Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Embody Hope for the Rest of Us
A long time ago at a skating rink not too far away, the re-release of the Star Wars original trilogy inspired new battles at laser tag check-in. My friends and I weren’t satisfied with any random combination of team color and vest number. Why would we be, when one of us could charge into combat bearing the callsign “Red 5,” like Luke Skywalker before us?
Countless playful kids have wanted to be Luke or, Revenge of the Sith notwithstanding, Anakin Skywalker. Yet perhaps two other Jedi now enjoying a cultural moment offer a helpful corrective, both to “Chosen One” heroes throughout our culture and to the opposing swing towards darker antiheroes. Obi-Wan Kenobi last summer and this year’s Ahsoka focus on Jedi in Anakin and Luke’s orbit who, unlike the Skywalkers, never attempt to take up the anointing. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka Tano’s stories of stalwart though sometimes troubled faithfulness, rather than otherworldly holy power or grim vengefulness, show us characters who reconnect with and hold onto hope in the face of great pain.
Luke and Anakin, befitting their shared messianic mantle, are portrayed as swashbuckling, heroic, gutsy risk takers with just enough attitude to be fun. Fate rests in their hands, and we mortals can’t help but find that compelling.
Our love of “chosen one” stories in fiction neither began nor ended with that first chaotic crash into the Tatooine desert in 1977. From Superman to The Matrix’s Neo, the wizard Ged of the Earthsea series to Harry Potter’s spells and Eleven’s Stranger Things telekinesis, we’re happy to race after a previously hidden messiah catapulted by strange new powers from unassuming background to cosmic deliverance. New examples constantly crop up to reflect our larger archetypical desire for messianic salvation, though they have increasingly been counterbalanced by a growth in gritty antihero dramas.
On the one hand we long for the final Hope that comes paradoxically from among us yet from outside of our reality. On the other hand, we’re unable to shake off the pain around us, supposed real-life heroes who fall like Anakin, and the simple mathematical realization that not everyone can be The One. Both styles have their places covering our bookshelves, illuminating our screens, and filling our hearts, but it seems to me that each trajectory misses something important about the human experience.
A Larger Galaxy
Enter the other Jedi. Disney’s rapid expansion of projects outside the Skywalker saga has created new ways of looking at heroism across the Star Wars universe and the shattered remains of the Jedi religion.
First, summer 2022 gave us Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ewan McGregor’s return to the titular character. Set ten years after Anakin succumbed to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith, the series finds Obi-Wan living as a recluse on a desert planet, ostensibly awaiting Luke’s coming of age and need for training, yet largely devoid of hope. His spirit broken by the diabolical betrayal of his former apprentice and friend, he mostly keeps to himself and has closed himself off from the omnipresent Force that previously defined his life and purpose. Yet the series ends with a man reconnected to himself and his faith, in touch with his past (quite literally), and hopeful for a future he’s doing his part to create. By the last episode we see an Obi-Wan well on his way to becoming Luke’s foundational mentor in A New Hope. Obi-Wan is no messiah, but as with John in the wilderness, salvation runs through his faithfulness at the edge of the world.
Now Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s former apprentice seen in multiple animated and live-action series, is portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the simply titled Ahsoka. While her story is still being told, Ahsoka has experienced ample reason to despair as Obi-Wan did.
Ahsoka was raised and trained as a Jedi in bitter galactic war, made responsible for leading clones in combat as a young teen, framed for murders she didn’t commit, kicked out of the Jedi Order, and tentatively welcomed back into the armed forces just in time for the galaxy-wide genocide of the Jedi, led in part by her former master. She lost her family by way of acceptance into the Jedi Order as a young child, she lost countless soldiers around her, she lost her adoptive family and religion, and she lost her mentor and friend. The story of Ahsoka’s formative years is one of trauma upon trauma.
