When Star Wars Rebels burst onto the scene last year we were introduced to someone described by Executive Producer Dave Filoni as a “Cowboy Jedi:” the man known as Kanan Jarrus. During a bold “twenty-two pick-up” on the world of Kessel, Kanan revealed himself to the Empire and the audience as a former Jedi Padawan who had survived Order 66 and somehow avoided Imperial attention for fifteen years. I’d like to take a minute and look a bit deeper at Kanan and what makes him different from more traditional Jedi like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, or even the more modern Luke Skywalker.
A Fool’s Insight
Those who wish to become Jedi Knights must have, in the words of Master Yoda, “the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” But when we meet Kanan we find that he has a wry sense of humor that reminds us more of Han Solo than the upright Luke Skywalker or wise Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kanan’s quick wit makes itself more and more apparent as danger rises – but there’s a subtlety to it: Kanan uses humor to address danger to his friends. In Spark of Rebellion he says to Hera “A little less attitude and a little more altitude.” While this remark is a subtle dig at Hera’s attempt to question him about Ezra, he’s also pointing out that in that moment his encounter with the young vagabond is less important than their escape with the Empire. By expressing this with humor he reaffirms the bond between himself and the crew of the Ghost instead spouting some kind of high-minded wisdom of a more traditional Jedi. By dressing his concerns in brevity, he makes them more approachable and increases the likelihood that his friends will address them.
In Fire Across the Galaxy the smuggler Vizago learns that Kanan is a Jedi and reacts rather appropriately: disbelieving laughter. Kanan takes extensive efforts to conceal his identity as a Jedi. But unlike Yoda and Obi-Wan, Kanan still recognizes that like the Force itself he is part of the galaxy at large. Instead of hiding in a swamp or desert, he conceals his identity in plain sight. Instead of robes, he wears a simple shirt and breeches. To the casual observer he’s just another scoundrel. But a deeper look reveals his true nature. Kanan’s battered armor has a white crest on it that harkens back to the symbol of the Jedi Order and the trinkets on his belt assemble into a lightsaber. He sleeps with a Jedi Holocron beneath his bed, almost as if to remind himself even in dreams of his true heritage and legacy. Even his smuggling had a buried dedication to the Jedi Order. It’s not about profits for Jarrus. It’s about sticking it to the Empire and taking care of his new family. We see that from our earliest encounters with him. All around him, Kanan surrounds himself with subtle symbols and reminders of his true heritage. Beneath even his own fears that he has abanbonded the Jedi Order, Jarrus has left himself quiet reminders of the truth.
A Wise Man Knows Nothing
When Kanan accepts Ezra as his apprentice, the would-be master knows that the road will not be easy. In accepting his role as an teacher and mentor, the Jedi is forced to recognize his own flaws. Through the course of season one of Rebels we see Kanan go from doubt and avoidance of obligation (Rise of the Old Masters) to instructor (Gathering Forces), to looking past the insecurities he projects onto his student and truly becoming a mentor (Path of the Jedi). The whole time, Kanan knows he’s not a fully trained Jedi – but that doesn’t stop him from doing what is right and trusting in both the Force and his apprentice. Trusting one’s apprentice is not an easy thing to do. Neither Obi-Wan (as seen in his relationship with Anakin) or Yoda (as seen in his pleading and chastizing Luke for abandoning his training) could do.
Kanan has a clear older brother type of role among the crew of the Ghost. He cares deeply for all of his crew. But true to the Jedi way, he recognizes the danger of attachment. This is evident when he sacrifices himself for both the crew of the Ghost and for the belief that the broadcast across the Lothal system might bring hope to thousands (Call to Action). He knows that in the custody of Tarkin and the Inquisitor he will face unimaginable suffering that will only end with his death. But out of unconditional love – love without attachment, he makes the ultimate choice. This is something rarely seen in the Jedi Order. Another example would be Luke Skywalker’s unconditional love for his father – a love that both Yoda and Obi-Wan did not believe in. That is the kind of compassion that changes the galaxy.
The Old and the New
I think part of Kanan’s appeal for many is that he combines the roguish charm of Han Solo and the Jedi idealism of Luke Skywalker into a unified, believable and complex character. Kanan is truly a Jedi between worlds. He was born into the Republic and it was there that he first began to forge his identity. But when the Empire rose to power, Kanan was forced to examine more than the dogma of the Jedi. He was forced to examine himself. That wasn’t an easy thing – it never is, even for a Jedi. By taking up the mantle of mentor to Ezra, Kanan is forced to make that examination with every action he takes and in the end it is my belief that Kanan moves beyond being simply a “Cowboy Jedi.” He is a complex, contradictory and conflicted man who is as much at war with himself as he is with the Galactic Empire. But, like the crew of the Ghost, he has not yet begun to fight.