This post is part of the Flaws of the Jedi series.
Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.Return of the Jedi
Obi-Wan Kenobi is a master of deception. He lies to everyone at some point, including himself, and he pretends not to be Obi-Wan Kenobi for the last twenty years of his life. It’s a talent and a skill and it saves lives a few times. But it is a flaw.
Jedi Mind Tricks
Obi-Wan’s use of the Force to get Artoo and Threepio past the stormtrooper check point in Mos Eisley is a reasonable use of Jedi Mind Tricks. As is Rey using JMT to get free on Starkiller Base. In both cases, they are avoiding capture by the other side in a war. In both cases, they have reason to believe their lives are in danger. In both cases, they are using their talents and skills as any soldier or spy would. Jedi Mind Tricks are morally questionable in general, but so is the use of any weapon, and it is hard to argue their use in these circumstances.
Other uses are more contentious. For example, Qui-Gon attempts to use JMT on Watto to convince him to accept Republic credits for the ship parts the Jedi need. This is a con; Qui-Gon wants to trick Watto into accepting what amounts to counterfeit money because on Tatooine it doesn’t have the value it does on Coruscant or Naboo. It’s debatable that the stakes are high enough to excuse the lie. Qui-Gon needs the parts to fix the ship and complete his mission, which is to bring aide to Naboo. So on one side is an entire planet of people being invaded and the young woman who rules them and on the other side is a shady junk dealer who keeps slaves and gambles with children’s lives. It can be seen as a “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” type situation. But it’s not as clear cut as the other two examples.
You don’t want to sell me death sticks. . . You want to go home and rethink your life.Attack of the Clones
But this is the most dubious use of Jedi Mind Tricks. As with Watto, Elan is an unsavory character: a drug dealer. Obi-Wan likely believes he is helping. He’s getting Elan’s drugs out of the bar for at least the night, and potentially changing the course of his life. But if we take the wide view, it’s at best meaningless and at worst harmful. And that perfectly encapsulates Obi-Wan Kenobi’s flaw of deceit.
Let’s say Elan goes home and decides to give up dealing drugs. Great, good life choices. But what is he going to do instead? Who are his contacts outside the drug trade? What is his skill set? Does he have a way to pay his rent? Are the people he gets the drugs from going to let him quit or is his life now in danger? Can he go to the authorities or will they throw him in jail? What if he has a partner or a family to feed? What if he provides medical supplies to the Coruscant underground and sells death sticks in order to afford them?
The point is we, and Obi-Wan, know nothing about Elan’s life or about any potential consequences of him rethinking it.
It’s for your own good
Obi-Wan treats Luke in a similar way. He believes, firmly, that Luke’s best option is to leave Tatooine and become a Jedi. That’s his destiny, the life he should be leading. Obi-Wan doesn’t use Jedi Mind Tricks™ on Luke, but he does use Jedi Emotional Manipulation™. He crafts a story with just enough truth to convince Luke to come with him: you don’t want to be like your uncle, a small minded farmer with few prospects, you want to be like your father, a legendary pilot and war hero, a Jedi Knight. You want to avenge your father against Darth Vader, a literal monster.
Never mind that they are the same person. That’s not important to the story. Obi-Wan admits his mistakes — Vader “was a pupil of mine before he turned evil” — but he doesn’t learn from them. Because this is not the first or last time Obi-Wan Kenobi uses lies of omission and deception for what Obi-Wan Kenobi considers the greater good.
Satine Kryze and Padmé Amidala
Obi-Wan doesn’t tell Anakin about his experiences with Satine until she is literally in front of them, flirting with him. I understand that it would be a difficult conversation. Obi-Wan’s feelings for Satine are painful, and complicated, and he is ashamed that he didn’t do right by her or by the Jedi. But Obi-Wan knows that Anakin has feelings for Padmé, feelings that reflect his own for Satine, and an honest conversation about it would have helped both of them.
By the end of the Clone Wars, it is clear that Obi-Wan also knows Anakin has a relationship with Padmé. But he never brings it up with either of them or with the Jedi Council. He pretends he does not see. It’s the least messy option but it helps create a huge mess. Anakin’s and Padmé’s relationship is not unhealthy, but the secrecy, the lie is, and Obi-Wan perpetuates it.
That time he faked his death
The first episode in this four part arc is helpfully titled “Deception”. In order to uncover a separatist plot to assassinate Chancellor Palpatine, Obi-Wan fakes his death and disguises himself as his own assassin so he can make friends with bounty hunters in prison and follow them to the separatists when they all escape. Only Yoda and Mace Windu know about this plot, a decision that backfires when — in a wholly predictable outcome — Anakin goes after the man who killed his mentor and best friend.
None of the three Jedi Masters considered the mental and emotional toll Obi-Wan’s death would take on the people who cared about him. Satine, Padmé, Bail Organa, Jar-Jar, but most especially Anakin, who cycles between a withdrawn depression and murderous rage, and Ahsoka, who watches Obi-Wan die and then watches Anakin unravel. They created a traumatic experience for a man they’ve considered unstable since he was nine years old and a teenage girl. And it is entirely because they don’t trust them with the truth. It is the same mistake Obi-Wan and Yoda make twenty years later with Luke.
I can’t kill Anakin
Luke learns the truth about Vader from Vader, which is another traumatic event that could be avoided. It’s heartbreaking to hear a wounded and exhausted Luke ask “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?” at the end of Empire Strikes Back, But even after Luke knows that Vader is his father, Obi-Wan continues to hold back the full truth.
First he evades, hiding behind wordplay with his “a certain point of view” explanation. This indicates that he is still not taking responsibility for his missteps, and he certainly never apologizes to Luke for misleading him. But more importantly, he tells Luke he must confront his father, but withholds the information that he himself struggled with this exact confrontation.
Obi-Wan is responding to the same impulse he did in my first example: he is protecting himself from a complicated conversation about feelings. As Anakin would benefit from knowing about Obi-Wan and Satine, Luke would benefit from knowing about Obi-Wan’s inability to kill Anakin.
Yoda lies to Luke, and to Anakin, too. The Jedi lie en masse to the Senate and the public. The Senate also keep things from the Jedi. Padmé lies to Qui-Gon and Anakin about her status and Qui-Gon pretends he doesn’t see through her. Leia lies about her heritage. Finn lies about his motives. Luke lies to Rey. Holdo and Poe get into a battle of lies. Han is betrayed by Beckett, by Qi’ra, and by Lando. And of course, Palpatine plays all sides against each other and masterminds a group of henchmen and puppets to lie to the whole of the galaxy.
Everybody lies to protect themselves and each other. Very often, they lie with good intentions. Obi-Wan Kenobi is the master of it.