One of my favorite characters in all of Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a great example of the ISFJ personality type. Though he is not as stereotypically ISFJ as a character like Samwise Gamgee or Captain America, I do think that’s the best fit for him. Like many ISFJs, he’s quite comfortable working on his own yet is also very good with people. Also, much like several other Jedi (at least the way I type them), Kenobi is a Guardian (SJ type) who focuses on the problem at hand and relies heavily on the past to determine his future action. Obi-Wan shares an interest with many real-life ISFJs in maintaining or restoring traditional balance and order. Yet he also has a very personalized and subjective view of things, which becomes more apparent as he gets older and spends more time alone on Tatooine.
A Sensing Jedi
People often type the Jedi knights as Intuitives, largely because of their force sensitivity. That’s one of the reasons you’ll often see Obi-Wan Typed as an INFJ. While I’d like to claim him for my own personality type, ISFJ is a much better fit for his character. For one thing, the Force isn’t something you need Intuition to sense. To those who are as strongly Force-sensitive as the Jedi, it’s something real and tangible that they can tap-into and use. They wouldn’t have the same skeptical reaction as someone like Han Solo (an ISTP) because for them the Force is part of the concrete world.
Additionally, the Jedi order is a traditional institution that’s intensely suspicious of new ideas and reforms, even if they’re suggested internally. That sort of thing is typical of institutions run by SJ Guardian types. It’s something you want in long-term institutions because it helps increase stability, though there are also down-sides if it becomes too rigid and those in charge reject new ideas from idealists like Qui-Gon Jinn (an ENFP).
For Obi-Wan in particular, one way to see the strength of his Sensing preference is to contrast him with Intuitive Jedi like his Master Qui-Gon and his padawan Anakin (an ENTJ). Reading Claudia Gray’s novel Master and Apprentice reveals that, as we’d expect from a Sensing/Intuitive pair, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan have trouble communicating the same way. Early in the book, Qui-Gon tells Obi-Wan to take care of a door, by which he means to deal with the guards but which Obi-Wan interprets as disabling the door itself.
Qui-Gon believed in dealing with each situation on its own merits; Obi-Wan wanted procedures to follow. Qui-Gon valued flexibility, which Obi-Wan seemed to think of as sloppiness. Qui-Gon had learned to get on better with the counsel over time, but had always retained his independence. Obi-Wan still thought he had to obey the Council in every particular, at all times, and was horrified every time Qui-Gon deviated from standard protocols in the slightest.Claudia Gray’s Master and Apprentice, pp. 19-20
Qui-Gon finds it frustrating that his apprentice must always be so literal, while Obi-Wan is frustrated by how indirect his master is. Like other Intuitives, Qui-Gon is most comfortable in the realm of the abstract while Obi-Wan, as is typical of Sensing types, prefers things more structured, defined, and clearly laid-out.
Focusing on Human Problems
ISFJs lead with a function called Introverted Sensing. What’s more visible, though, is their externally oriented co-pilot function, Extroverted Feeling (to learn more, click to read “The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever”). They share this function with INFJs, which is why I think people often mis-type Obi-Wan as INFJ. Unlike an INFJ, though, Obi-Wan has a hard time understanding the perspective of others. For example, in The Phantom Menace it’s obvious to him that the Gungans and Naboo form a symbiotic circle, and so he assumes they “must see that.” He sees the advantages the groups would reap from living together in peace (one of the reasons Personality Hacker nicknames Extroverted Feeling “Harmony”) but he doesn’t have the Intuitive type’s talent for quickly seeing things from multiple “Perspectives” (the nickname for Introverted Intuition).
Obi-Wan’s interest in meeting other people’s needs continues as he matures into a Jedi Knight. He values steadiness and responsibility, and often lectures Anakin on the need to follow the Counsel’s orders and to control his feelings in the way that Jedi are supposed to. However, even after chiding Anakin for getting so emotional when he sees Padme again, Obi-Wan takes the time to soften his rebuke and assure Anakin that Padme really was happy to see them. He pays attention to what the people around him feel and what they need. Take this situation from the Obi-Wan & Anakin comic book series, when they’re sent on a rescue mission to Carnelion IV.
