Why Obi-Wan Kenobi Cut Off Ponda Baba’s Arm in Star Wars

Summary

  • In Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi cuts off the arm of a thug named Ponda Baba.
  • Star Wars Fans point to the Ponda Baba scene for its harshness and inconsistency with how lightsabers and Jedi operate.
  • The Ponda Baba scene can easily be explained by remembering why Obi-Wan Kenobi was on Tatooine in the first place.


Since Star Wars fans were first introduced to George Lucas’s galaxy far, far away in 1977, they’ve learned quite a lot about the Jedi Order. In the first film, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, these warrior monks were mysterious by design. Today, fans know the Jedi who follow the light side of the Force are committed to peace and protection, choosing violence only as a last resort. So, why did Obi-Wan Kenobi cut off poor Ponda Baba’s arm in that first film just for hassling Luke Skywalker?

In the context of the movie, the scene in which Obi-Wan dismembers Ponda Baba serves two purposes. First, it pays off Obi-Wan’s “wretched hive of scum and villainy” line. Second, it shows how much fear and respect a Jedi’s weapon gets despite the order’s disappearance from the galaxy. In hindsight, Ponda Baba and his friend Dr. Evazan posed no serious threat to Luke or Ben. Obi-Wan’s reaction seems disproportionate to the crime. Still, even by the end of the original trilogy, there’s enough subtext present in the story to explain it.


Luke Skywalker Stumbled Into Danger in the Mos Eisley Cantina

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In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker agrees to take Obi-Wan Kenobi, C3PO and R2-D2 to a spaceport so that they can get to Alderaan. He yearns for adventure so much, he’s willing to enlist in the Imperial academy just to become a pilot. Luke doesn’t think about having to kill in the name of the Emperor, just that he’d see a different sun than the two he sees every day. Once he discovers the Empire immolated his Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen, there’s nothing to keep him on Tatooine any longer. Yet, this doesn’t mean he’s ready to face the larger galaxy.

While in the Mos Eisley cantina, Luke tries to get the bartender’s attention, perhaps to order a blue milk or even something stronger. Ponda Baba sees Luke and shoves him, speaking to him in grunts. Dr. Evazan taps Luke on the shoulder to tell him neither of the two thugs liked him. He then boasts about having the death sentence on 12 systems. In fairness, to Obi-Wan, the Jedi Master does try to diffuse the situation peacefully. He tells the men “this little one’s not worth the effort” and offers to buy them a drink. Yet, it also shifts the attention of the men from Luke to him.

Evazen shoves Luke across the bar, and Ponda Baba draws a blaster. With serene focus, Obi-Wan ignites his lightsaber and cuts off Baba’s arm. A bit of proof the concepts were all still very loose is the blood trail on the floor next to the arm when the blade should’ve cauterized the wound. Still, given the prowess Obi-Wan has in the Force, especially with Jedi mind tricks, his reaction seems overly harsh in hindsight. Baba didn’t fire his weapon, and the bartender may have intervened since he had a “no blasters” policy. Yet, even discounting the weapon, Obi-Wan Kenobi had a sensible reason to react the way he did.

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Mission Was to Protect Luke Skywalker

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At the point in the story when Ponda Baba loses his arm, Obi-Wan Kenobi has stood vigil over Luke Skywalker for the past 19 years. His only break from that was to protect his sister, Princess Leia Organa. That alone would be reason enough to react more harshly because these wanted men threatened his charge. In Star Wars: Rebels Season 3, Episode 20, “Twin Suns,” Obi-Wan refuses to even fight Darth Maul until he figures out his old nemesis is on Tatooine to stand guard over someone. A Jedi shouldn’t use the Force to attack, but they will use any force necessary to complete their mission.

Luke may have been on a hero’s journey, but Ben was on a journey of his own. His mission wasn’t just to protect the son of Anakin Skywalker. He was meant to train him in the ways of the Force so that he could stand up to his father and the Emperor. From finding Luke in the desert to arriving in the cantina was likely the longest consecutive span of time Ben had ever spent with Luke. He was meant to train the boy, but in the Mos Eisley cantina, Obi-Wan didn’t see a padawan. He saw the boy he spent a third of his life protecting under threat.

