"Of course I know him. He’s me."
The very first film in the Star Wars saga is a master class in worldbuilding. From the beginning, the mystery of 'Old Ben Kenobi' presented a galaxy of possibilities and stories untold, of a mystical knight who won epic wars and fought alongside the lost father of a dreaming farmboy. In the 45 years which have elapsed since, much of that story has been told, and told again. A trilogy of films, a library of comics and novels, and hundreds of episodes of television share stories of Obi-Wan’s life before exile as a Jedi Knight – and there’s still more to come. But one period which remains a mystery is what became of this hero of the Galactic Republic after the Jedi Order fell.
How did this great hero spend his 19 long years on the barren world of Tatooine, minding from afar the child of his fallen brother? It’s a period less explored at this point than Obi-Wan’s knighthood, and yet not entirely uneventful. The upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+ promises to shed further light on these final years in Obi-Wan’s life. A story which, in great Star Wars tradition, begins its telling in the middle. But for a more complete picture of Obi-Wan’s exile, there’s room to dig a little further into the Holocron archives. This is just about everything we know about Obi-Wan Kenobi after he lost everything – all but a single hope for the Galaxy’s future.
A note about canon and continuity, for the sticklers among ye: many of the events here are part of the “Legends” continuity, or stories which were officially decanonized in 2014, two years after Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. But as we’ve observed in the years since, 'Legends' doesn’t necessarily mean 'untrue' – just that it may or may not have happened exactly as it’s been told before. Concepts both great and small from Legends material continue to regularly make their way into Disney-era Star Wars stories and should not be disregarded for a full picture of what we know about this Galaxy. We’ll present a distinction between 'Legends' and 'Canon' material as necessary, but weave them into a timeline which considers each of Star Wars’ two storytelling eras holistically.
Let us begin immediately after Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
19 BBY (Exile Year 1): Becoming Ben
Just about everything we currently know about the first year of Obi-Wan’s exile is part of the Legends continuity. The few details we have established in current canon are referred to in a few Star Wars comics we’ll discuss later, as well as the From a Certain Point of View short story anthologies, where we learn Owen and Beru Lars only agreed to take young Luke in as long as Obi-Wan, a galactically wanted criminal as far as the Empire was concerned, kept a far, far distance – a request he agreed to, but which made his final mission of protecting the boy all the more difficult.
The first chronological Legends tale about Obi-Wan’s journey takes place before that handoff, showing us Obi-Wan’s journey to Tatooine. In 'Lone Wolf: A Tale of Obi-Wan and Luke,' a short story by Abel G. Peña written for starwars.com, we follow Obi-Wan and his newborn charge to the smuggler’s moon of Nar Shaddaa, where he evades potential pursuers by exchanging his current ship, the deceased General Grievous’s Soulless One, for something less obtrusive. While there, Obi-Wan uses the alias of 'Ben' for the first time, and is attacked by a cadre of bounty hunters and a couple of Dark Jedi from his past after getting recognized. One of these bounty hunters, an unnamed fortune seeker of a venomous sentient scorpion race called the Chiggnash, infects Obi-Wan with a poison which begins to rapidly age him – catalyzing, implicatively, the change between Obi-Wan’s appearance in the prequel films and the original trilogy.
After handing off Luke to the Lars family, the short story 'The Last One Standing' by Jude Watson tells of Obi-Wan’s first encounter with the Tusken Raiders. Still watching over Luke from afar, Obi-Wan intervenes when a tribe of Sand People starts looting the family’s vaporators. Recalling what the Sand People did to Anakin’s mother in Attack of the Clones, yet still unaware of the full story, Obi-Wan nearly reacts to the intrusion in anger – but manages to recover the property by exploiting the Sand Peoples’ superstitions, rather than taking a life. Owen, for his part, is none too pleased with Obi-Wan’s unasked-for intervention, establishing the relationships Obi-Wan would continue to have with the Sand People and the Larses alike for the next two decades.
The most significant account of Obi-Wan’s early life on Tatooine is in John Jackson Miller’s Kenobi novel, where 'Old Ben' gets unwillingly embroiled in the ongoing drama of a nearby trading outpost, Dannar’s Claim. There, Ben learns of a huckster named Orrin Gault who’s been profiting from the locals’ fear of Tusken invasions by charging protection money, strikes an accord with local Tusken leader A’Yark, and nearly gets entangled in a romance with the outpost’s proprietor, single mother Annileen Calwell. Throughout, Obi-Wan continues his attempts to re-establish contact through The Force with his master Qui-Gon – to the point that a snooping local child overhears him in one such reverie calling himself 'Kenobi,' and Old Ben’s name becomes public knowledge much to his chagrin (Luckily, as the novel establishes, 'Kenobi' is a rather common surname in the Star Wars Galaxy).
