Friday, May 27, 2022

May The Source Be With You

When See Threepio asks Luke Skywalker if he has heard of Obi-Wan Kenobi (for whom Artoo Deetoo claims to have a private message) Luke replies:

"I don't know anyone called Obi-Wan, but Old Ben lives out beyond the Dune sea. He's kind of a strange old hermit."

When Old Ben rescues Luke after the attack by the Sand People, Luke says:

"Ben..Ben Kenobi? Am I glad to see you!"

Old Ben replies

"Tell me young Luke, what brings you out this far?"

And when Ben dies, Luke is grief stricken: 

"I can't believe he's gone".

So: the subject for today's textual analysis is: how well did Luke Skywalker know Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi before the events depicted in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope?

Had Luke met Ben before the purchase of Artoo and Threepio?

Since Luke says that he doesn't know Obi-Wan, me might reasonably infer that he does know Old Ben. (At this point he still thinks they are two different people.) This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that they know each other by sight, and are on first-name terms. 

"Old Ben" appears to be a nickname, rather than a description: every time Luke refers to Kenobi, that is what he calls him, even though he is only around sixty years old. "Old Ben" seems to be relatively well-known on Tatoooine: when Luke is talking to Uncle Owen about him, he says "I wonder if (Artoo) means Old Ben..." and not, for example, "I wonder if he's anything to do with that mysterious stranger that some people claim to have run across". 

"Old Ben" has clearly lived along time in the desert: he knows how Sand People conceal their numbers on the move, and what noises will scare them off. But he is also quite familiar with Mos Eisley, even though it is a considerable distance from his home: familiar enough to know which bars are frequented by pilots. And he carries enough local cash to be able to afford to buy Walrus Man a drink. Old Ben may live alone, but he is not a complete recluse: he has some interaction with wider society.

In a deleted scene, Luke briefly mentions Old Ben to Threepio while they are chasing Artoo in the landspeeder:

"Old Ben Kenobi lives out in this direction somewhere, but I don't see how that R2 unit could have come this far."

This scene exists primarily to tell us how Luke was able to so easily track Artoo through the desert. (Answer: He didn't track him, but he knew roughly which way he was going.) Lucas presumably cut the scene because it was not a question which would occur to most members of the audience. But from our point of view it confirms that the location of Old Ben's home is relatively well known. Ben is not living in complete secrecy. [See Note 1]

When they finally meet, Ben tells Luke that his father was the best star pilot in the galaxy, and adds: "I understand you have become quite a good pilot yourself." So while he does not know Luke well, he has at least talked to other people about him. Perhaps Luke has developed a reputation and Ben has overheard people talking about his Beggar's Canyon exploits in Mos Eisley?

The original Marvel Comics adaptation by Roy Thomas follows the movie script pretty closely. However, Alan Dean Foster's novelisation is inclined to embellish the script with a novelist's and science-fiction reader's eye. (For example, he talks about Jedi scientists investigating the nature of the force; and mentions that while you can't inherit piloting skill, some of the natural aptitudes which make for a good pilot do run in families.) I think that, in studying George Lucas's script Foster must have pondered how Luke and Ben are able to recognise each other and adds a few words to smooth over the join. In this novel, when Threepio asks Luke about Artoo's message, Luke replies.

"I don't know anyone named Obi-Wan: but old Ben lives somewhere out on the fringe of the Western Dune Sea. He's kind of a local character: a hermit. Uncle Owen and a few of the other farmers say he's a sorcerer....He comes around every once in a while to trade things. I hardly ever talk to him though. My uncle usually runs him off. But I never heard that old Ben owned a droid of any kind."


George Lucas didn't write the novelisation, but it went out under his name and he approved it; and while it may not be canon, it cannot run violently counter to the way he pictured his universe in 1977. So: Luke recognises Ben because Ben occasionally visited the moisture farm while he was growing up. Is there anything else we can say? 

When did Uncle Owen tell Ben that he couldn't pass Anakin's lightsaber onto Luke?

In the movie, Ben says: "Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it."

The comic book truncates this slightly: "Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough."

How old is old enough to own a lightsabre? It's a lethal weapon, and you presumably wouldn't give it to a child. (Some 1970s comics still carried advertisements for BB air rifles, which, rather endearingly, told kids to take extra chores and tidy their own rooms to show their parents that they were old enough and responsible enough to have a gun of their own.)  Anakin is considered too old to begin Jedi training at twelve; and the Younglings we see Yoda training in Attack of the Clones look to be around eight. However, we know from The Clone Wars cartoon series and a deleted scene in Return of the Jedi that padawans construct their own weapons: this is an important right of passage for a Jedi. So Yoda and the Younglings could have been using some kind of non-lethal training weapon.

If we only knew Star Wars from Roy Thomas's comic book adaptation, I think we would assume that Ben has decided that the nineteen year old Luke is old enough to own a sword. Most sensible states would not licence a fire-arm to a person before their eighteenth birthday. 

