I think you can make a very compelling case that Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi are the two greatest Jedi we’ve ever seen.
They have both been around since the very earliest days of Star Wars, and their legend has only continued to grow over time. They both have been central figures to stories that Lucasfilm has told in recent years, since the Disney acquisition, and what’s interesting is that those stories are among the most compelling narratives we’ve seen in Star Wars – and have a lot of similarities.
What I’m referring to are The Last Jedi and Obi-Wan Kenobi; one of them is, in my opinion, the film in the Disney Star Wars era, and the other is, in my opinion, the best live-action series in the Disney Star Wars era. And at the heart of both stories is a heroic Jedi Master who is burdened by failures and needs to find hope again.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is set ten years after Revenge of the Sith, and when we meet Obi-Wan he’s a shell of his former self. He’s unwilling to help another Jedi in need, and extremely hesitant to get involved in a mission to help Leia. He’s in exile on Tatooine, but it’s not because of purpose but because of fear and failure. He was training Anakin Skywalker but lost him to the dark side, and now his former apprentice haunts the galaxy. But throughout the story Obi-Wan learns to move beyond his failures, become a better Jedi than we’d ever seen him, face his former apprentice, and fight to ensure that the next generation (Leia and Luke) would survive.
The Last Jedi is set over four decades after that series, and when we meet Luke he’s a shell of his former self. He’s unwilling to help another Jedi in need, and extremely hesitant to get involved in a mission to help Leia. He’s in exile on Ahch-To, but it’s not because of purpose but because of fear and failure. He was training Ben Solo but lost him to the dark side, and now his former apprentice haunts the galaxy. But throughout the story Luke learns to move beyond his failures, become a better Jedi than we’d ever seen him, face his former apprentice, and fight to ensure that the next generation (Rey) would survive.
You can tell the obvious parallels in story, and even though there are differences in execution and plenty of differences in the details (such that it’s not just a re-telling of the same thing), it’s what they have in common that makes the heart of these narratives so compelling. Combined with stellar performances from Ewan McGregor and Mark Hamill – performances that I’d argue are each of their best work in the franchise – these stories don’t shy away from showing us our hero in the throes of despair and defeat. They’ve failed. They’ve lost hope. Contrary to what some people think they want, our heroes are not actually superheroes, unable to feel pain and unable to fail. Stories about those figures get boring fast (because there’s no journey, just cool youtube clips), and but also are hard to relate to. But when Star Wars delves deep into these heroes we have already grown to love and actually shows us them processing their pain and failures, that’s when it really shines.
Because all of us fail. All of us make mistakes. All of us have moments in the past we’d like to forget about, but can’t. And sooner or later, all of us tend to experience moments where we lose hope. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker aren’t exceptions to that. But they also prove that being a hero isn’t about never experiencing those things – for in order for that to happen we’d need to cease to be human – but is about growing beyond them. As Tala says, there are some things you can’t forget, but you can fight to make them better. That’s what defines a true hero from a non-hero. See, Anakin Skywalker and Ben Solo failed too, but their failures consumed them. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker learned to deal with them in a healthy way and grow beyond them, rising from the ashes to recover hope – and represent a beacon of hope to others.
This is Star Wars at its very best, when the franchise is willing to let its heroes be vulnerable, willing to show us our heroes at their low points, and then willing to show us their rise and reclamation of hope. Because then it’s a true inspiration to us, something that transcends merely enjoying a project and moves to actually inspiring our future, like Temiri Blagg at the end of The Last Jedi. He heard about Luke’s heroics, and it gave him hope.
It does the same for audiences who are open-minded enough to watch their heroes be vulnerable, only to rise to a greater peak than ever before.