Did Obi-Wan Kenobi Go Insane During His Exile on Tatooine?
Obi-Wan Kenobi played a critically important role in the Star Wars saga. Not only did he train Anakin Skywalker (indirectly setting him on the path to becoming Darth Vader), but he also prepared Anakin's son Luke for his own pivotal role in the destruction of the Empire. He trained Luke, showed him the ways of the Force, revealed his father's true role in the Clone Wars (carefully omitting the parts he didn't want Luke to know yet), and helped reintroduce him to his long-lost twin sister, Leia.
The fact that Obi-Wan was such an important hero of the Jedi makes it a little bit difficult to face the possibility that he may have completely lost his mind during the long years of exile after the Jedi Purge. Though he appeared to merely be a somewhat eccentric man when we first met him in Episode IV, the prequel trilogy told us enough about his history to suggest that there was a LOT more there in the way of emotional trauma and mental health issues than was immediately apparent.
You don't need to be a mental health professional to know that many of the most dangerous crazy people around are unsettlingly good at hiding how dangerous and crazy they really are. Obi-Wan may have seemed outwardly healthy, but the signs of some severe mental scarring are there if you really watch his behavior prior to his death at the hands of Darth Vader.
First and foremost, he was a veteran of the most horrible war the galaxy had seen in centuries. For nearly 15 years, Obi-Wan was locked in (what appeared to be) a two-front war against both the Separatists and the Sith. He saw enough death and destruction during that war to fill six seasons of the animated Clone Wars TV series. He saw many, many tragedies during that time, both civilian and people close to him.
The worst came at the end when Anakin Skywalker, the apparent Chosen One whom he had personally trained, betrayed him and wiped out nearly the entire Jedi Order. Not only that, it turned out that both sides of the war had been directly under the control of a powerful Sith Lord the entire time, who proceeded to reunite the galaxy under the banner of the First Galactic Empire. Worst of all, he then had to confront Anakin, his closest friend from the time Anakin was nine years old, and cut him down to prevent him from causing any more damage.
All that would have been enough to traumatize anybody, and while he held it together well enough in the immediate aftermath, you could tell pretty quickly that Obi-Wan struggled to cope with the way it all went down. He told Luke that Vader had betrayed and murdered his father instead of admitting they were the same person, and while that could have partially been to protect Luke from the truth, there was more to it that wasn't explicitly stated.
Anakin had forced Obi-Wan's hand with everything he had done leading into the battle on Mustafar, but Obi-Wan was nonetheless very distraught over what he had to do once they came face-to-face. He never wanted to have that conversation, and even asked Yoda to let him face the Emperor instead because of how much Anakin meant to him. He couldn't even be sure that he could bring himself to kill Anakin if it came down to it, and as we saw, he couldn't. He defeated Anakin, but left him burning by the side of the lava river because he couldn't make himself strike Anakin down.
Now, it's probably reasonable for Obi-Wan to have believed that, after losing both arms and legs and then bursting into flames, Anakin would have probably died on his own regardless. To him, it was the more humane thing to do that to kill a defenseless, literally unarmed man whom he thought of as his brother. Unfortunately, he was burned by that decision (no pun intended) when Anakin not only survived, but was reborn as the infamous Sith Lord, Darth Vader. When Obi-Wan found out Vader had survived, he now also had to cope with the fact that his mercy resulted in Anakin not only recovering, but becoming the Emperor's personal enforcer and hitman.
Obi-Wan might have had an easier time dealing with all this if the Jedi were still around or he had other adventures to go on, but those days were past. After delivering Luke to Anakin's family, Obi-Wan spent the next twenty years in exile, on a desert planet, in almost complete isolation. He lived alone, far from any form of civilization, and had almost nothing to do with his time besides sitting around and thinking about everything that happened when the Jedi and the Republic fell.
Think about that: twenty years replaying the deaths of the Jedi, the battle with Anakin, and the conquest of the Emperor over and over in his head. Twenty years spent wondering how things might have been done differently, how they might have stopped the Emperor before it was too late. Twenty years wondering what else could be done, if anything, to stop the Sith now. That is a recipe for insanity, and not only did he have nobody to even talk to about it, he couldn't even admit to anyone who he really was for fear of being discovered.
