Obi-Wan Kenobi is often considered as the greatest Jedi to ever live. There is certainly good reason for this, both in and out of universe. As the first Jedi introduced in the saga, he set the standard by which every other Jedi, even Yoda himself, would be measured in the eyes of fans. While the hundreds of other Jedi introduced in the saga all have admirable traits of their own, Obi-Wan has remained the stalwart answer to the question of who the greatest Jedi truly is. But…why?
An understanding must start from Kenobi’s place of origin, A New Hope. There he is established as the wizened mentor who sets Luke on the path of his Hero’s Journey. In this regard he is typical to the Campbellian arc. Below the surface there is more though. There is a man who has sacrificed everything he’s ever known and become a recluse for two decades in order to stand for what he believes in. The new series on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi, will explore what this means for the character as he begins his hermithood and begins to figure out what those beliefs are outside of the Order proper.
Kenobi’s most important act, however, comes not on the sands of Tatooine but on the Death Star. As the trio of Han, Luke, and Leia are attempting to get back to the Millennium Falcon, he proves his commitment to the light once more by sacrificing himself . But he is more than a martyr. He is a model, one that Luke will emulate years later by throwing his weapon away instead of striking his father down. When Luke has to stand front of his own failed student, he takes the same peaceful approach that Kenobi did in letting Vader strike him down. Had Luke not seen Kenobi’s selfless act, and had Kenobi lacked the faith in the Force to act himself, the galaxy would be a tragically different place.
The prequels add great depth to this moment. Despite all the tragedy Kenobi faces, never once is there a question of his willingness to stand for his code. Arguments can be made that his code was too dependent on the Jedi Code; those arguments have merit. Nonetheless, his line in the sand is as clearly defined as any character in Star Wars (and possibly all of fiction). That line is where he stands when he makes the choice between killing a man he loved as a brother or giving his own life to stand for the faith said brother had lost.
There have been plenty of chances for Obi-Wan to cross that line, but he never did. Qui-Gon Jinn, his master, dies while Kenobi cannot do anything about it. But he does not falter. Satine, the love of his life, is killed right before his eyes, but he does not sway. The Jedi Order falls at the hands of their closest allies, but he does not give in to his grief. Padme, one of his closest friends, dies essentially in his arms, but he gives his life to giving her family a second chance. When his best friend and brother, Anakin Skywalker, turns to the dark side, Obi-Wan does not sacrifice his faith in the light. He does not kill Anakin/Vader because that is against what he stands for.
Obi-Wan stands for the light, for the Jedi, and for the Force. Those all make him a hero, but they do not make him relatable. His empathy for others does that. It is why he cannot kill Anakin. It is why he holds his greatest adversary, Maul, as the former Sith Lord dies. Here is the man that killed his master, killed his true love, and spent years working solely to make Kenobi’s life miserable. Obi-Wan’s reaction is not anger, not aggression, not even resentment. It is empathy.
That empathy starts within. Obi-Wan knows and admits that he has flaws. In The Phantom Menace, Padawan Obi-Wan apologizes to his master for his behavior in front of the Council. That shows a vulnerability many Jedi at the time lacked. In Return of the Jedi, Kenobi admits to Luke that he thought, as it regards Anakin, that he could “train him as well as Yoda. [He] was wrong.” Here he not only admits not being a perfect Jedi, he admits not being a perfect man. By not trying to be perfect, he becomes the ideal.
Chief amongst those flaws is his conviction that Luke has to kill Vader. But in his final scene, as he stands by Yoda and his brother, the look on Obi-Wan gives Luke shows gratitude and an understanding that he was wrong again. But that it is okay. Even as a part of the Force itself, Kenobi learns. He grows, he shows forgiveness, and he embraces his place in the larger part of things. That is what a Jedi not only should be, it is what a Jedi must be.