When Luke Skywalker mentions the name “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in A New Hope, the wizened hermit Ben Kenobi thoughtfully remarks, “that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time.”
He then reveals that he’s Obi-Wan, but he had gone by the name of Ben ever since the end of the Clone Wars, when the fall of the Republic and defeat of the Jedi causes him to go into exile on Tatooine, watching over young Luke until the time is right. But why Ben?
In The Clone Wars TV series, there is an arc where Kenobi goes undercover as the bounty hunter Rako Hardeen, he uses the alias of “Ben” to communicate while on the mission. It’s a cool nod to what we know is to come, but it nonetheless still doesn’t explain why he chose the name, just that his exile on Tatooine wasn’t the first time he did so.
But the recent book Brotherhood, by Mike Chen, reveals where the origin came from, and it’s actually bringing back into canon what the Legends novel Kenobi, by John Jackson Miller, established. Early in Brotherhood, as Obi-Wan talks with his friend Dexter Jettster as he looks for more information on a bombing on Cato Neimoidia, Dex mentions Kenobi’s “old friend.” As Obi-Wan asks what friend, Dex replies:
“‘Oh, I don’t know. Dresses better than you. Striking eyes. Mandalorian royalty. Used to call you Ben, for some reason,’ Dex said with one of his hearty chuckles. ‘That one. I hear she’s quite the savvy politician.'”
That old friend is, of course, Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore. Obi-Wan had a long history with her, one that saw both of them romantically pulled toward one another, only to forsake those attachments in pursuit of their separate paths. That complicated past would catch up to both of them during The Clone Wars, as Satine’s commitment to peaceful neutrality conflicted with the rigors of the galactic war raging around Mandalore. And it was Satine who called Obi-Wan “Ben.” Why? We still don’t know that. But knowing that the name really can be traced back to her gives an immense weight to it.
It’s become clear in these stories, both in The Clone Wars and in Brotherhood, that even years later Obi-Wan still has feelings for Satine. So in using this name as his alias when he needs one, it’s a way of subtly reflecting that this is a part of him and always will be. It’s clear from The Clone Wars that Obi-Wan was adopting this name, as needed, before he ever made it to Tatooine with Luke. But I think it’s possible for us to think of an additional weight and significance to him using it in exile. He’s failed. Satine is dead. Anakin has fallen to the dark side and is presumed dead – at Kenobi’s blade. The Jedi are all but extinct. The Republic has fallen. I mean, talk about a recipe for despair and discouragement! And it’s in the wake of all of this that Obi-Wan begins going by the name of Ben exclusively. It’s a means of hiding and blending in, but knowing what we do now, it’s also a way of carrying around a part of Satine with him. He was ready to leave the Jedi Order for her, but he ultimately didn’t. I’m sure part of the guilt running through his mind is the thought that maybe, if he had, none of this would have happened – much like Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To dreaming of what would have happened had he settled down with Camie instead of getting involved in the fight.
So in exile, Obi-Wan carries all of that around with him. It’s more than simply being an undercover alias; it’s a reminder of better days gone by, and of the woman whom he loved.