Again, Alan Dean Foster embellishes the scene:

"When you were old enough, your father wanted you to have this...I tried to give it to you once before, but your uncle wouldn't allow it."

A few minutes later (in the novel) Ben remarks:

"You've grown up quite a bit since the last time I saw you."

So Foster clearly intends us to infer that on the occasions Luke recalls Owen throwing him off the farm, Ben had really come to give Luke his father's lightsaber. 

Radio Days

Now we need to cast our ears over a fourth version of A New Hope: namely Brian Daley's 1981 radio adaptation. This was approved by Lucas and regarded as canonical or semi-canonical until the Disney reboot.

In this version, when Threepio ask about Ben, Luke replies:

"I don't know anyone called Obi-Wan, but old Ben Kenobi lives somewhere near the Western Dune Sea. He's a kind of local character, a hermit. My uncle made him get off our property once."


Daley takes on board Foster's suggestion that Ben sometimes visited the Lars farm. But he changes the general "my uncle usually runs him off" to the specific "my uncle made him get off our property once." And he massively expands the deleted scene from the film, where Threepio and Luke are talking about Ben while searching for Artoo Deetoo. In the radio version, Luke tells Threepio that "Ben does live out this way somewhere" and Threepio asks directly if Luke has met him. Luke replies

"In a way...about five seasons ago. My friend Windy and I rode out on his dewback into these wastes."

A dewback is one of the big dinosaurs creature that we see Sand People and stormtroopers using as beast of burden. Luke says that him and Windy fell off the animal, and ended up lost in the desert. Luke heard a voice calling his name: 

"It was old Ben Kenobi. Somehow he found us and guided us back to the farm. He told us a lot about what it was like to live in the barren land all alone." 


When they get back to the farm, Owen is angry with Ben and runs him off the farm.

"Ben was looking at me kind of funny, like he wanted to say something and Uncle Owen would give him the chance."

In Ben's hut, the significance of this is confirmed. When Ben gives Luke the lightsaber, he says: 

"Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough, but your uncle wouldn't allow it....I wanted to give it to you once before, but your uncle ordered me off your farm and told me never to return."

"Five seasons ago" would make Luke about fourteen, consistent with Foster's suggestion that Luke has grown up since Ben saw him last.

So: the original movie imply that Luke and Ben have some slight knowledge of each other before the film starts; the novel extrapolates a few visits by Ben to Luke's farm to try to hand over the lightsaber; and the radio series adds that the two of them spent at least a few hours in the wilderness together, and had one longish conversation, when Luke was about fourteen years old. Ben knows Luke's name because he is the son of his old apprentice. The prequels embellish this further and tell us that it was Obi-Wan who brought Ben to Tatooine to begin with. 

It is, inevitably, slightly more complicated than that. 


Luke delays chasing Artoo Deetoo until the morning after he absconds, giving the droid about eight hours lead. Artoo travels at roughly a human's walking pace, so he can hardly have gone more than 30 miles. Thus, Luke in his vehicle is able to catch up with him in only an hour or two. The encounter with the Sand People must be relatively close to Obi-Wan's home, placing it within, say, 40 miles of the Lars homestead. 


Foster thinks that Luke thinks that Owen thinks that Ben is literally a magician. "That wizard's just a crazy old man" is not merely an insult. That further implies that people in the Star Wars universe are not universally skeptical about the existence of the supernatural or mystical forces.


When the comic and the novel agree with each other, but disagree with the movie, it is safe to assume that they share a common source: namely Lucas's penultimate screenplay or the un-edited ur-cut, which still exists in the Lucas vaults but has never been made public. For example:


"You must do what you feel is right, of course."


"You must do what you feel, Luke"

"Right now, I don't feel too good."


"Very well" said Ben Kenobi "That will do for a beginning. Then you must do what you feel is right."

Luke turned away, thoroughly confused "Okay. Right now I don't feel too good."


"You must do what you feel is right, of course"

"What I feel is right? Ben, I'd like to help you, to help her, but is it right to run out on Uncle Own and Aunt Beru?" 

"Right now I don't feel too good" must come from Lucas's script, since it is highly unlikely that Foster and Thomas would invent the same embellishment independently. (c.f "You know only a part of the Force; you sense its reality as little as utensile perceives the taste of food".)

Conversely, when the Radio version and the Novel agree with each other and disagree with the movie, it is safe to assume that Brian Daley is using Alan Dean Foster as a source. It is highly unlikely that Foster and Daley would independently change "Dune Sea" to "Western Dune Sea" or "kind of a strange old hermit" to "a local character, a hermit"

There is no example of the comic and the radio series, agreeing with each other against the film.


This is consistent with the idea that Ben lives a relatively short distance from Luke's home. Daley says that Ben is unusal because he travels the Jundland wastes on foot.


Andrew Ducker said...

Thank you, that was interesting!

Margaret said...

Aye, that was a great breakdown of how much the two could know each other. I was wondering this same thing after I watched the first two episodes last night.