BTS 'Ben' Kenobi?

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Darth_Nub, Sep 27, 2012.

  1. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    There might not be much to this, but it's something that's bugged me for a long time - why did Obi-Wan Kenobi change his name to Ben Kenobi when he went into exile? It's not much of an alias, is it?

    The character was only called 'Ben Kenobi' in the third draft of SW, then received the dual names in the fourth draft (he didn't really exist in earlier drafts, except as General Luke Skywalker).
    I can sort of understand why GL did it initially, out of universe - it adds a layer of mystery before Obi-Wan actually turns up & admits it's his name as if it's screamingly obvious - "Well of course I know him, you knucklehead, he's me!"
    It's also a somewhat exotic name, compared to Luke, Biggs, Owen, etc - it's one of the reasons I think the character wasn't intended to be originally from Tatooine.

    Luke continues to call him 'Ben' in ESB, although Yoda never does so, he only refers to him as Obi-Wan, as does Vader.
    Then when Obi-Wan's ghost turns up in ROTJ, Luke addresses him as 'Obi-Wan' for the first time.

    I don't believe this is a coincidence or an oversight. It's also quite telling that George Lucas would always refer to him as Ben in interviews back in the OT era.

    Then there's this:

    So the script describes the character as Ben, yet Luke addresses him as Obi-Wan. Same with the script of ESB.

    So what's the story? Was 'Ben' his real name, with 'Obi-Wan' being some sort of title, or Jedi given name? Or was Ben a name he adopted in between the PT & OT?
    I was really expecting something to crop up in the PT - one rumour was that a close friend of Obi-Wan's, a clone trooper, was called Ben.
    Is there even a limp EU explanation?
    Last edited by Darth_Nub, Sep 27, 2012
  2. oierem Jedi Grand Master

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    There no in-universe explanation, but the behind-of-scenes story is quite interesting. Ben was always Ben until the last draft of Episode IV, so obviously, it seems that it was the name that Lucas liked the best. Curiously, when he decided to give him an alias, he used Ben as the alias and Obi-Wan as his real name... But naturally, he referred to him as Ben all the time, both within the movie and behind-the-scenes.
    But Obi-Wan is his real name of course, so when the PT was made, Lucas started to refer to him as Obi-Wan both within the story and behing the scenes. And nowadays, he talks about him as Obi-Wan all the time.

    If anyone is a fan of Harry Potter, it's a bit similar to what happened with Peter Pettigrew/Wormtail: the narrative and characters always refers to him as Pettigrew in the third book, yet he's always called Wormtail starting with book four. It seems that the author's preference for the name changed in between novels. (and that created a small plot-hole in the movies).

    It seems something similar with Lucas, who used to prefer one name and gradually got used to Obi-Wan.
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  3. Ord-Mantell70 Jedi Grand Master

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    I thought the issue would be addressed at the end of ROTS too, although it didn't cause me much trouble during the OT days.

    Ben can only be understood as a hiding surname, to cover the tracks of his real identity, but the name Kenobi, which is the most important as he was known as general Kenobi, remains...

    So, indeed, it really looks like all this was designed more to generate a shroud of mystery around the character at the beginning of ANH, and some suspens until Ben is revealed to be Obi-Wan.

    Although both are interchangeable, the line above in ROTJ where Luke says Obi-Wan ("Why didn't you tell me ?) is actually pretty jarring, as he always stuck to Ben before.
  4. PiettsHat Force Ghost

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    I always supposed it was just a change Obi-Wan made to fit in better with the locals. I'm sure he had to go into town once in a while to pick up food or supplies. The name "Ben" sounds like it fits with Tatooine's culture more -- Shmi, Owen, Beru, Biggs, Luke, etc. Whereas Obi-Wan sounds more exotic to me so I always thought it was just Obi-Wan's way of blending into the society.
  5. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    Actually, I always felt it worked - Luke's a Jedi-in-waiting now, so he now uses Obi-Wan's 'Jedi' or proper name. It's that sudden use of 'Obi-Wan' which has always suggested to me that it's almost a title.

    Although if 'Ben' was just an alias he picked up after the events of ROTS, there's no reason why Vader or Yoda would ever use it (or even know it), while it's what Luke knew him as all his life. Perhaps Luke, having matured as a Jedi, now perceives Obi-Wan completely as the Jedi Knight he once was, rather than the old hermit from Tatooine.

    Something else just occurred to me - Leia immediately recognises the name 'Ben Kenobi' and even repeats it when Luke finds her in the detention cell. Perhaps she's just reacting to 'Kenobi', but even so, it sounds as if she recognises the name as one Obi-Wan was known by.
    Last edited by Darth_Nub, Sep 29, 2012
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  6. hlc88 Force Ghost

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    Perhaps it was something Bail Organa was told before they went their separate ways. If he ever wanted to talk about him to Leia or other people trustworthy refer to him as Ben?
  7. Silas Tri Jedi Knight

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    This is what I always thought as well. It never felt to me that the name change was a way to hide his identity as much as it was an attempt to blend more into society on Tattooine.
  8. CoolyFett Force Ghost

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    We don't really get to see the relationship between Obi Wan & Owen. We see Obi Wan give baby Luke to Beru, but we never know how Owen feels about the situation. I'm sure Obi Wan create the alias to avoid the information getting back to imperial agents. Even Tarkin mentioned that Obi Wan should be dead by now. What was Anakins face expression under the mask when he first sees obi Wan after 19 years. A lot has changed for the both of them.
  9. CoolyFett Force Ghost

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    Wasn't Leia in route to find Obi Wan & bring him to Alderaan? Surely Bail knew where he was. They just never got the chance to land on Tatooine.
  10. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    And there's another can of worms. During the development of ROTJ, it was established that Owen was Obi-Wan's brother, not Annikin/Anakin's, and it was published in the novelisation. Then the PT went back to what was probably the original plan, albeit making Owen Anakin's stepbrother.

