faith in Anakin. Obi-Wan was merely the conduit for that. And that was all he needed to know.”
I realize a large portion of the above are simple block quotes from the book, but Mike Chen definitely says it better and more succinctly than I can: they are not father and son. They are brothers, both raised in completely different ways by Qui-Gon Jinn, and the incident on Cato Neimoidia is when Obi-Wan and Anakin both understand and, more importantly, accept this simple fact.
The Clone Wars
Qui-Gon only appears in two episodes of The Clone Wars, Season 3, Episode 15, “Overlords,” Season 3, Episode 17, “Ghosts of Mortis,” and is mentioned in one other (Season 4, Episode 23, “Revenge,”).
In “Overlords,” Qui-Gon appears to Obi-Wan as a memory apparition in the caves of the Force planet to issue a warning. Once again (and much to my needy, emotional frustration), they speak only of Anakin. Ghost Qui-Gon wonders if Obi-Wan trained the boy and Obi-Wan replies that he tried as best he can, but Anakin is willful and balance eludes him. As Qui-Gon intones that this planet is a very dangerous place for him, Obi-Wan looks down in thought for a moment, and when he looks up again, his old mentor is gone. Obi-Wan is left standing alone in a cave, once more with no encouragement, connection, or any affirmation from the man he looks to as his father at all (wow, I’m definitely not going through my own sixteen cycles of grief writing this thing, pay no attention to the fanfic author working through her trauma in the corner-)
Qui-Gon appears two episodes later on the same Force planet, but this time he offers actual comfort and advice, telling Anakin that he has grown up strong and brave, to remember his training and trust his instincts so he can eventually bring balance to the Force. This is further evidence of this toxic family dynamic: Obi-Wan is a classic victim of the oldest-child syndrome as the parent learns how to do everything properly the first time around so that they can do it better with the rest of the children. Some might argue that Obi-Wan doesn’t need anything in the way of affirmation as he is a Jedi, but all humans who have feelings know that’s absolute garbage. No matter how ascetic or stoic we are socialized to be, we all need words of comfort and love.
In “Revenge,” Maul throws Qui-Gon’s death at Obi-Wan in an effort to unbalance the Jedi and succeeds — in a rare display of absolute teeth-baring fury (animated though it may be), Obi-Wan lunges forward, completely out of control. He is easily deflected by Maul, who sends him careening onto the lower level. This is another stitch in our understanding of Obi-Wan’s life — the pain of losing his former Master lives very close to the surface, and the grief and regret are a constant resonant hum in his emotional background.
I note these scenes in The Clone Wars as pinpoints in our understanding of him as a character: from the moment Qui-Gon met Anakin, the elder Jedi was consumed by the idea of Anakin and what he represented. To a large extent, Obi-Wan ceased to exist as a person in his own right but rather as a vessel for that obsession. Even as an afterlife manifestation, the only words Qui-Gon has for his former student are about Anakin. These moments in the show sadden me because Obi-Wan is my avatar in the Star Wars universe — I want someone to see and value Obi-Wan for him, the same way I want people to see and value me for me, not just what I can do for them.
Revenge of the Sith
The major arc of this film is Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side while Obi-Wan takes no visible notice, preoccupied with war and his various responsibilities, and we feel Qui-Gon’s absence keenly even though he isn’t even mentioned at all. Obi-Wan does not see (or chooses not to) and cannot provide the kind of guidance Anakin needs to combat his desire for control: he wants to sit on the Council and is incensed when his position is declared merely ceremonious. When Anakin finally attempts to seek help for his conflicting and powerful emotions, he comes to Yoda (not Obi-Wan), wondering what to do about his fears and how to move past them. This is not an important plot point, but in a roundabout way, it demonstrates that Anakin does not value Obi-Wan or any guidance he might offer.
An annoying younger brother, truly.
(I will point out to all of us — but mostly to Anakin, the twerp — that Obi-Wan defeated not just one, but two Sith Lords twice each (Maul: once in The Phantom Menace, sorta kinda in The Clone Wars and then finally in Star Wars: Rebels, and Anakin himself, once in Revenge of the Sith and in Obi-Wan Kenobi series, so for all his fractious self-doubting and uncertainties, the man is perhaps the greatest warrior in the history of the Star Wars universe, and Anakin should shut his fool mouth, I said what I said dot gif.)
