JEDIS AND TEMPLARS: TRYING TO UNDERSTAND OBI-WAN KENOBI

I am using this first post of the new academic year to process ideas I’m considering for my plenary talk on Obi-Wan Kenobi, to be given at the conference on ‘Star Wars and Ideology’ (April 2018, Universidad Complutense in Madrid, https://eventos.ucm.es/10096/detail/congreso-internacional_-star-wars-e-ideologia.html). I asked specifically to focus on Kenobi because there is one image in Lucas’s saga that still bothers me after many years: that of the burnt, mutilated body of Anakin Skywalker, fallen at the feet of Obi-Wan on planet Mustafar’s volcanic landscape.

This is how the relationship between master and padawan ends: with Kenobi using sickening violence to smash the body of his former pupil. Inexplicably, despite the appalling way in which Obi-Wan punishes Anakin for his first crimes as Darth Vader, the Jedi Master still remains a favourite with many Star Wars fans. True, Skywalker/Vader’s crimes include the near murder of his pregnant wife Amidala and the extermination of all the children apprenticed to the Jedi Temple. Kenobi is himself the only survivor of Order 66, evil Palpatine’s decree to annihilate all the Jedis and, besides, Anakin is trying to kill him. Even so, when Obi-Wan coolly uses his lightsaber to cut off both of Anakin’s legs and his remaining arm (the other was lost to Count Dooku), and when he abandons his former apprentice to be burnt to death by lava, he is not acting as a Jedi, whether knight or master. He is acting in anger, fury and resentment, exactly the emotions that the Jedi code tries to suppress because they lead to the dark side.

Palpatine, or Darth Sidious if you wish, rescues the disfigured, half-dead Vader to imprison him in the iconic cyborg black suit. Meanwhile, Kenobi sees Amidala die in childbirth and organizes the adoption of her newly born twins, Luke and Leia. He hides for nineteen years on planet Tatooine, keeping an eye on the boy, fostered by farmers Owen and Beru Lars (Leia is left in the aristocratic hands of Bail Organa, a member of Alderaan’s royal family). Apparently a new film, scheduled for 2019 and still to be written, will narrate Obi-Wan’s Tatooine exile, which he starts looking like Ewan McGregor and from which he emerges looking like Alec Guinness.

I’m convinced that Guinness’ English avuncular looks in the 1977 film, Episode IV: A New Hope, and McGregor’s Scottish good looks in Episodes I-III have played a major role in convincing audiences that Kenobi is a good man always acting right, no matter the circumstances. We first met him as teen Luke’s new mentor: a clever, serene old man, at all times one step ahead of the malevolent Empire thanks to his proficient use of the Force. Who could have thought back in 1977 that when he meets Darth Vader to let himself be killed by him in strange circumstances both were sharing the memory of the Mustafar horror? Well, nobody, not even George Lucas, who must have came up with that grisly moment only about 2000. By the time Kenobi wins the awful combat with Anakin in Revenge of the Sith (2005), at the end of the trilogy, McGregor has convinced us that Obi-Wan has been an extremely patient father-figure for the unruly, testy, irritating Anakin. And let’s be clear about this: because we find McGregor not only handsome but also a very good actor, we even cheer when dreadfully bad actor Hayden Christensen (playing Anakin) starts losing his limbs, lopped off by Obi-Wan’s blue laser saber. It’s just a case of the villain getting his comeuppance from the hero.

Yet, it is not at all. Anakin’s fall is the result of a serious flaw in the Jedi code: the rule preventing knights from having personal attachments. This is the point at which I need to explain the role of the Knights Templar in Star Wars.

As you know, the Knights Templar where a medieval religious military order. They were founded by Hugues de Payens (1070-1136), a French minor aristocrat who convinced the Christian king of Jerusalem, Baldwin II, to let him form with eight more men a guard devoted to protecting pilgrims. This happened in the aftermath of the First Crusade (1095-99); the Order of Solomon’s Temple was established in 1119. From its humble beginnings, the brotherhood of the Knights Templar blossomed into a rich emporium with houses all over Europe and the Middle East, specializing in international banking (they invented the equivalent of modern travellers’ cheques). The order grew so powerful that by 1312 Pope Clement V and King Philippe IV decided to disband it, killing most of its members. Their arrest was decreed for a fated Friday 13, apparently the origin of our superstitions about that date. Remember Palpatine’s Order 66?

Proof that George Lucas knows about the Knights Templar is very easy to find: he proposed the story on which the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) is based. All kinds of legends are attached to the Knights Templar, who spent their initial years in Jerusalem apparently digging the remains of Solomon’s Temple for treasure and who found, among other objects, the Ark of Alliance and the Holy Grail, both chased by Indiana Jones.

Anyone minimally interested in the charismatic Templars knows that Hugo de Payens introduced a singular innovation in medieval warfare by merging the monk and the warrior in a single figure. Lucas, who initially though of calling his own monkish soldiers Jedi Templars must have been also aware of their code, developed by Payens together with his relative and founder of the Benedictine Order, Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1153). The text of this code, called the Latin Rule (1128) defines in 72 articles how Knights Templar should behave down to the last detail.