After Ben and Annileen handle Orrin and his connections to Jabba the Hutt’s syndicate, Obi-Wan called on his old friend Bail Organa to get Annileen and her children a better life offworld, in an Alderaanian xenobiology program. But the leader A’Yark had one more secret to share with Old Ben, in their mutual understanding – the truth behind the plight of the Sand People. It was no natural disaster, or Krayt Dragon, or tribal war which devastated their people. Rather, it all began some years ago, when just one man armed with a lightsaber came to exterminate their men, their women, and their children. In that moment, Obi-Wan realized to his horror the rest of Shmi Skywalker’s failed rescue and Anakin’s revenge: a dark chapter we witnessed for ourselves in Attack of the Clones.
One more incident of note in Obi-Wan’s life takes place that year in the epilogue to James Luceno’s novel Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. In the Weary Traveler cantina at Tosche Station, Old Ben sees an image of Vader in his dark mask for the first time, fresh from the Imperial conquest of the Wookiee world of Kashyyyk. It’s through this chilling image that Obi-Wan discovers his Padawan didn’t perish in their battle on Mustafar after all.
18-17 BBY (Exile Years 2-3): Last of the Jedi
The only strictly canonical glimpse we have so far into the second year of Obi-Wan’s exile is a brief interlude in the E.K. Johnston novel Ahsoka, where Qui-Gon’s spirit briefly gets in touch with his troubled former pupil and advises him to let go of his attachments.
In the tales of Legends, however, this is a much more interesting year. Jude Watson’s 10-book series Last of the Jedi takes place entirely in this time period, though Obi-Wan only plays a significant role in the first two – The Desperate Mission, and Dark Warning. Through a news report, Kenobi learns of the survival of Ferus Olin, a former rival to Anakin from their Padawan years who left the Jedi Order before taking his trials in the prior Jedi Quest novels. Qui-Gon once again contacts Obi-Wan through The Force, advising him to leave Tatooine for the first time since his hermitage began in order to rescue Ferus from the Inquisitorius – a specialized unit of Jedi hunters employed by The Emperor (Qui-Gon assures Obi-Wan that he can look after Luke himself during Obi-Wan’s absence during this secondary mission). Obi-Wan travels to the planet Bellassa, where he helps get Ferus offworld. Ferus remarks that in their time apart, Obi-Wan’s hair has gone completely gray – one of very few facts in a Legends story from this period yet contradicted by Canon material. It’s here that Obi-Wan also discovers the true importance of his mission: that the Inquisitors pursuing Ferus are also close to discovering the secret of Polis Massa, where Senator Amidala gave birth to Luke and Leia. Together, Obi-Wan and Ferus handle a number of Inquisitors- as well as a young Boba Fett- to keep Luke and Leia’s existence hidden from Imperial eyes. The rest of the series continues Olin’s early rebellious acts against The Empire as Obi-Wan returns to his charge, and begins studying the techniques of The Whills in earnest with the spirit of his master Qui-Gon.
The next year, in the Legends comic book Star Wars Legacy #16 by John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, Obi-Wan had his next known run-in with the Sand People – a raiding party led by the fallen Jedi A’Sharad Hett. Obi-Wan confronted Hett in a lightsaber duel, and removed his arm, but declined to finish him off – ordering him instead to leave Tatooine and never return. Decades later, in a future now all but erased, Hett would return in the guise of the Sith Lord, Darth Krayt.
11–10 BBY (Exile Years 9-10): The Journals of Old Ben Kenobi
In the canon 2015 Star Wars comics by Jason Aaron, major story arcs were punctuated with tales from a journal recovered by Luke of Obi-Wan’s time on Tatooine. Here, Obi-Wan is depicted as beginning to gray, but has not yet gone 'Full Guinness' as earlier Legends stories would indicate. It’s only three stories, told in issues #7, 15, and 20 of the series. Not much of great galactic importance occurs. And yet, they’re absolutely key to understanding just who Obi-Wan is at this point in his life. His compassion for the people of Tatooine, his deep love from afar for the son of his lost friend, and his inability to keep still and do nothing while any injustice, no matter how small, is in his sight.