He wasn’t being irrational, either. At this point in the story, Obi-Wan has no idea what Darth Vader knows about Leia, Luke or their connection. The Stormtroopers may have attacked the Lars homestead just in search of the droids. But they might also know who was being harbored at that farm. Whether Obi-Wan suspected Ponda Baba and Evazen were under Imperial contract or not, his response was to eliminate the threat quickly and as permanently as possible. Despite his concern, he only cut off Ponda Baba’s arm. An issue of the Star Wars comic series revisited the characters, showing the Aqualish got a cybernetic arm replacement.

There Was Much Fear In Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Cantina Scene

Obi-Wan's empty Jedi robe, following his duel with Darth Vader, in Star Wars: A New Hope

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The purpose of Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope is to be the Master Jedi who introduces Luke Skywalker to this world. This is reflected in Alec Guinness’s performance. Whether facing off with Ponda Baba and Evazan or Darth Vader himself, his expression is one of stoic serenity. However, there’s been enough additional storytelling about Obi-Wan that shows he’s capable of putting up a façade. In these moments, Obi-Wan Kenobi does feel fear about the future and Luke’s chances of success. Otherwise, he would have told the boy the whole story in his hut after the bit about how the Jedi Order protected the galaxy for “a thousand generations.”

One aspect of Kenobi’s character that was never really examined was how he must have felt taking on another padawan after the failure of his last attempt. The finale of Obi-Wan Kenobi — in which he helped turn Reva aka the Third Sister away from the dark — may have bolstered his confidence. Yet, the way he trained Luke shows that he harbored some degree of apprehension, if not fear. Obi-Wan is cryptic and reserved in how he speaks to Luke about the Jedi of old and, of course, his father. Compare this to how direct he was with Anakin and, sometimes, Ahsoka Tano. Taking on Luke as a padawan — especially at his age and with his passion — had to be intimidating.

Under these circumstances, Obi-Wan may have decided he wasn’t up to the task. His sacrifice while battling Darth Vader on the Death Star could be an example of that. He’d bested the Sith Lord twice before, the last time slightly more than a decade ago. In choosing to become one with the Force, he may have been sending Luke Skywalker to a better teacher, namely Yoda. He knew he’d live on in the Force, and once ascended, he’d be less bound by the fears and attachments of the mortal plane.

The Real-World Reasons for Obi-Wan’s Actions Don’t Matter to Star Wars’ Story

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As mentioned, much of the disconnect comes from the story being told out of order. Despite how Obi-Wan Kenobi enriches A New Hope, Lucas almost surely thought at the time the Death Star confrontation was the two old friends’ first reunion since the fall of the Republic. Just like with the blood on Ponda Baba’s arm or the fact that Han Solo shot Greedo unprovoked, this is also representative of the piecemeal approach to storytelling that’s always been present in Star Wars.

Obi-Wan cut off Ponda Baba’s arm for cinematic reasons. However, the successive stories set before this moment don’t mesh together perfectly. Yet, if something isn’t immediately apparent in a story, that’s not necessarily bad writing, especially in Star Wars. As Lucas developed his universe further, things changed, including how he viewed the characters and the Jedi themselves. Obi-Wan taking Ponda Boba’s arm off just below the shoulder isn’t fully out of character, either. However, there are plenty of hints about Obi-Wan’s state of mind when he cut off Ponda Baba’s arm after Luke Skywalker was threatened.

Star Wars: A New Hope is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and digital, or can be streamed via Disney+.

The Cast on the Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Poster

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Luke Skywalker joins forces with a Jedi Knight, a cocky pilot, a Wookiee and two droids to save the galaxy from the Empire’s world-destroying battle station, while also attempting to rescue Princess Leia from the mysterious Darth Vader.

Release Date
May 25, 1977

Director
George Lucas

Cast
Mark Hamill , Carrie Fisher , Harrison Ford , Alec Guiness , Anthony Daniels , Kenny Baker , Peter Mayhew , James Earl Jones , David Prowse

Runtime
2 hours 1 minute

Main Genre
Sci-Fi

Writers
George Lucas

Production Company
Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox

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