Nerd Factor: By Any Other Name
Mike Robinson, LC Communication Studies Professor,
CAUTION – This article contains potential spoilers for Star Wars movies that you really should have seen a long time ago.
The Skywalkers are a curious bunch. The family has a habit of forming emotional bonds in ways that many of us would not consider normal, thus giving the family a creepy vibe. Much sport has been made, for example, with Anakin’s almost stalker-like pursuit of Padme Amadala in Attack of the Clones. And of course Luke yearned for Princess Leia, unaware at the time that she was his sister.
Another example of the familial weirdness can be found in the latest trilogy. Consider, the main villain, Kylo Ren. Before going all emo, this wannabe Darth Vader was better known as Ben Solo. He is the child of heroes, Han Solo and the aforementioned Leia Organa. He is also the evil, failed student of the legendary Luke Skywalker.
At a recent viewing of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I started to wonder something about our main baddie. While others were no doubt thinking about what could have happened to turn the prodigal son of such a heroic group into the next big bad, I began to ask myself another question. Why did Han and Leia name their son “Ben?”
From outside the narrative, the decision seems like a cool thing to do. True Star Wars fans know that the name “Ben” is clearly meant to honor Ben Kenobi, aka General Obi-Wan Kenobi. Ben was the Jedi Knight who fought valiantly against the rise of the Emperor and who secretly guarded young Luke as he grew up on the remote planet of Tatooine.
But within the narrative itself, the main characters of the Star Wars trilogy spent little time with the guy.
Han Solo hardly knows Ben Kenobi. In the original Star Wars, they spend a little time together on the Millennium Falcon and then split up in the attempt to escape the Death Star. For most of that time, Han is downright rude to the great hero. Perhaps Han later feels grateful that Kenobi sacrificed himself to save them. If so, that’s another strange and potentially racist sleight to the old friend who has stood by his side for decades. I guess there’s no way to name a kid Chewbacca Solo.
Worse still, Princess Leia has never even met the guy. Okay, okay, technically Kenobi is there when Padme gives birth to the twins Luke and Leia at the end of Revenge of the Sith. But that’s it. Infant Leia is whisked off to her new life on Alderaan. They don’t encounter each other at all in Star Wars.
Speaking of Alderaan, according to the fan site Wookieepedia, that planet had two billion inhabitants when the Death Star blew it up. Surely there must have been someone on the planet or in the entire history of that planet that Leia might want to honor?
All the pressure to pick the name “Ben” probably came from Luke. Of course, Luke maybe spent a few more hours with Kenobi than Han did, but not much more time (unless you count discussions with Kenobi’s spirit). Sure, Kenobi was his first mentor, but Yoda put more time in teaching Luke. He’d be the better naming choice. Yes, I agree, “Yoda Solo” sounds silly. But it’s got to be better than being named after a ghost your uncle knew.