Anakin … wants to solve the galaxy’s biggest problems. When confronted with the warring factions on Carnelion IV, he immediately tries to find a way to take action, asking “what are we supposed to do?”
Obi-Wan’s goals in the same situation are more specific. He devotes himself to saving the crew of one airship, a temporary but kind gesture that Anakin didn’t spot in his need to solve the planet’s systemic problems. Anakin’s ambition is already affecting the way he sees the world: he is concerned less for individual people and more for grand reform.from Megan Crouse’s Always Two: How Matters of Trust Built and Broke Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi
This situation highlights Obi-Wan and Anakin’s Sensing/Intuitive differences as well as their Feeling/Thinking differences. Obi-Wan is in-tune with human needs that are happening right now. His FJ traits let him easily pick up on what people need and drive him to focus on meeting those needs. His SJ tendencies help him narrow-in on observable, immediate problems. In contrast, Anakin’s focus as a Thinking type is more on the impersonal issues the planet faces and his intuition prompts him to focus on finding effective, long-term solutions for holistic problems.
Obi-Wan’s focus on human-level problems and the real needs of people also contributes to him ending up on Tatooine looking after Luke. Yoda wants Luke taken to Tatooine, but Obi-Wan goes one step further by promising, “I will take the child and watch over him.” He’s not nearly so concerned with confronting the galaxy-wide problems that Darth Vader will cause as he is with the human-level problem of making sure Anakin’s son will be alright. It’s very similar to how he ended up feeling obligated to train Anakin after Qui-Gon made that his dying request. Obi-Wan is not just a loyal person, but one who feels a deep sense of responsibility to do right by the people left in his care (which is also partly motivated by a deep sense of guilt for failing Qui-Gon and Anakin).
The Moral Negotiator
The older Obi-Wan gets, the more honed his Extroverted Feeling becomes. By the time the Clone Wars begins, he’s recognized as one of the most diplomatic Jedi. In The Clone Wars film, Obi-Wan’s idea of a diversion is to surrender and then stall by negotiating the terms. He sets up a table and two chairs because “there’s no reason we can’t be civilized about this.” Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars series is a charming man who’s good at dealing with people even though he’d usually rather not (especially if they’re politicians).
Extroverted Feeling is a mental process that’s excellent at picking up on other people’s needs and meeting them. FJ types tend to be really good at reading people and understanding them. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan displays an Fe-type’s ability to adapt to interacting with different types of people from café-owner Dex to the Kamino scientists. Hi people skills also come into play as he picks up on what’s going on at Kamino quickly enough to play along when he realizes they were expecting a Jedi.
This insight into other people does not, of course, mean that FJs like Yoda (an INFJ) or Obi-Wan are never blinded by personal feelings or swayed by their own subjective points of view. When he’s captured by Dooku in Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan’s well-defined moral code instantly tells him to label Dooku a “traitor,” and he has no qualms about saying that to his face. However, Obi-Wan quickly adapts his approach to engage with the deception Dooku is still trying to continue in an effort to draw out more information.
Obi-wan is not yet comfortable enough with the negotiating side of his personality, though, to hide his emotional response when Dooku hits a nerve by suggesting Qui-Gon would be a separatist if he’d still been alive. After that, Obi-Wan refuses consider Dooku’s warning about Darth Sideous because his moral code won’t let him listen to treason even though Dooku is actually telling the truth. His pre-determined beliefs get in the way of him even considering alternate perspectives. Like most other SJ types, Obi-Wan processes new information through the lens of past experiences and tends to reject what doesn’t fit with their framework for viewing the world. It takes ISFJs a long time to adapt to new ideas, especially ones that shake their worldviews. For Obi-Wan, he doesn’t really start to think Dooku might be right about Sith corruption within the Republic until three years later, when the Clone Wars is nearly ended.