We don’t yet know where future properties will take our heroine, but we know Ahsoka has not languished permanently in her darkness. Initially resolving to lead a quiet life in hiding, Ahsoka nonetheless went on to serve as a spy for the nascent rebellion prior to her own series. In addition to diving into galactic civil war, she wrestles with the troubling knowledge that her former master, once presumed dead, is in fact Darth Vader, whom she eventually faces in combat on behalf of others. Ahsoka’s premiere episode shows us that she briefly took on an apprentice in the past, a relationship she rekindles after coming to terms with the pain of losing her own master. Rebellions are built on hope, but so is teaching—hope for the future and hope for an outcome larger than oneself.
Obi-Wan and Ahsoka represent more than new expansions to the Disney+ catalog. Neither main character is held up as a potential galactic savior, unlike their Skywalker connections, yet they are both able to rise above their pain, isolation, and sense of personal failure. They are not without flaws; they struggle, they fall, they are beaten by others and wracked by their own guilt, yet their journeys do not collapse permanently into angst, bitterness, or vengeance, no matter how strongly they may feel the call of darkness for a time. Stripped of any delusions of grandeur, they embody a worthy outcome of striving in a fallen world.
They are not the chosen ones; they are not the fallen vengeful ones. They are simply themselves, faithful to their call as best they can be, even when little else has been faithful to them. Their devotion is a marked contrast to both glittering messiahs and dark antiheroes born of our disillusion, serving as a welcomed addition to recent pop culture storytelling. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka’s lives capture the beauty of faithfulness in imperfect people and give us a new look at perhaps the oldest form of heroism: someone like us simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Our Galaxy Needs Hope, Too
Those of us who follow Christ may sense a particular pull towards these Force wielders and the way they overcome their woes. A chosen one might echo the story of Jesus, but the lives of Obi-Wan and Ahsoka sound more like the disciples and saints who make up the great cloud of witnesses. These Jedi’s stories, taken as a whole, embody the late Eugene Peterson’s description of discipleship as a long obedience in the same direction. No matter the cost, however great the upheavals around them, they go on.
When a young Leia Organa asks a still troubled Obi-Wan what the Force feels like, he in turn asks her, “Have you ever been afraid of the dark? How does it feel when you turn on the light?” Leia says it makes her feel safe, to which Obi-Wan responds, “Yes, it feels like that.” Obi-Wan is pressed but not crushed and fixes his eyes on the unseen rather than the seen, just as Paul would have us do (2 Corinthians 4).
Though she feels both the call and consequences of revenge during her first confrontation with her former master, Ahsoka for her part chooses a new path when Anakin offers her life or death in the ethereal World Between Worlds, long after his demise. With the rage of the Dark Side clawing at her soul and fresh reminders of all the death in her past weighing on her mind, Ahsoka tosses aside her chance to strike down Anakin, declaring, “I choose to live.” Despite every reason to the contrary, Ahsoka chooses to overcome evil with good instead of being overcome by or becoming evil (Romans 12:21).
These triumphs don’t end with Obi-Wan or Ahsoka because they teach others. Teaching those who come after us might be the most hopeful rebellion in their galaxy or ours. After all, the last thing Jesus did in his earthly ministry was commissioning the disciples to make more disciples, carried by the hope of his presence in a world full of challenges (Matthew 28:19-20).
Do chosen ones really have to have faith or hope? I’ve never been one, so it’s hard for me to be sure, but I do know that not being one constantly requires faith, an often odds-defying faith in that which is far greater than myself. I find myself therefore grateful for any example, real or fictional, whose steps can teach me how to take my own or help me communicate what I believe to be true.
While stories of chosen ones and antiheroes may be inspiring, entertaining, or revealing, we weren’t made to walk their way. The path in front of us asks us to put aside both ego and disillusionment. It may be fun to pretend to be a Skywalker, but I want to grow up to be an Obi-Wan or Ahsoka, and embody one of the central virtues of both Christianity and Star Wars: hope.