MASTER AND APPRENTICE
Some believe the desert to be barren. This proves only that they do not know the desert.
Deep within the dunes dwell small insects that weave nets to trap one another, and burrowing snakes with scales the color of stones so that no hunter can find them. Seeds and spores from long-dead plants lie dormant in the warmth, waiting for the rainfall that comes once a year, or decade, or century, when they will burst into verdant life as brief as it is glorious. The heat of the suns sinks into the grains of sand until they glow, containing all the energy and possibility to become glass the color of jewels. All of these sing individual notes in the one great song of the Whills.
No place is barren of the Force, and they who are one with the Force can always find the possibility of life.
Awareness precedes consciousness. The warmth is luxuriated in and drawn upon before the mind is cognizant of doing so. Next comes the illusion of linear time. Only then does a sense of individuality arise, a remembrance of what was and what is, a knowledge of one’s self as separate from the Force. It provides a vantage point for experiencing the physical world in its complexity and ecstasy, but the pain of that separation is endurable only because unity will come again, and soon.
That fracture from the all, that memory of temporal existence, is most easily summed up with the word the fracture was once called by. The name. “Qui-Gon.”
The name is spoken by another. Qui-Gon has been summoned. He draws upon his memories of himself and takes shape, reassembling the form he last had in life. It seems to him that he feels flesh wrap around bones, hair and skin over flesh, robes over skin—and then, as naturally to him as though he had done so yesterday, he pulls down the hood of his Jedi cloak and looks upon his Padawan.
“Obi-Wan.” It is worth the travail of individual existence just to say that name again. So he says the other name, too. “Ben.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s hair has turned white. Lines have etched their traces along his forehead, around his blue eyes. He wears Jedi robes so worn and ragged as to be indistinguishable from the garb of the impoverished hermit he pretends to be. Most would walk past this man without a second glance. Yet while Qui-Gon perceives the physical realities of Obi-Wan’s appearance, he is not limited to human sight any longer. He also sees the confident general of the Clone Wars, the strong young Padawan who followed his master into battle, even the rebellious little boy at the Temple that no Master was in any hurry to train. They are all equally part of Obi-Wan, each stage of his existence vivid in this moment.
“You are afraid,” Qui-Gon says. He knows why; the events taking place around them are clearer to him than they are to Obi-Wan. “You seek your center. You need balance.”
The living find it difficult not to tell the dead that which they already know. Obi-Wan doesn’t even try. “There may be Imperial stormtroopers waiting for Luke at the Lars farm. If so—”
“Then you will rescue him.” Qui-Gon smiles. “Or he may rescue himself. Or the sister will find the brother instead.”
Obi-Wan cannot be so easily comforted. “Or he could be killed. Cut down while still hardly more than a boy.”
To Qui-Gon, all human lives now seem impossibly brief. Years are irrelevant. It is journeys through the Force that matter. Some must struggle for that knowledge through many decades; others are very nearly born with it. Most never begin the journey at all, no matter how long they live.
But Luke Skywalker . . .
“Luke has a great journey yet to go,” Qui-Gon says. “It does not end here.”
“You’ve seen this?”
Qui-Gon nods. This relieves Obi-Wan more than it should, because he cannot guess the shape that journey will take.
Their surroundings in the physical world become clearer—the endless dunes of Tatooine stretching out in every direction, a smoldering sandcrawler a hulk behind them, a dozen tiny Jawas dead. The memory of their fear and helplessness lances Qui-Gon’s consciousness, as does the meaninglessness of their deaths. Although Obi-Wan has been tending to the bodies, for the moment the Jawas are seen to only by two droids. The droids comfort Qui-Gon somewhat, because they are familiar; the Force has even seen fit to bring these two back to the place where it all began.
Time is a circle. The beginning is the end.
Obi-Wan murmurs, “Bail Organa sent Leia herself to summon me. When I saw her—saw Padmé in her so strongly, and even a little of Anakin, too—I knew my exile was nearly at an end. Would you believe I find it difficult to let it go?”
“You’ve adapted. You’ve had to. No wonder that the desert feels like home to you now, or that being a Jedi Knight has become foreign. But that can change, and faster than you might dream possible.” It will in fact be almost instantaneous, a transformation begun and completed the first time immediate danger beckons again. Qui-Gon looks forward to witnessing it.
“I’ve waited for this day for a very long time,” Obi-Wan says. “So long it feels as though I’ve waited for it my entire life. To have it endangered—now, just as the great work begins—so many factors are in play. The future is difficult to know, even more so than before.”
“Do you truly think your work has only just begun, my Padawan?” They have begun using that title between them again, in recognition of how much more Obi-Wan has yet to learn. It is strange, still, to think of death as only the beginning of wisdom.
Obi-Wan considers. “There were other great endeavors. Other challenges. But the Clone Wars were long ago. For nearly two decades, I have been little more than a shadow waiting to become a Jedi Knight again.”
Qui-Gon shakes his head. Already his physical self feels natural enough to him that he can express thought and emotion through gestures. “Battles and wars aren’t the measure of a Jedi. Anyone can fight, given a weapon and an enemy. Anyone can use a lightsaber, given due training or even good luck. But to stand and wait—to have so much patience and fortitude—that, Obi-Wan, is a greater achievement than you can know. Few could have accomplished it.”
Fewer still could have done so without turning to darkness. Sometimes, when Qui-Gon considers it, he is awed by his student’s steadfastness. Every person Obi-Wan ever truly loved—Anakin, Satine, Padmé, and Qui-Gon himself—came to a terrible end. Three of them died before his eyes; the other fell to a fate so bleak that death would’ve been a gift. The Jedi Order that provided the entire framework for Obi-Wan’s life was consumed by betrayal and slaughter. Every step of this long, unfulfilling journey is one Obi-Wan had to take alone . . . and yet he never faltered. As the rest of the galaxy burned, his path remained true. It is the kind of victory that most people never recognize and yet the bedrock all goodness is built upon.
Even Obi-Wan doesn’t see it. “You see me in a kinder light than most would, old friend.”
“I owe you that. After all, I’m the one who failed you.”
They have never spoken of this, not once in all Qui-Gon’s journeys into the mortal realm to commune with him. This is primarily because Qui-Gon thought his mistakes so wretched, so obvious, that Obi-Wan had wanted to spare him any discussion of it. Yet here, too, he has failed to do his Padawan justice.
“You weren’t ready to be a Jedi Master,” Qui-Gon admits. “You hadn’t even been knighted when I forced you to promise to train Anakin. Teaching a student so powerful, so old, so unused to our ways . . . that might’ve been beyond the reach of the greatest of us. To lay that burden at your feet when you were hardly more than a boy—”
“Anakin became a Jedi Knight,” Obi-Wan interjects, a thread of steel in his voice. “He served valiantly in the Clone Wars. His fall to darkness was more his choice than anyone else’s failure. Yes, I bear some responsibility—and perhaps you do, too—but Anakin had the training and the wisdom to choose a better path. He did not.”
All true. None of it any absolution for Qui-Gon’s own mistakes. But it is Obi-Wan who needs guidance now. These things can be discussed another time, when they’re beyond crude human language.
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