Duty-Fulfilling and Cooperation
When ISFJs make decisions, they typically use their Extroverted Feeling side. They might also lean a little on their tertiary Introverted Thinking, but it’s not their strongest mental process. Usually, their decisions are based on what meets people’s needs and on consensus and harmony rather than impersonal criteria or logic. I think this helps explain why Obi-Wan goes to Yoda and the younglings for advice before acting on what he learns about Kamino. The audience knows he has all the facts he needs to determine where the missing planet is, but for him logic isn’t enough to make a decision. He takes his time to double-check his facts and then consult with others before he’s ready to act on the information.
Through the Clone Wars and after, Obi-Wan starts to get more comfortable with acting based on the greater good and making tough, impersonal calls. In the opening scenes for Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan doesn’t let Anakin help out the other pilots who “are doing their job so we can do ours.” He’s also not discriminant in his conviction that the greater good is worth sacrificing a few lives, telling Anakin to leave him behind if that’s what it takes to complete the mission. Part of this shift involves relying more heavily on the Thinking side of his personality, but it’s also about learning how to use his Sensing, Feeling, and Thinking sides all together.
SJ types are often called “Guardians” or “Duty-Fulfillers” because the Introverted Sensing process involves “our commitments and priorities, the facts we hold inalienable” (Lenore Thomson, Personality Type, p. 171). They filter new information and sensory data through the lens of past experience (which is why Personality Hacker called Introverted Sensing “Memory”). For SJ types, “a sense of continuity and security” comes from “knowing what matters, what’s worth keeping or building again” (Thomson, p. 171). Obi-Wan gets his framework for determining what matters from teachings of the Jedi Order. His loyalty to these ideas take priority over his personal inclinations and his loyalty to individuals. He doesn’t want to put Anakin the position of spying on Chancellor Palpatine (an INTJ), for example, but he still goes along with the Counsel’s decision. Eventually, he’s even able to try and kill Anakin once he is convinced that Anakin truly has joined the Sith and placed himself on the wrong side of the moral divide between Light and Dark.
Maturing as an ISFJ
In her book on stress and personality types, Naomi Quenk notes that “During the first half of life, Introverted Sensing types come across as workaholics.” As parental figures, these types “may emphasize duty, accountability, and rules” when raising children, who often see them as “demanding, overprotective, and guilt inducing” (Was That Really Me? p. 232). I’m sure Anakin would have no argument that this describes Obi-Wan’s mentoring style.
Quenk says maturing ISFJs who are able to integrate their interior function of Extroverted Intuition “seem to ‘mellow’ in the second half of life” (p. 233). We seem to see this in Obi-Wan, as he becomes a wise old hermit. I’m no convinced, though, that he matured into a perfectly healthy and integrated ISFJ. It would be a difficult thing to do, isolated as he was and especially after such traumatic events such as losing the Jedi–the only home and family he can remember–and the man who’d been like his brother. Obi-Wan mellows and achieves a sense of balance and calm, but not in an entirely healthy way.
Quenk says mature ISFJs who integrate their intuitive side “appear more flexible and open to new experiences, more accepting of alternative viewpoints and lifestyles, and more interested in exploring previously rejected or ignored aspects of themselves and the world in general” (p. 233). We see Obi-Wan do this, but the alternate ideas that he integrates are things like Qui-Gon’s insistence that truth depends on one’s own point of view. And for Obi-Wan, that results in Obi-Wan editing his own memories of his past. I think that’s the best in-universe explanation for the discrepancies between what Obi-Wan tells Luke Skywalker (an INFP) and what we see in the prequel trilogy.
For example, Obi-Wan displays a common ISFJ trait of blaming themselves for everything that goes wrong with the people around them, including taking full responsibility for failing Anakin (ROTS — “I have failed you Anakin”) and for the decision to train him (ANH — “I thought I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong”). He doesn’t really bear all that responsibility any more than Darth Vader actually “betrayed and murdered” Anakin Skywalker, but it’s true from the point of view that he’s chosen to adopt.
All Star Wars films and TV series are available to stream on Disney+. If you would like to purchase the books mentioned in this article, you can follow the links below. Please note that these are affiliate links which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.
- Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray
- Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin (Marvel Comics)
- Personality Hacker: Harness the Power of Your Personality Type to Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Life by Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge
- Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual: A Practical Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others Through Typology by Lenore Thomson
- Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality by Naomi Quenk