Qui-Gon is in this film only in a deleted scene, where he communicates with Yoda from beyond death. When Obi-Wan hears about it (Yoda tells him later in a scene left in the movie), his face and the tone of voice when he says the name “Qui-Gon!?” is a beautiful mix of incredulous astonishment and utter, delirious joy like it’s the only good news he’s ever heard in his life. That moment when he thinks he’ll have a chance to see his old Master again is truly the happiest we see him in all of Star Wars canon.
The series literally stuck a knife in my gut and then stood there and watched as I bled out all over the floor. Like honestly, welcome to my death?
(Broken sad old man hour! Guys, it’s so good. Especially the first episode when he’s just traveling to and from the gig he has, dead-eyed and depressed, I was all, “I too go to work every day dead inside, Obi-Wan.” I felt SEEN; thank you to Ewan McGregor and Deborah Chow and the writers’ room for externalizing how we all feel as we try to summon ourselves to go to work in the middle of all this madness-)
The idea of Obi-Wan, all alone and isolated in the Tattooine desert for a decade, doing nothing but trying to keep watch over Luke and hold a job? With no one to talk to? No one to love? For the first time in his life, Obi-Wan can’t love. He doesn’t have anywhere to put it. He’s loved his whole life: the Jedi Order, Qui-Gon, Anakin, and he can’t turn it off. He doesn’t know how. It leaks out everywhere, the care he shows his Eopie, the search for the toy for Luke, the way he cannot keep himself from answering the call for Leia. The way he desperately reaches out for Qui-Gon in the middle of the night.
It breaks me to watch him struggle to reach his old Master. Obi-Wan tries so very hard to connect with his old teacher, as Yoda supposedly taught him how to do at the end of Revenge of the Sith, but it is not with the discipline of a student or Jedi Knight or with the aplomb of working hard to achieve something, but rather from deep inside his heart, the plaintive cry of a frightened and sad child. We must ask ourselves here: exactly how long has this been going on? Has it been every day/night? Did his one-sided conversation turn into an internal monologue where he would just talk to Qui-Gon in his head to keep himself occupied? To center himself? To ground himself?
He sits alone in the dark in the desert, weeping, calling out for Qui-Gon, and Qui-Gon does not come, compounding his failures and his sense of isolation, the long shadow of Anakin and all that happened standing between him and the man he loved as his father. He reaches out to Qui-Gon on the planet where Leia is imprisoned, searching for help and guidance, and Qui-Gon does not come. He seeks Qui-Gon on the ship before leaving to face Vader for the last time. This time, it is not to ask or implore, but instead to inform, to explain himself. “This is something I must do, Master,” he whispers to Qui-Gon, to himself.
Just like Anakin never sought Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan never seeks Anakin, searching and reaching only for his old teacher and father figure. But it is only when he is not seeking when he is not reaching into the ether, desperate, hungry, and wanting, that Qui-Gon finally appears, and with that, the lesson of Padawan comes full circle: the Force cannot be willed. It can only be accepted. Obi-Wan — nervous, anxious, fractious, desperate to please, afraid of his failures, afraid of himself – had to learn that lesson twice: once in Padawan and a final time in Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I will remind us all at this juncture of Qui-Gon’s first words to Obi-Wan, the first canon words that define these two men:
“Don’t center on your anxieties, Obi-Wan. Keep your concentration in the here and now, where it belongs.”Qui-Gon Jinn to Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Phantom Menace
At the end of Obi-Wan Kenobi, we can see that lesson finally settling into his blood cells, his marrow. Obi-Wan, a child of the Unifying Force, one and a half eyes always in the future, always on the plan, finally lets all the way go.
“The future will take care of itself.”Obi-Wan Kenobi in Obi-Wan Kenobi
Truly, this is a lesson for all of us: something for all of us to remember and hold close to our hearts. This is for those of us who struggle with others — but mostly with ourselves. This is for us who are afraid of the future, afraid of our mistakes and failures, afraid of our successes, afraid of being seen, afraid of letting go, and afraid of losing the illusion of control. Control keeps us safe, or so we think. But the truth of it is that control is an empty idea of nonsense, and it’s never going to help us get more love or affirmation from the people we want it from, nor will it help us achieve happiness. Qui-Gon would tell us to keep our concentration on the here and now, not to center on our anxieties, and he would be right. Obi-Wan, after decades of struggle, would echo those words in telling us that the future will take care of itself, and he’s right too.
Maybe those of us who need to hear and fully accept those words can take a little less time than Obi-Wan to do just that.
Maybe we can all do that starting today.