In these stories, Obi-Wan runs afoul of Jabba the Hutt’s crime syndicate while interfering with an extortion operation of the planet’s moisture farmers when they begin to endanger young Luke. For his trouble, the old Jedi is beset upon by one of Jabba’s top enforcers: an indefatigable dark Wookiee mercenary you may know from The Book of Boba Fett as Black Krrsantan. Obi-Wan manages to fend off his attacker, though Krrsantan doesn’t make it easy. Throughout it all, Obi-Wan continues to keep an eye out for an increasingly adventurous Luke who keeps finding his way into trouble – a pattern which would define the next ten years of Obi-Wan’s life on Tatooine during his secret daily check-ins on the Lars moisture farm.
9 BBY (Exile Year 11): Trail of Compassion
Everything we know about this period right in the middle of Obi-Wan’s exile, we know from the Obi-Wan Kenobi teasers released so far. Obi-Wan will get entangled in a local issue, the Inqusitiors will arrive, and most likely a duel with Darth Vader will ensue. We’re just as eager to find out more as you are.
6-5 BBY (Exile Years 14-15): Guardian Angel
Luke’s secret history with Obi-Wan was first explored in the extremely immersive 1981 Star Wars audio drama for NPR, still well worth seeking out for its early insights into the lives of Leia and Luke just prior to the first film’s events. Although considered a 'Legend' now, in these first chapters, we learn just how Luke is familiar with Old Ben: in an incident he barely remembers, where the mysterious hermit appeared to rescue Luke and his friend Windy from a deadly sandstorm and guide them back home. But as we know from the Journals of Old Ben Kenobi, that wasn’t the first time Obi-Wan would save Luke’s life growing up… nor would it be the last. In Jane Mason’s Legends story Adventure in Beggar’s Canyon, Luke and Windy get into an even deadlier scrape as they’re cornered in a cave by a Krayt Dragon. It’s Obi-Wan’s unseen intervention which allows them to escape with their lives.
2 BBY-0 BBY (Exile Years 18-20): Risen Above
The final couple of years of Obi-Wan’s life on Tatooine are more firmly established in modern continuity than those previous. Stories such as Star Wars #37 from Jason Aaron’s series, and the short story 'An Old Hope' by Grant Griffin in the Star Wars Life Day Treasury, establish that in his winter years, Obi-Wan was reclusive towards the human population of Tatooine, but was a heroic and welcome figure among Tuskens and Jawas alike. But the most memorable chapter yet told of Obi-Wan’s time in the desert also happened here: a long delayed reckoning with his old enemy, Darth Maul.
The Star Wars: Rebels episode 'Twin Suns' represents the culmination of a saga told throughout the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, of a bisected Maul kept alive through powerful hatred for the once-young Jedi who cut him down. Driven to madness through a combination of Dark Side influence and pure spite, Maul enacted an elaborate scheme during the Clone Wars just to seek vengeance on the target of his ire (and also, if possible, the Sith master who discarded him). This quest for revenge led to the death of Duchess Satine, perhaps the only woman Obi-Wan had ever loved, but Obi-Wan’s life, and location, after the rise of the Empire, would elude Maul’s grasp until just two years before A New Hope would arise.
Through the fusion of Jedi and Sith artifacts, Maul and Force adept Ezra Bridger both discover Obi-Wan yet lives on Tatooine. Ezra arrives first, where he’s given some sage wisdom by the Jedi before the young hero leaves to seek his own path. Moments later, Maul arrives in Obi-Wan’s life one last time, for the battle which will end their story once and for all. What follows is, in this writer’s opinion, the greatest lightsaber battle ever shown in the Star Wars saga. For those of you seeking a resolution to Maul and Obi-Wan’s story, this Duel of the Fates could not have been more elegantly told. And for all intents and purposes, it’s the last word on Obi-Wan’s story until that young farm boy he’s spent twenty years protecting seeks him out for the first time.
And that’s the end of Old Ben’s story, before casting his hermitage aside to become Obi-Wan one last time – and arise as something more powerful than you can possibly imagine. For the middle, we’ll be counting down the days until Obi-Wan Kenobi on May 27th. Let’s take our next steps into a larger world.