What Obi-Wan Kenobi should have explained about Force Ghosts
The Disney+ series punted on an opportunity to unpack life after death, redemption and self-acceptance for Star Wars fans
Hello there! In case you weren’t aware, I’m a bit of a Star Wars nut (thus This Is The Way) and as such, I have some thoughts on the Obi-Wan Kenobi series that just had its finale on Disney+. If you want to see what I really loved about the ending episode, go here (spoiler warning). I will write more about that at length very soon. For today though, I’m going to opine a bit on what went wrong and a missed opportunity for the Kenobi series. And that is explaining for Star Wars fans what is happening in this image below, and how this was able to happen….
So, if you want to stay spoiler-free for the ending of Obi-Wan Kenobi, turn back now. I’ll lay out how Force Ghosting works vs how many think it works.
The missed opportunity for Kenobi: Answer lingering questions for Star Wars fans
The Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ stumbled its way to a conclusion. After five weeks and six episodes of a millennial-fever dream reunion featuring Ewan McGregor as the downtrodden Jedi master Kenobi, and Hayden Christensen as the sulking remains of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) we’ve been left with a handful of deeply annoying questions. Why does Leia seemingly not give a damn when Obi-Wan dies aboard the Death Star? Why is Owen Lars back to being anti-Obi-Wan in the original film? Why would Obi-Wan walk away from a still-breathing Darth Vader a second time, allowing for the possibility again that Vader lives to unleash even more suffering on the galaxy? Does Luke remember having his Tatooine home attacked by a crazy woman with a red lightsaber in the middle of the night when he was 10?
The best of Disney-era Star Wars content has been when the new stories answer nagging fan questions born from the inconsistencies and minor plot holes scattered throughout George Lucas’ original trilogy. Such as with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), where director Gareth Edwards managed to nail the first-ever Star Wars spinoff film by illuminating how the Rebels got their hands on the Death Star plans in Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), and also how it was that the Empire allowed for their mega-expensive government infrastructure project to have a lethal vulnerability in plain sight in the form of an exposed thermal exhaust port. It was sabotaged from within. Boom! Easy. Great story to tell.
Lucasfilm and Star Wars Story Group really only had one job with this limited series: Explain how it was that Obi-Wan Kenobi learned in the solitude of exile on Tatooine to vanish into thin air during his battle with Darth Vader aboard the Death Star in A New Hope. On this actual important question, they punted.
Am I projecting my own view of what their job was based on my own experiences conversing with other Star Wars fans over three decades? Yes. Is it also the case that the Kenobi series on Disney+ began with a recap of the prequel trilogy that topped off its montage with a reminder that in the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), aboard Bail Organa’s CR90 blockade runner Master Yoda informed Obi-Wan that he had communed with the long-dead Qui-Gon Jinn, Kenobi’s former master?? Yes. Yoda went on to say, “How to commune with him, I will teach you.” And then began chapter I of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, set ten years after that moment.
We’re made to assume that we’ll learn in this series how Obi-Wan developed this ability, often referred to as “Force Ghosting” in Star Wars fandom parlance.
Obi-Wan Kenobi failed to tell that story with roughly six hours of opportunity to do so. Instead, they focused on the trauma of youngling survivor turned psycho “justice” killer, Reva, and muddied the waters of Princess Leia’s level of familiarity with Kenobi. These two subplots had their merits, let me be clear, I enjoyed both Leia portrayed by Vivien Lyra Blair, and Reva by Moses Ingram. There is something worthwhile about their stories in this show.
But as in life, when you say “yes” to one thing you’re saying “no” to something else. And Star Wars said no to the only reasonable premise for this miniseries. They didn’t help fans understand how life after death works in Star Wars, or how “Force Ghosting” works, so hopefully this helps.
There are two common misperceptions about the shimmering blue ghosts of Star Wars that are our favorite Jedi characters after death. Allow me to clear some things up that will help tie the Obi-Wan Kenobi series to the original Star Wars film. To do that you’ll find excerpts here from my book, How The Force Can Fix The World: Lessons on Life, Liberty and Happiness from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. There is still much we don’t know about Force Ghosts, but here’s what we do know.