Unable to face up to the reality of how his world came crashing down on him, Obi-Wan was left with no choice by to try and find any way he could to rationalize it all. Most of all, he had to deal with the fact that his best friend had betrayed the Jedi to their worst enemy, killed children, and then become what he swore to destroy: a Sith Lord. The only way Obi-Wan was able to square that in his mind was by treating Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader as if they were different people.
Obi-Wan could never come to grips with the fact that Anakin had gone off the rails like he did, and the only explanation that made sense to him was that Darth Vader has somehow "hijacked" Anakin. There was no way the Anakin Skywalker that he knew could have ever done the things he did, it simply didn't compute. It may have been Anakin's body doing those horrible things, but Anakin wasn't behind the driver's wheel at the time.
This rationalization wasn't just a way for Obi-Wan to wrap his head around past events, either. He knew he might one day come face-to-face with his former apprentice again, and needed to be ready when that day came. The Jedi were particularly wary of attachments that could cloud their judgment, and as we saw, Obi-Wan's feelings toward Anakin prevented him from finishing him off when he had the chance. Obi-Wan may not have been able to kill Anakin, but he could definitely bring himself to kill Darth Vader if he thought of them as different people.
Over the years, that skewed perspective became reality for Obi-Wan. As far as he was concerned, Anakin Skywalker died at the end of the Clone Wars. Darth Vader thinks differently, acts differently, fights differently, even walks and talks differently than Anakin did. To Obi-Wan, Darth Vader was just an anonymous Sith for whom he cared nothing.
Let's come back to the original movie, where he displays strange behavior almost from the start. He didn't recognize C-3PO and R2-D2, even though he had spent years travelling and interacting with both. However, he had an unmistakeable look of recognition on his face when he saw the droids, almost as if he had seen a dead person come back to life. Could he have been suffering from the same kind of dementia that causes normal people to forget their closest loved ones?
Before long, Obi-Wan finds himself in the middle of a quickly escalating scuffle between Luke and some criminal ruffians at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Now, the Jedi had always espoused peace and balance, and Obi-Wan in particular had always sought peaceful resolutions to problems. In fact, he had just used the Jedi mind trick to get past the Stormtroopers who had set up a checkpoint coming into Mos Eisley only minutes earlier.
That's why it seemed so out of character when Obi-Wan pulled out his lightsaber and cut the guy's arm off. He didn't use the Jedi mind trick, he didn't use the Force to pull the guy's blaster out of his hands, he went right to the most violent option as if he was having some kind of Vietnam flashback.
The look on Obi-Wan's face afterward, when everyone in the Cantina went silent and started staring at him, suggests that he realized what a mistake he had made by exposing himself for what he was. He had stayed undercover on Tatooine for nearly twenty years, and had blown it just like that. After pausing for a moment to compose himself, he calmly puts the lightsaber away and goes about his business. He never mentions it again and, wisely, neither do the other patrons who didn't want to become his next victim.
Let's move along to Luke's first Force lessons on board the Millennium Falcon during their trip to where Alderaan used to be. Once again, Obi-Wan completely bypassed the traditional teachings of the Jedi and learning to be one with the Force, and went right to lightsaber combat. Sure, this was probably necessary anyway due to the fact that they were about to walk into some extremely dangerous situations, but using the Force in battle probably wasn't the traditional starting point the Jedi had preferred.
The saddest part is that all of this emotional burden he had carried around with him for decades may have actually made him suicidal, causing him to go looking for Vader on the Death Star specifically to end it all. He was able to sneak over to the tractor beam power controls with practically no effort, but then had his lightsaber already in hand when he bumped into his ex-apprentice a few minutes later. He obviously expected a confrontation, even though he knew there was no way he could seriously expect to defeat Vader at this point in his life.
As we know, he willingly sacrificed himself to Vader so Luke and Leia could escape the Death Star...or did he? When he saw Luke escaping and then smiled as he awaited the final blow from Vader, it was the one moment since the fall of the Jedi when Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to truly be at peace. After years of mental torment, much of it inflicted by himself, he was finally free.
After his death, all the emotional trauma was gone. When we next met Obi-Wan as a Force ghost, he seemed every bit as lucid and controlled as he had been during the prequels. Sure, he still threw Luke that "certain point of view" schtick when Luke confronted him with the truth about Anakin, but he was at least rational enough at that point to make it seem like it was the plan the whole time. Either that, or Obi-Wan Kenobi really was a senile Force ghost.