We all know the likes of Kenobi and other Jedi were influenced in some ways by the history and ways of bushido and the samurai. George Lucas himself was enamoured with the jidaiigeki period pieces, which told stories about the times of the samurai in feudal Japan. It’s one of the many pieces George brought together to make the powerful superpower end characters we know and love today.
Obi-Wan is the first real Jedi we meet in the saga, in A New Hope and it’s at a time in his life that showed him in a quiet, reflective, and hermit state hiding his true intent which was to make sure Luke Skywalker was never seen and or found by the Emperor’s forces.
The character was the warrior of a bygone era, and this is where I’ll begin with our real world connection, to those of the samurai, the modern era and the Jedi Order.It’s the time of the Empire’s rise and the Jedi have been hit by Order 66 which is Palpatine’s executive order to kill all traitors to his new order. Seen in Revenge of the Sith, it began with Clone Troopers turning on their Jedi Generals and gunning them down where they stood. Sad time, where an era literally changes overnight to one of oppression, and we see it not only in the way this happens but how Palpatine governs and rules his order.
Similar happened in The Meiji Restoration when the Emperor returned to power in 1868 and the he outlawed the practice of wearing daisho (twin swords), with that the country lost the powers of The Shogun to an emperor, the samurai to armies and power to laws and regulations of a fully formed government.
In popular culture you can see this story in Tom Cruise’s film The Last Samurai when Katsumoto leads his rebellion against the new rule.
In some ways it’s like Kenobi, as Kenobi was a leader at the forefront of the Jedi and when his clones turned on him, he goes into hiding and ensures the rebellions strength by protecting its future hero.
That’s a small piece of the pie, but going back further than the Meiji Restoration brings us to a man who needs little introduction, as he’s the most celebrated and historic sword fighter, warrior and poet from Japan’s epic history: Miyamoto Musashi.
Anyone interested in the era, martial arts, poetry, and more will find Musashi an interesting character, and one that would surprise you.
His real name was Shinmen Takezo, and later adopted the name Musashi from a travelling monk. Not unlike Obi-Wan would take himself as he became Ben.
He killed his first man, in a duel at the age of 13. We have to remember this is at a time where martial art schools were prevalent, but didn’t have the safety parameters we do now, and in these sword schools duels were taken deadly seriously especially on account of ones honour. These could be considered his Padawan years, as Kenobi at this age was apprenticed to Qui-Gon Jinn and faced many of the same difficulties, facing rivals in the Jedi Temple, and also then in the tutelage of Jinn facing the trials and tribulations of Jinn’s former student Xanatos.
Musashi saw battle in the Battle of Sekigahara which was the Gettysburg of the feudal era, and led to the rise of the Edo Period, and a time of peace. This was the Civil War of Japan, and alike Kenobi in Star Wars fought as a warrior in the Clone Warriors. The wearing down, and cost of warriors lives, and the wake left behind by the effects of war can be seen, as the Edo Period was the counterpoint to it, a time for reflection and the arts.
The Edo period in particular is like the prequel era of Star Wars, where its a more regal and classical period, of elegance and no conflict. Behind the scenes, obviously lots were happening as Palpatine was working his great chess game, and putting all of his pawns in the right places. The Jedi Order was like the retainers of the Edo period, reduced to nothing more than negotiators being sent in pairs to face whatever potential political or financial squabble for the Republic.
Fighting styles were an interesting thing too, as Musashi made a style all his own, a two handed double sword style. Trained in his youth in other styles, he founded Niten Ichi-Ryu. As the katana was a two handed weapon, it was a rare sight to see a samurai fight with two swords at the same time, ambidextrous in form. He was also someone that was a true brains in combat, using his ability to psyche out opponents, having won a dual in his mind, before he’d even struck a blow.
Obi-Wan was very much like this, in his older years, his confrontations with Darth Maul on Tatooine, and later with Vader on the Death Star are both where he’s controlled the outcome, through his psychological strike on his opponents, playing on their egos, their fears and their repetitive behaviours.
A prime example of the excellence of Musashi’s mindset is his duel with Sasaki Kojiro, probably his most famous. Kojiro was one of the best swordsman, and waited on the beach for Musashi to arrive. Musashi arrived late, and unkempt. He hadn’t bathed for days, and Kojiro was fuming. It already put a bad taste in his mouth, as this utter distaste for honour made him offset. Just what Musashi wanted, and of course the battle had in some way already been decided. He also didn’t use a katana, instead on the way to the duel took one of the oars from his boat and shaved it down to the size of a wooden sword (bokken).
Kenobi can be seen to do this in his bout with General Grievous on Utapau. He launches into the middle of the General’s plans, and says “Hello there!” Immediately putting him off, even using the force to crush the magna-guards with an overhead container. You can sense the unease with Grievous. Kenobi knew the outcome, as he did with Vader in the Death Star duel. Like his words, “….if you strike me down, I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Did Vader really win that duel? It’s all a matter of a point of view isn’t it? Kenobi even says that.
It’s fantastic to look into the real world around us and in history for influences, of character and Star Wars mythology, who knows what the new stories will bring us, more amazing characters, and story for the universe of Star Wars.