SPOILERS for the first two Star Wars trilogies.
Okay, so we FINALLY got a trailer for the Disney+ Obi-Wan Kenobi series. I’m so excited! Obi-Wan is one of my favorite Star Wars characters and has been since I was seven years old. I’m glad that the rest of the Star Wars fanbase is excited for this show, too. Unlike Boba Fett, Obi-Wan is a major supporting character with an established personality, so he has an actual character to explore, especially when he’s now in the throes of defeat while the Empire is at its height.
However, I’m confused about the quote that most online Star Wars fans associate with Obi-Wan: “Hello, there!” …That’s it? Obi-Wan is the blueprint for most mentor characters in live-action speculative fiction, and the quote the fanbase most associates with him is a simple greeting?
What about “These are not the droids you’re looking for,” or “Mos Eisley: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious”? Or my very favorite: “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Maybe “Hello, there!” is a meme or inside joke in the Star Wars fandom that I simply don’t get? Also, Obi-Wan only uses this greeting twice in live-action: once in the original Star Wars and once in Revenge of the Sith. I’m guessing “Hello, there” becomes more of catchphrase in the animated series, such as The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels? Still, Obi-Wan is a wonderful character who gets a lot of both deep and fun lines, so why does the fandom reduce him to a simple greeting?
This obsession with “Hello, there” highlights one of my issues with the Star Wars fandom: a lot of people experience the franchise’s stories on a surface level without considering things like character, themes, and motifs. They just want stuff that looks and sounds cool. While that’s fine, I worry that this trend means that people don’t have the ability to analyze the stories they like on deeper levels. And that’s one of the reasons I started this blog: I wanted to show people that popular fiction can have interesting themes, motifs, and character development. So on principle, I can’t just jump on the “Hello, there” train.
Instead, I want to talk about my favorite Obi-Wan Kenobi quote and what it means to me.
“Strike me down, and I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Obi-Wan says this in the original Star Wars (no, I’m not calling it A New Hope) right before he engages in his final duel with Darth Vader. I once saw a clip of a Tumblr conversation where someone pointed out that Obi-Wan said this, and the other person said, “So…swamp ghost.” But that is merely surface-level thinking about this quote and what Obi-Wan is able to do after his death. I’m guessing these Tumblr users expected Obi-Wan to be able to blow up the Death Star from the Great Beyond after he said that. But if you analyze this quote, you realize that it has way more meaning in relation to Obi-Wan’s character, the way he guides Luke, and his relationship with Anakin/Darth Vader.
When Obi-Wan says the quote above, he is ultimately boasting to Darth Vader, but he doesn’t do it in a loud or aggressive way. He says it calmly and evenly. This boast contrasts with Darth Vader’s boast at the beginning of this duel that when they parted, he was just the learner, but now he is the master. Obi-Wan’s counter-boast (this quote) suggests that even though Vader is stronger know, he still lacks Force powers that Obi-Wan possesses. And this power comes from the Force itself, which is important to note. After all, Darth Vader’s power is mostly material, and it comes from his association with the Galactic Empire. But Obi-Wan’s power is mystical and spiritual, not material or physical. He has no space stations or Stormtroopers or Imperial Offices to carry out orders. But he can use the Force in at least one way that Vader does not understand.
As a Force ghost, Obi-Wan can pierce the veil between life and death to help train Luke as a Jedi and give him more information about how Anakin became Darth Vader. He doesn’t have the Empire’s “might makes right” kind of power. Instead, he has the power of wisdom and knowledge that can help Luke on his journey, and he retains that power after death.
Anakin/Vader is all about keeping people alive. He goes into a terrifying rage when his mother dies, and he flips out and throws everything away when he believes Padme may die in childbirth. To him, death is this frightening, horrible thing. But Obi-Wan knows that death is a part of life and that he will become one with the Force when he dies. And he’ll still retain his connection to Force after death, which may be why he seems unafraid of death in the original Star Wars. Obi-Wan knows that he’s still connected to the Force in death. He also seems to know that his death will motivate Luke. That’s why he lets Vader strike him down.
