Knerd Knowledge: Vader’s Mispronunciation

September 1, 2011

Star Wars characters go around mispronuncing each others’ names all the time — that’s pretty common Knerd Knowledge.

You know, Han pronounces his own name like “Con,” and so does everyone else, but then Lando comes along and starts saying “Han” like “Can,” and so everyone starts saying it that way for awhile — just to try something new.  And Leia’s name is “LAY-uh” unless it’s some old dude saying it — then it’s “LEE-uh.”

I get it.  Mostly.

But there’s a certain, one-time mispronuncation that I’ve never heard anyone discuss, and yet it seems way more out-of-place than all the others put together.

It’s this.

Quoth Darth Vader (as the Death Star approaches Yavin 4): “This will be a day long remembered. It has seen the end of Kenobi and will soon see the end of the Rebellion.”

It’s a fairly memorable line, and a fun little scene — Vader staring, I assume, into the middle-distance while Tarkin gives him a look like who gave you permission to start randomly monologuing?

The only problem is, Vader completely butchers “Kenobi.”

In the line, he says it “KIN-OH-bee” when, of course, everyone knows it should be pronounced “keh-NOH-bee.”

I know that doesn’t look like a big deal, especially spelled out that way with phonetic-type symbols — like, one syllable is in bold instead of the other one, but who cares? — but it is a big deal because “Kenobi” is one of those names that, once you hear it, is impossible to forget how to pronounce (like, ahem, “Reini”).

I think this is because “Kenobi” — already a great name in and of itself — is made even better by the sing-song rhyme it creates with “Obi-Wan.”

Try it.  “Obi-Wan Kenobi” (OH-bee-whon keh-NOH-bee).

And now try it again, but this time with the un-stated conclusion of the rhyme:

“Obi-Wan Kenobi-Wan” (OH-bee-whon keh-NOH-bee-whon).

See? Fun!

And unforgettable. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I doubt James Earl Jones had ever heard the name “Kenobi” before he recorded the line. After all, he only says the name “Kenobi” once.  For the rest of the movie — indeed (I think) the rest of the trilogy — Vader refers to his old master only as “Obi-Wan.”

(“Obi-Wan is here. The Force is with him.” “Obi-Wan has taught you well.” “Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me.” “I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”  Obi-Wan: “Only a master of evil, Darth.” — you know, back when “Darth” was obviously Vader’s first name instead of some prequelly title.)

I don’t blame James Earl Jones. He did, after all, record all of his lines in a mere two hours for a tidy $7,000 paycheck. (Nor did Jones, after the fact, seem to be particularly obsessed with the minutia of Star Wars. He’s on record as saying his favorite Darth Vader line is “I have you now, Obi-Wan.” I’ll give you all my Landos if you can find that one in the trilogy.)

But where was the guy in the sound booth? Did he, too, not know the correct pronunciation, or did he not think anyone would notice? Did James Earl Jones receive any direction whatsoever, or was he just tossed a script and told to read? And where were the film editors? Did they not catch the mistake? Or did they not think it was worth the extra 200 bucks to call Jones’s butt back into the studio and have him say it the right way?

This is normally the part where I’d take a shot at George, but this was still the time of young, svelte, killing-himself-just-to-get-his-crazy-little-movie-made George, for whom I have a lot of respect. (As opposed to this George.)

Regardless of who’s ultimately to blame, that line caused me a good deal of confusion as a youngster. So, “this day has seen the end of Kinno Vee,” huh? (Because, if Vader meant “Kenobi,” he would’ve just said “Kenobi.”) So was this “Kinno Vee,” like, the capital city of Alderaan or something? Or maybe it was that guy.

Anyway, unraveling that mystery was almost as hard as figuring out what Obi-Wan meant when he told Luke “A gentleman wastes enough to be traveled lightly.”

But I eventually got it. Obviously, Obi-Wan meant that he (Obi-Wan, a gentleman) was wasting time when he could be hauling Artoo (a decidedly un-light droid) back to his place. Duh.

— Reinman



  1. A gentleman wastes enough = The Jundland wastes are not?
    Give him a break. He’s got an English accent. ;^)

    When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Legos. I never understood the commercial for a popular brand of toaster waffles until much later in life.

    Hey! Lego my ego!

    Do what now?

  2. Correct, sir.

    And that one was 100 percent my fault (though I don’t think I’m alone). The problem was, he looked like a gentleman; he sounded like a gentleman; so surely he must have been saying “gentleman.”

    In your case, to make matters more confusing, Egos look roughly Lego-shaped, in an abstract, inverted, delicious sort of way.

  3. Ha, I laughed so hard at J.E.J.’s favorite line, that I almost pooped myself.
    Also, I love the untold back story of how Vader hates that stupid stormtrooper, KIN-o-be, so much.

  4. By the way, I realize that I blew it with the Tarkin/Vader joke.

    The look Tarkin gives him isn’t annoyed, like “who gave you permission to start randomly monologuing?”

    It’s more like he’s struggling to hide his amusement, like “Oh, so is this like a new thing — we just randomly monologuing?”

  5. There is a universal truth, sort of like gravity, that you are forgetting. Vader is right and the rest of the dimwits got it wrong. Darth Vader does not mispronounce anything. Kin-OH-bee it is.

  6. Some of the “misconceptions I had about star wars when I was a kid” on that site are pretty funny.

    “When I was little, for some reason I thought Han shot R2 in ROTJ when he was trying to get the bunker door open. I thought it was his punishment for taking too long.”

    “used to think the death star in ROTJ was the same on as in ANH, and that Luke had only blown a chunk off the side of it instead of blowing the whole thing up. It was years later when I saw it on video that I read the opening scroll and realized it was a new death star.”

    “i thought jabba was speaking in spanish. i was only 4 you know. ”

    “I once thought that it would be really cool if only Lucas would produce more Star Wars movies.”

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