Force Ghosting is not about Judeo-Christian understandings of redemption
When Anakin Skywalker appears as a joyful spirit at the conclusion of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), this created a general misperception about how Darth Vader managed to do so much hideous evil followed by one measly good thing (saving his son Luke from the Emperor) and enjoy the fruits of eternal life. The West is wonderfully steeped in the Christian paradigm. As such, this moment of transformation read to a lot of fans as a statement on redemption, Christ-like sacrifice and being “born again.” It’s a nice head-canon, but untrue of how this afterlife in Star Wars works.
Star Wars doesn’t just borrow from the Abrahamic religions. It also derives a lot of wisdom from eastern religions, Hinduism and Buddhism chief among them. Take Force ghosting for example.
It’s not just the holiest of Jedi who return as Force ghosts. Darth Vader appears as a Force ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi. This is troubling at first to many of us whose views on redemption have been shaped by Judeo-Christian philosophy. Why should Vader get to live on after death while his thousands of victims are just gone? The same can be asked of Kylo Ren, who vanishes into the Force upon his death. How are these villains worthy of such an honor?
Well, they aren’t. The inner peace that Force ghosting symbolizes isn’t something you achieve by being good. It doesn’t work that way.
So how does it work you ask? That brings me to misperception number two.
Life after death was unheard of to Jedi up until the Episode II: Attack of the Clones
When Master Yoda first heard a voice from beyond speaking to him in his head, it was in the animated series The Clone Wars. This was unheard of. So much so that the Jedi Council almost had Yoda committed. Seriously. Mace Windu, Ki Adi Mundi and the rest of them thought Yoda had gone senile or something when he spoke of Qui-Gon Jinn reaching out to him from death. So in the final episodes of The Clone Wars season six, Yoda travels the galaxy at the behest of Qui-Gon Jinn’s disembodied voice to learn this new power.
Yoda is led to a metaphysical realm inhabited by ethereal beings who present him with several trials to prove himself worthy of eternal life through the Force. What Yoda learns is that the power to conquer death requires a head-on confrontation with his own inner darkness.
During Yoda’s trials the beings that possess the knowledge of the Force ghost power say to him, “You are the beast, and the beast is you.”
Yoda must duel a dark version of himself. It’s in that confrontation he realizes that the mangled, frightening, red eyed creature he’s fighting is no alien, but his other half — just as much an authentic part of himself as the gentle and kind mentor who trains Jedi pupils everyday in the temple on Coruscant. Once Yoda chooses to see his dark-self as an equal, the beings say to him, “You have conquered your hubris.”
Knowing thy whole self. Dumping self-righteousness. That’s the key to the kingdom of eternal life in Star Wars, and why Jedi were so blind to the possibility for thousands of years. Their narrow minded religion didn’t allow for the kind of self-examination and grappling with Carl Jung’s “shadow self” that would constitute self-acceptance and the death of hubris. The Jedi were holier than thou, puritanical creatures who practiced the suppression of their most natural desires in order to live free of want, lust, hatred or envy. Good for them! But it’s still a form of willful ignorance that Qui-Gon Jinn was skeptical of as a Jedi, and why for some reason he was chosen by the Force to take those first steps into the world beyond flesh and blood.
Obi-Wan Kenobi does show us the death of hubris for its lead character by piggybacking on the work of prequels and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. This series then gave us an Obi-Wan learning to accept his imperfections as a teacher and to forgive himself his sins, as a pathway to the experience Yoda had in The Clone Wars when he battled his dark passenger.
But the fact remains that these things were an afterthought for the Obi-Wan Kenobi series directed by Deborah Chow. Kenobi’s reunion with Qui-Gon and the beginning of his spiritual journey was put on the back edge of the backburner for less interesting characters and arcs.
And that’s a shame.
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