And that’s another thing about this quote and scene: Obi-Wan chooses to let Vader strike him down. In some ways, the quote above is a warning that death cannot stop Obi-Wan. It’s also a warning that Obi-Wan may let Vader win the fight, which he ends up doing. By allowing Vader to kill him, he robs Vader of a true victory over him. He chooses the hour of his own death so Vader can’t take his life away unexpectedly. Also, Obi-Wan is an old man by this point, and he’s ready for death. Letting Vader make him one with the Force probably isn’t a big deal for him at this point.
Overall, this quote embodies everything I love about Obi-Wan: it sounds wise and serene, but it’s also clever and slightly cheeky, just like Obi-Wan himself.
However, this quote also means a lot to me for personal reasons. You see, my dad took me to see me to see the rereleased Star Wars and Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was seven, back in early 1997. (We didn’t manage to see the rereleased version of The Empire Strikes Back in the theater, but I did watch it on a VHS that my parents recorded when it aired on TV some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s.) My dad had loved the Original Trilogy when it was first released, and I think he took me because he wanted to introduce me to something he liked.
After Obi-Wan died, my dad kept whispering “If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” to me. I’m pretty sure he was preparing me for when Obi-Wan returns as a voice at the end of the film and then as a Force ghost in the next two films. And his repetitions worked! I understood that death hadn’t stopped Obi-Wan, and I regarded that quote as important, both for the story and for life.
You see, I was bullied a lot as a kid. In many cases, I was the scapegoat of my grade (because every kid needs that one person to take their problems out on, right?). I already talked about it a bit in my WandaVision post. I was very bright, but socially awkward, and I dealt with all that pain and social confusion by losing myself in stories. And Star Wars was the first work of fiction I encountered where I wanted to visit a fictional world. I wanted to be friends with the main trio of character (Luke, Leia, and Han), but I looked up to Obi-Wan, or Ben Kenobi, as I thought of him. He seemed like a person who knew how the universe worked.
So over the years, I thought of this quote, and I think it helped keep me going, no matter how much social disdain I endured. All those bullies had more social capital than me, more power among their peers. But I had powers they couldn’t understand: my intelligence and my creativity. Also, I have a very good memory. I never said this quote to any of my bullies, but it definitely reminded me that I wasn’t entirely powerless and that I would get through that period of my life. (Yes, I know Obi-Wan dies after he says that quote, but he chooses that, and he lives on in Force ghost form afterward. On some cosmic level, he survives.)
I think my love for the “If you strike me down…” quote vs. the fandom’s love for “Hello, there” exposes two different types of fandom: interpretative fandom and collective fandom. I’ve seen people discuss this on social media, and I know I am definitely part of the interpretative side of fandom. The interpretative side is where you get fan fiction, fan art, and other works that interpret the characters in various ways. The collective side of fandom is where you get people who prove their fandom worth by collecting merchandise and consuming as much franchise content as they can. Interpretative fandom is about feeling feelings and thinking thoughts about the works you love, while collective fandom is about have the most stuff related to the thing you love.
I think the love of “Hello, there” comes from the fact that it’s repeated in the first two trilogies and in various other Star Wars media. So fans collect Obi-Wan’s “Hello, there” repetitions and other characters’ uses of this phrase like they’re action figures. But the thing is, “Hello, there” doesn’t really mean anything like the other Obi-Wan quotes I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It’s just a goofy meme.
And while I love memes as much as the next person, I feel like the “Hello, there” obsession kind of devalues Obi-Wan’s character. He’s so much more than a simple greeting. He’s wise, sly, funny, clever, and just a bit sneaky. He also knows that violent power isn’t the only kind of power in the Galaxy Far, Far Away. Those are the parts of Obi-Wan Kenobi that I think we should remember. I know that’s the Obi-Wan I’m looking for.