Obi-Wan Kenobi: Great Jedi Master, Terrible Philosopher

Author J.T. Wynn Published on 05/25/2018

So now it’s finally upon us: Solo: A Star Wars Story! This stand-alone installment in the Star Wars franchise features the adventures of a young Han Solo before he met Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Mos Eisley Cantina in Stars Wars: A New Hope.

It will be interesting to see what veteran screenwriter of The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan, has imagined as Han’s backstory. Was Han always a charming, roguish smuggler, or was he once an idealistic recruit of the Empire who became disillusioned and turned into the Han Solo we’ve all come to know?

The exploration of the path from idealism to disillusionment is not new to the Star Wars universe, of course. The events immediately preceding Solo: A Star Wars Story centered on such a transformation in the form of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith.

(Here’s where I usually issue a spoiler alert, but if you don’t already know by now that Anakin Skywalker eventually turns to the...left and walks up to the Mustafar Landing Platform to get away from the heat of the surrounding lava flow, then you’ll probably never watch Revenge of the Sith anyway.)

Anakin stands on the landing platform as Obi-Wan emerges from the Naboo cruiser to confront him. This is what it’s all been about. It’s the final fight. We know they won’t face each other again until master and student reunite on the Death Star decades in the future. They circle one another on the platform and argue, each expressing his worldview and trying to convince the other:

You have allowed this Dark Lord to twist your mind until now...until now you have become the very thing you swore to destroy.

They circle each other until OBI-WAN is near PADME. He places his hand on her.

Don’t lecture me, Obi-Wan. I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the dark side as you do. I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new empire.

Your new empire?

Don’t make me kill you.

Anakin, my allegiance is to the democracy.

If you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.

Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must. (ignites his lightsaber)

You will try... (ignites his lightsaber)

Only a Sith deals in absolutes? Are you absolutely sure about that Obi-Wan? Master Kenobi seems pretty certain about his own statement, especially since he’s willing to ignite his lightsaber over it. If only a Sith deals in absolutes, then Jedi Master Kenobi cannot be absolute about his own statement, right? But if he’s not absolute about his own statement, then that means that the Sith are not the only ones who deal in absolutes! Obi-Wan actually refutes himself in the very act of expressing himself.

These kinds of statements are usually expressed popularly as: “There are no absolute truths.” It’s meant to sound profound, tolerant, and open-minded. But an astute observer will see that it is a self-refuting statement. A self-refuting statement is one that refutes itself in the very acting of expressing itself. Some examples include:

  • This page intentionally left blank.
  • “This song is just six words long.”—“Weird Al” Yankovic
  • My brother is an only child.

and of course,

  • There are no absolute truths.

If it’s true that there are no absolute truths, then the above statement is false since there is at least one absolute truth, namely, that “there are no absolute truths.” So you see the inherent contradictions in these self-refuting statements? If they’re true, then they’re false. But if they’re false, then they’re still false. Either way, they’re false. Therefore, they’re necessarily false no matter which way you turn. Did Jedi training include Intro to Logic 101?

Screenwriters insert these sentiments, as dialogue, into the mouths of characters all the time. More importantly, they’re not just placed in the mouths of any character, but they’re placed in the mouths of the protagonist. And since filmmakers want us to identify with the protagonist, this tells us the filmmakers want us to adopt the view of the protagonist. It’s a technique to make you accept the filmmakers’ views by using your empathy instead of your rationality.

The corollary is also true: Filmmakers will put views that they find distasteful into the mouths of the antagonist. And again, this makes us reject the view without thinking it through. It’s a technique to make us reject a view by using our antipathy instead of our rationality. “Well, if the guy that just force-choked his own wife, Padme, believes XYZ, then I don’t want to believe XYZ!” And in this instance, XYZ is the belief that “if you’re not with me, you’re my enemy.”

But what if you heard a similar view coming out of another mouth:

  • “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matt 12:30a NASB).
  • “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Luke 11:23a NASB).

These words come not from a Sith Lord but from the Truth Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s important that as active viewers of films, we be aware of these storytelling techniques. It’s not a far cry from saying, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” to saying, “And that’s because there are no absolute truths.” Don’t be fooled by this seemingly “open-minded” and “tolerant” denial of the existence of absolute truth. It’s neither open-minded (since they’re not open to the possibility of there actually being absolute truth), nor is it “tolerant” (notice Obi-Wan didn’t tolerate the dark side).

One of the motivations behind denying the existence of absolute truth is the desire to deny the existence of objective moral truths. If there are no objective moral truths, then morality is relative. But if morality is relative, then can there really be such a thing as objective sin? And if no sin, then why need a savior from said sin? And if no savior, then where does that leave a Christianity that teaches the absolute truth that an objectively morally perfect Savior saves humans from objective moral sins? I hope you see that denying absolute truth is one of the first steps in absolutely(!) falsifying Christianity.

Don’t be seduced by its pretensions to open-mindedness. Remember that the purpose of an open mind is the same as that of an open mouth—that is, to eventually close upon something solid, substantive, and nourishing; in the former, nourishing to the soul, and in the latter, nourishing to the body.

So be careful, my Padawan learners. Spend less time making rocks float and more time learning how to spot self-refuting statements. May the Truth be with you.