One of the longest-lasting and best-loved supporting characters in the Star Wars franchise has to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi Master (played by Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor). Kenobi uses three different lightsabres in the movies, each one with its own peculiar combination of origin and traits.
Kenobi is first seen on screen in the 1977 debut film, as Ben Kenobi. He mentors Luke, plays a few pivotal roles in the plot (including shutting off the tractor beam), faces Vader, and ultimately sacrifices himself for Luke and the greater good. Despite this early fall, however, he is absorbed by the force and reappears both in flashback form and present context, in both the prequels and later films.
The prequels took this relatively flat character and brought depth and tension to him. We see him training, growing in power, struggling with his inner passions and stubbornness, and coming into direct confrontation with both his enemies and his superiors on his own side. Perhaps the most powerful part of his character development comes at the point when he chooses to train Anakin Skywalker in the ways of the Force, despite signs of danger in doing so, and the contrary advice of his governing council. It is this inner conflict that takes centre stage in the stories, but of all of Kenobi’s skills, fighting has to be at the top of the list. Let’ look at his stats:
- He defeats Darth Maul.
- He defeats Anakin Skywalker, without killing him.
- He beats General Grievous, considered to be at or near the top of the list when it comes to being dangerous with a lightsabre.
- …and the list goes on with many, many, less notable victories, often against a multitude of foes at a time.
Through all of this, the man and his weapon are always together – though the weapon appears in three different styles. But why did the styles change? Was it just for the art of filmmaking, or is there some reason for it within the stories?
Let’s go through them and have a look.
Obi-Wan Kenobi's First Lightsabre
The first lightsabre he uses, chronologically speaking within the story, is in Phantom Menace. Kenobi is a young padawan training under Qui-Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson). This weapon has a plain-looking black and grey hilt and handle, without any additional buttons or knobs. It is clean and minimalist, and closely resembles that of his master. The blade is blue, which indicates a Jedi who is dedicated, serene and obedient – despite a stubborn side and a strong and passionate sense of justice and fair play. Ironically, Qui-Gon is the more rebellious one of the two, wanting to take on Anakin as a student. Perhaps if it weren’t for Qui-Gon’s wishes, Kenobi might not have taken on the ill-fated young man. Perhaps it was in this way that a rebellious streak in his master eventually manifested itself in the student. In any case, at this point, Kenobi’s blade was simple, straightforward, and showed little complication.
Kenobi uses this weapon to mow down battle droids and other lesser foes, but he also uses it on Naboo in the battle that included Kenobi and Qui-Gon against Darth Maul in a battle that still brings happy smiles to the faces of Star Wars fans.
At the culmination of the fight, Qui-Gon is slain, Kenobi is desperately hanging on to the lip of a generator shaft, and he has lost his lightsabre into the depths below. He picks up his master’s weapon and manages one final strike against their formidable foe – and wins the day.
That moment is arguably the one in which the relatively static Kenobi gets complicated. Perhaps it is tie for an evolution of his weapon as well.
Obi-Wan Kenobi's Second Lightsaber
Kenobi is promoted to Jedi Knight and, as his former master had wished, he takes on Anakin as his padawan. Since Kenobi’s sabre has been lost, he is in need of a new one.
The second sabre is very similar to the first. The opening is a bit different, but it is still a plainish, minimalist design in muted black and grey. It is so similar, in fact, that many fans think it is the same weapon as before, and thing that either the filmmakers made a continuity error, or that Kenobi retrieved his weapon from the generator on Naboo. Others think he kept Qui-Gon’s for himself. None of these is the case.
Kenobi uses this weapon in Attack of the Clones, culminating in the battle with Jango Fett in the rain on Kamino… but again, the lightsabre is lost at the end of the film, taken from him by Count Dooku on Geonosis and never returned. Kenobi uses a temporary replacement weapon for the battle on Geonosis, but is once again in need of creating a new lightsabre of his own making.
Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi Master Lightsaber (3rd)
As a new Jedi Master, and a character who has grown in width and breadth throughout his adventures, Kenobi creates his third lightsabre in a form notably different from the other two. Though this change was also necessary, from a filmmaking point of view, to create continuity between the prequels and the original, 1977 film, it also fits well with the story, the background of the process of lightsabre crafting, and the development of the character.
The new weapon is of a heavier design, to begin with. It also has an all-black grip with silver bands around the ignition switch, base and pommel. The older-style red button has gone, replaced with a gold switch. The overall shape of it is elegant, tapering to a narrow neck and then widening out at the tip into a bowl shape. This is clearly a move from imitation of his master, perhaps as a mark of respect, to development into his own personality and design as a Jedi Master in his own right. The blade though, is still blue. As the colour reflects the inner traits of the Jedi, we can see that his essence has not altered. He is still the dedicated, calm and steady soul that he was as a padawan.
Kenobi constructs this weapon after Attack of the Clones and uses it liberally throughout the film. This weapon, of the three, sees the most overall action and appears in the most iconic scenes of the franchise, including the first fight against Anakin on Mustafar, the years on Tatooine, and then the final fight with Anakin (as Darth Vader), and his transition to the Force. It is also notable as the only one of the three weapons to be used by both Guinness and McGregor in their roles as the beloved Jedi Master.
It is not clear what happens to the weapon after Kenobi falls, though it is most likely that Vader took it after the fight and that it was destroyed with the final destruction of the Death Star. Alternately, Vader may have escaped with it and it was later lost in the second Death Star. Perhaps it is sitting in a dusty box on some backwater planet, waiting to call some troubled soul to its use on the Dark Side. Time may tell. Perhaps not.
In any case, Luke uses the design as the inspiration for his green lightsabre, and in that, the craftsmanship and legacy of Obi-Wan Kenobi lives on.