The Curious Case of Ben Kenobi — Why Does Obi-Wan Age So Quickly?
With the release of the awesome Rogue One: A Star War Story, Lucasfilm is continuing to expand the vast and compelling Star Wars universe.
With the release of the awesome Rogue One: A Star War Story, Lucasfilm is continuing to expand the vast and compelling Star Wars universe. From kyber crystals, to Darth Vader’s injuries and his formidable fortress, we’re getting to learn more and more about the characters and society of our favorite galaxy far, far away.
But for all the intricacy, even a revered series such as Star Wars can have inconsistencies in its stories, particularly between the original trilogy and the prequels. So, let’s talk about one which is repeatedly brought up in these kinds of conversations: the little matter of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s sudden aging…
Let’s begin at the origins of this irregularity. When Star Wars first began back in 1977, the sage and efficacious Kenobi was initially played by Sir Alec Guinness. Though the veteran actor wasn’t the biggest fan of the series by any means, he still left quite an impression.
Indeed, ever since his mysterious entrance, Obi-Wan Kenobi has become one of the most beloved and quoted characters in the series- even more so since the prequel trilogy, where he was played by the ever-brilliant #EwanMcGregor. In this part of the saga, McGregor portrayed him as a snarkier, though no less cautious young Jedi Knight.
And this is where the problem arises. McGregor is last seen as Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith, where he delivers an infant Luke Skywalker (#MarkHamill) to Tatooine. The two characters meet again in A New Hope, only the Jedi Master is here played by Guinness.
"Hold up a minute!" some fans have cried, "That’s quite a transformation! If there’s only a nineteen-year gap between the films, why does Obi-Wan look so different?" Sure, people age over the course of twenty years, but between The Phantom Menace and Revenge of the Sith, there’s approximately thirteen years' difference and from his hairstyle and beard, Kenobi has barely changed. Talk about playing catch up!
Certainly, Obi-Wan’s whitened hair and beard are even more incongruous if we consider just how little Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) has aged between Revenge of the Sith and #RogueOne. The latter movie, as we know, is set mere days before we see older Obi-Wan, so how come Kenobi has withered so dramatically whereas, apart from the odd grey, Bail is looking pretty damn good?
Is this simply a mistake that George Lucas made with Obi-Wan Kenobi? Is this one small case of flimsy continuity, or is it a misconception? Let’s look a little bit further.
“Your Eyes Can Deceive You… Don't Trust Them.”
Obi-Wan gives Luke this advice in his training aboard the Millennium Falcon, but it could also be employed here as well. Though Star Wars canon has always been a tricky thing to navigate, it’s pretty unanimous when it comes to Obi-Wan’s age and birth year. Sources agree that he was born roughly twenty five years prior to The Phantom Menace, meaning that by the end of Revenge of the Sith- some thirteen years later- Kenobi was roughly thirty eight years old.
Thus, a further nineteen years later, during the events of A New Hope he was fifty-seven years old. So the math adds up, but what about the actors themselves? Surely their own ages don’t correspond with the characters?
Well, actually they do! Given that at the times when their respective movies were released, Ewan McGregor was thirty four and Alec Guinness was sixty three, the visible difference in Kenobi’s appearance definitely makes a little bit more sense. Sure, there may be a couple of years between their real life age and their character’s, but we all know that movie studios do take a little liberty with actors and their ages.
Some people may still decry that Ben Kenobi looks considerably older than Bail Organa. However, such people might be forgetting some crucial things about Obi-Wan, and what has happened to him over the course of the saga…
“What a Desolate Place This is.”
Obviously, we aren’t knocking how Alec Guinness looks in A New Hope – he’s a fine specimen of a man for his age! But if the visual difference between his Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ewan McGregor’s is too striking to you, we need to remind ourselves of what his character has been through.
Coupled with this is the fact that Kenobi is a veteran of the Clone Wars, and this intense and grueling conflict is sure to have left some sort of mental scarring to say the least. Of course, let’s not also forget the intense sorrow he must surely feel about the loss olost his very close friend — and even surrogate brother- of thirteen plus years.
Coupled with this is the fact that Kenobi is a veteran of the Clone Wars, and this intense and grueling conflict is sure to have left some sort of mental scarring to say the least. Of course, let’s not also forget the intense sorrow he must surely feel about the loss of his very close friend — and even surrogate brother- of thirteen plus years.
After all that bonding over their adventures together, Kenobi was forced to maim Anakin and then watch him burn alive in their final battle. He would definitely feel guilty for being unable to prevent the birth of the tyrannical #DarthVader. That’s also saying nothing of how Kenobi must be in a constant wary state in case his past is discovered, or that he and Luke are betrayed to the forces of the Empire!
Yeah… that’s quite a lot of psychological blows to nurse. So what’s this got to do with his aged appearance? Well, it’s a longstanding fact that in some cases, extreme stress can cause people to age faster than they normally would have. There are many documented real-life cases to prove this occurrence, but Star Wars itself provides one in the form of Sir Alec Guinness’s co-star Peter Cushing.
The man who played Grand Moff (or Moth?) Tarkin was so distraught by his wife's death, that by the time that he came to film Dracula AD 1972 shortly after her passing, his original role had to be changed from a father into a grandfather to accommodate the huge change in his appearance.
Therefore, it’s still pretty reasonable to assume that during his solitude on Tatooine, the very human Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi was nursing a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder. And speaking of Tatooine…let’s face it, the conditions there aren’t exactly ideal if you want to keep yourself looking fresh and vibrant.
Tatooine has two suns which, to paraphrase Jar Jar Binks, will do ‘murder to yousa skin.’ As inhabitants of Earth, we know how much damage one sun can do to a person's complexion, so we can only imagine what kind of industrial strength sunscreen those Jawas are using.
No wonder Obi-Wan looks a little bit woebegone when he saves Luke and co. from the Tusken Raiders!
“Your Powers Are Weak Old Man!”
It's very likely that the noticeable difference between McGregor and Guinness’s iterations result from George Lucas's lack of forethought, but thankfully this isn't too overt to derail the story. As we have seen throughout this piece, there are lots of low-key details which help to smooth over the incongruity of #ObiWan's portrayals. Certainly, there are plenty of reasons to justify why he appears in this way in A New Hope- the years have not been kind to him.
Come his final battle with Darth Vader, it’s depressing to think just how ground down he has been over his years in exile. With the loss of his friends playing on his mind, and the sway that the Sith Lords had over the galaxy sapping his powers, his sojourn in the Outer Rim must have severely weakened the once mighty general of the Clone Wars.
But that doesn’t mean that fans love him any less. Certainly, the internet bristled with excitement when it was revealed he would appear in Star Wars Rebels, and it’s agreed throughout the fandom that Ewan McGregor is an outstanding highlight of the prequel trilogy. In fact, McGregor is always being questioned about whether he would return to the series, and he seems very eager to come back!
Could we see him get a solo movie of his own? Or will Alec Guinness’s Obi-Wan return via the same digital trickery that brought Peter Cushing back for Rogue One?
However it happens, we want more Kenobi!