Here are the articles that apply to Star Wars and that make it impossible for Obi-Wan Kenobi to successfully guide Anakin Skywalker. Article 14 states that, although children were often accepted as novices in monasteries, they should not enter the order. The code advises parents to raise their sons until they can “bear arms with vigour” and warns that “it is much better” for a candidate “if he does not take the vow when he is a child, but when he is older, and it is better if he does not regret it than if he regrets it”. In contrast, the Jedi train children from a very early age: Qui-Gon Jinn takes Anakin when he is only nine. Let’s add to this glaring mistake the fact that Qui-Gon frees the child from slavery, but not his mother Shmi, forcing the poor boy to abandon her to her sad fate for ever.

Why for ever? Because, allow me to speculate about this, Lucas also borrowed from the Latin Rule article 71, which forbids brother knights from kissing, embracing and even looking at women “be it widow, young girl, mother, sister, aunt or any other”. Contact with women must be avoided so that order members “may remain eternally before the face of God with a pure conscience and sure life”, which also means that “the flower of chastity” (article 70) must be always maintained. This article serves both to prevent women from joining the Knights Templar but also to keep “the brothers” celibate, and always married first and foremost to the order. By the way: married men could join in provided they should stay chaste after admission. The imposition of chastity on religious orders, interestingly, was only made final, after warnings scattered through the centuries, by the Lateran Council in 1123, celebrated only five years before the writing of the Latin Rule. Pope Calixtus II denied the sacrament of marriage to anyone in orders and even annulled perfectly valid unions signed before the Council.

The Jedis are very similar to the Knights Templar in the management of their personal relationships, though not as strict as to forbid looking. Also, there are females among them, though the use of the word Knight for them suggests that non-male Jedis were a politically correct addition rather than part of Lucas’s plans from the beginning. Pope Calixtus II made celibacy compulsory for very pragmatic reasons: whereas many, including the Templars, invoked the purity of the body (which is funny because they only bathed once a year…), the actual purpose of celibacy was preventing the riches of the Church from being scattered among the priests’ and nuns’ families. For the Jedis the key matter was preventing the forming of uncontrollable dynasties (see the Wookipedia for a discussion of this point).

Even though the TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-15) invented for Obi-Wan an impossible romance with Duchess Satine Kryze, Kenobi is a stickler for the Jedi rule and, seeing that Anakin is falling for Amidala, can think of nothing except tell the young man that they should remain friends. As he did with Satyne, to their mutual insatisfaction. Please, remember that Anakin has not chosen to be a Jedi, has lost his mother and has not been allowed in any way to buy her freedom, much less to stay in touch with her. Perhaps now we understand why he falls in love with a kind woman five years his senior, precisely during the time when Obi-Wan allows him to go on his first solo mission, as Senator Amidala’s protector. Since the Jedi code determines that Anakin, then 20, will be expelled if the romance is discovered, the couple embark on a secret marriage, never trusting Kenobi and for good reason. Anakin’s anguish and his fear of losing Amidala make him extremely vulnerable to Palpatine’s manipulations and so he falls on the dark side. Only to be burned to a crisp by the man who was supposed to be for him brother, father, friend and master in one–Kenobi.

I have no idea why Lucas decided to keep this rule from the remote medieval past alive in the 21st century of Episodes I-III, although we must recall that a) all love stories need an obstacle, b) celibacy is still today a major problem for Catholics priests and possibly the root of rampant child abuse. The question is that although Anakin Skywalker is not exactly a sweet guy, he is a man deeply troubled by the loss of his mother, who regains some sort of balance thanks to Amidala. The secrecy of their love and the actual death of Shmi in terrible circumstances call for a thoughtful, compassionate reaction from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Yet the fact that he sides with the absurd Jedi code rather than with Anakin’s very human passions is what brings disaster onto the heads of all Jedis, almost ending the order for good. A wise mentor would have convinced the Jedi Council to allow Anakin and Amidala to live openly as husband and wife, thus putting an end to Palpatine’s hold on the young man. If, in addition, Anakin certainly is the most powerful Jedi ever, then it seems in the Jedis’ best interests to keep him happy and on their side, firmly bound to Kenobi and Yoda’s wise counsel. Instead, we get the ghastly scene on Mustafar when Darth Vader has already taken Anakin over.

Even if you hate Star Wars with all your might, you might perhaps draw a lesson from Anakin’s fall, and that of any young man, to the dark side: any code of masculinity that calls for the suppression of feeling and of personal attachment is monstrous. Far from being a wise man, Obi-Wan Kenobi unwisely enforces that revolting rule because he is himself a limited man, incapable of truly empathizing with his troubled padawan. Unwittingly, then, Lucas sends with his underrated second trilogy a most important message: if men fail to understand what other men feel, and how to guide and help them, then we are all in trouble.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (follow updates from @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Please be warned that I check them for spam and this might take some time. Download the yearly volumes: https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. See also: https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada.