I love Kanan. He’s one of my favorite characters in Star Wars and also one of my two favorite Jedi (right up there with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who’s an ISFJ). Like several other Star Wars characters, Kanan’s personality type is ISTP. I love seeing this in a show or series since it gives us examples of how the same personality type can look in different people. Kanan isn’t exactly the same type of character as other ISTPs like Han Solo, for example. His unique background and experiences shape him into his own version of this personality type.
As with most other Jedi apprentices, Kanan was taken from his birth family at a young age and raised in the Jedi order. The order prioritizes self-discipline, introspection, harmony, and detached selflessness — perfect for a type leading with Introverted Thinking. That’s the dominant function in an ISTP’s stack, which means it’s the mental process he’s most comfortable with (click here for a quick guide to functions in Myers-Briggs® theory).
As a Jedi in training, he’d most likely have honed the dominant Introverted Thinking and tertiary Introverted Intuition sides of his personality. That Ti-Ni combination would explain the strategic intellect that plays a key role in Hera giving him a second look in A New Dawn (the book that tells the story of their first meeting). Jedi tend to encourage mindfulness, introspection, and pausing before you act so I doubt his Extroverted Sensing side (an ISTP’s co-pilot) would have been looked at quite so favorably (take, for example, how much of a rebel the Jedi consider ESTP Quinlan Vos).
We know from the Kanan comics series and from his comments in Rebels that young Caleb Dume trained under Jedi Master Deepa Bilaba. One of their conversations recorded in the comic involves Master Bilaba asking Caleb to describe what he feels. He says, “I have questions, master.” She replies, “That seems to be the natural state of your mind.” A little later, she comments that he was “somewhat famous — if not infamous — for asking too many questions” as a youngling in the Jedi Temple. This should come as no surprise from an inquisitive Thinking type. Introverted Thinking, which Personality Hacker nicknames “Accuracy,” is a function that’s driven by facts and you can’t collect those without asking questions. This includes questioning anything that seems out of place, since young accuracy users are “extremely aware of incongruities and inconsistencies, especially inconsistencies of thought” (Personality Hacker, p.69).
After surviving Order 66 Kanan tried to forget he was ever a Jedi. He turned to dangerous lines of work, engaged in copious amounts of drinking, and flirted with any attractive woman he might charm into his bed. That’s the sort of thing people who study typology expect someone to do who has Extroverted Sensing somewhere in their function stack (though we hope they find healthier ways of expressing this side of their personality).
Extroverted Sensing is a function that thrives on real-world sensory stimulation. Kanan uses this side of his personality comfortably, though it doesn’t come quite as naturally to him as Introverted Thinking. I think it’s his co-pilot function. We see him comfortably using concrete, utilitarian Se constantly in the first season of Rebels. He fights with his body as much as with his lightsaber, tapping into Extroverted Sensing’s strong “kinesthetic awareness” to turn himself into a weapon and his blaster or saber into an extension of himself (a skill Personality Hacker highlights as part of Extroverted Sensing on p.62 of their book).
Like other Sensing functions, this one is much more concerned with the concrete world of sensory information than it is with abstract concepts and ideas. Kanan even admits to Ezra he never “got” the more abstract aspects of Jedi teaching. Having Introverted Intuition as his tertiary process helped with that, but abstract theory wouldn’t be his preferred way of learning information. My guess is that Kanan was (at least partly) suppressing the Sensing side of his personality as a Jedi and finally lets it out as he matures into an adult.
Teaching and Learning
When we first meet Kanan in Rebels, he’s making good use of both his primary Thinking and co-pilot Sensing functions. He’s practical, logical, and does things that make sense to him. He’s also enjoying life, focusing on present concerns, and using his physical skills to achieve short-term goals.
Meeting Ezra, and having Hera convince him to train the Force-sensitive young man, shakes things up. Kanan can’t keep ignoring his past or avoid planning for the future (SP types tend to feel much more comfortable living in the moment, and forcing them to deal with the past or future can be uncomfortable). He has to work through feelings of guilt over leaving his master and abandoning Jedi teachings while also figuring out how to train an apprentice of his own. It’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge that reveals quite a bit about his character.
When an ISTP gets stressed, they typically fall into using their inferior function of Extroverted Feeling. This isn’t a well-developed function, so it shows up in some unusual ways. ISTPs often become hypersensitive about relationships and are quicker to find fault with people or take offence than they normally would (something Ezra reads as Kanan being disappointed in him). They may become more emotional than usual, with outbursts of anger or sadness. Used to being more detached, these types may try to make up for all this emotion by emphasizing logic to an extreme, though they may seem more paranoid than logical to those around them. Hence Hera’s worry about both Kanan and Ezra, and her encouragement that Kanan not be so hard on himself or his pupil. (Descriptions of ISTPs “in the grip” of their inferior function are taken from Was That Really Me? by Naomi Quenk, p.129-131.)
It’s really only after Kanan loses his eyesight that he’s forced to integrate the different aspects of his personality and he becomes an intimidating blend of Ti strategist, Se physical prowess, and Ni pattern recognition. He learns to “see differently,” which in his case means both to see the physical world around him through the Force instead of with his eyes and to become comfortable with the more abstract teachings of the Jedi. In personality type terms, loosing his physical sense of sight forces him to rely on his Intuition as well as his Sensing and Thinking sides.
As mentioned earlier, ISTPs also have Extroverted Feeling as their inferior function. The inferior function is one we’re less comfortable with and it usually shows up when we’re stressed, but mature versions of a personality type can learn to integrate aspects of it in healthy ways. Kanan does this. Mature ISTPs develop a better understanding of their relationships and how others feel. They also become more comfortable expressing emotions (Was That Really Me? p. 142). For example, Kanan goes from needing Sabine to tell him that he should talk with Hera before going on a dangerous mission at the end of Season 2, to being able to express his feelings for Hera and recognize her’s for him in Season 4.
The final season of Rebels is where we see Kanan fully mature as a character. He makes it unmistakably clear why ISTPs are considered the best action heroes. To quote Susan Storm’s article that I just linked to, “they excel at anything that involves quick-thinking, and hands-on tactical intelligence. If you’re in a crisis situation, you’ll want an ISTP around.” They do what needs to be done in the service of justice and protecting others, regardless of what other people might expect or hope for. The ultimate expression of this in Kanan’s character arc is his decision to sacrifice his life protecting his family — Hera, Ezra, and the rest of their crew. He’s a great Jedi, a great hero, and a great example of an ISTP in fiction.
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