    Owen's lines in SW/ANH regarding Ben/Obi-Wan continue to hint at 'Obi-Wan' being something more than just a name:

    So the crazy old man 'Ben Kenobi' is obviously still around, but 'Obi-Wan Kenobi' doesn't exist anymore. The man is still alive, but the hero of the Clone Wars is long gone?

    Not unlike this classic exchange:

  11. oierem Jedi Grand Master

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    If I'm not mistaken, Vader and Yoda always refer to Obi-Wan as Obi-Wan. Only Luke (and Leia once) refers to him as Ben, which is logical, since Ben is just an alias.
  12. Ord-Mantell70 Jedi Grand Master

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    But he switches to Ben a few seconds after ("I can't do it Ben. I can't kill my own father"). So Ben and Obi-wan always seemed completely equal to me. Sure Obi-wan is the name he was known as during the Old Republic and the Clone Wars when he was a full Jedi knight. But there's nothing to really suggest it was a "Jedi name" or something close to a title.

    Regarding Leïa, we can assume she knows that he now goes by the name Ben on Tatooïne one way or another, even if she refers to him as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the recorded message.

    I really wish there had been an official explaination of this Ben/Obi-Wan duality somewhere, as to what exactly was in Lucas' mind when he devised this for ANH screenplay. Did Obi-Wan change his name for hiding and security purposes, to merge well with the locals on Tatooïne like someone mentioned above, did he simply became nicknamed "old Ben" by the locals for whatever reason, or was it basically a mean to add mystery and complexity to the character without any specific story point ?

    Anyway I'm surprised the issue never arose in interviews, both in 1977 or in the PT days, even if it's a minor plot point actually.
  13. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    So he does, I forgot about that. Although in a way, you could say that when Luke addresses him first, he's doing it as a Jedi Knight, in a somewhat formal manner, then when he calls him 'Ben', it's while in conversation (I know I'm reading way too much into it).

    It's a strange issue, and yes, while it's minor, it does sort of niggle, simply because it's never been explained or addressed officially in any way. Like I said in my original post, it's not much of an alias - if you're going to change part of your name to remain anonymous, change the family name, not the given one.
    Last edited by Darth_Nub, Oct 29, 2013
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  14. Ord-Mantell70 Jedi Grand Master

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    It is. That's why I tend to think it was there more to provide a sense of mystery and suspens at the beginning of ANH than anything else. No in-universe explaination.
    Maybe Lucas liked both the names Obi-Wan and Ben so much that he couldn't get himself to throw one away and wanted to keep both.

    Obviously. I had always considered it was so because all we know is that he became a hermit in hiding after the event of the PT. But it sure doesn't make really sense.
    Last edited by Ord-Mantell70, Oct 6, 2012
  15. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    Upon reflection & other's contributions, I'm leaning towards this explanation (which quite possibly could have been GL's intention when he made the film):

    Much the same as immigrants will often 'Anglicise' a part or all of their names, and not always due to a fear of prejudice, it can simply be convenient, or a symbolic embracing of a new life.

    It's not a completely satisfying in-universe explanation in a Saga context, but neither's 'Luke Skywalker' living on Darth Vader's home planet with with a step-uncle who still lives on the same farm Anakin Skywalker visted about 22 years earlier. A farm which also happens to host the grave of Shmi Skywalker.
  16. Zer0 Jedi Grand Master

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    I just thought of it was a way to disguise himself and fit in, didn't think too deeply about it.
  17. EHT New Films Manager

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    I agree, this is how I always saw it too. What I thought was more confusing though, given the exposition of the PT, is how he tells Luke he's used that name since "oh, before you were born". It was obviously after, since we never see him use it in the PT and the above explanation (once he arrives on Tatooine) makes more sense overall. So I guess I see it as another example of Obi-Wan being intentionally vague at that point when telling Luke anything about the past.
  18. Brandon Rhea Manager Emeritus

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    I always thought it would be interesting if we found out that Obi-Wan was a name given to him when he was taken into the Jedi Order. His birth name would've been Ben. So when he switched to Ben while on Tatooine, it would suggest that Obi-Wan -- the Jedi Knight -- was dead, and he had become someone else. Ben Kenobi was someone better, someone who had tossed aside the burdens of Obi-Wan Kenobi while remaining mindful of his mistakes and being ready to train a new hope.

    I always took that to mean Luke was mad. Obviously he was upset in that scene, since he felt betrayed by Ben. So rather than calling him Ben, the name that Luke always used for him and suggested a good relationship there, he opted for the more formal Obi-Wan and that displayed his annoyance.
    Last edited by jedimasterbac, Oct 8, 2012
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  19. Darth_Nub Saga, Classic Trilogy and Film Music Manager

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    Also agree with this - it's not unlike how someone in the real world might address a co-worker/student/friend as "Mr *****" or even 'Sir' if there's some sort of conflict, when they're normally on a first-name basis. Again, it just emphasises the formal nature of 'Obi-Wan' (which disappeared in the PT - Jar-Jar calls him 'Obi' in AOTC).