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In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker violently escapes from the lair of a wampa ice creature, finds himself in the middle of a life-threatening snowstorm on an inhospitable planet, collapses from cold and fatigue, and will likely be dead in a few minutes. As described in the script:

Luke lies face down in the snow, nearly unconscious. Slowly he looks up and sees Ben Kenobi, barely visible through the blowing snow. It is hard to tell if Kenobi is real or a hallucination.

Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke Skywalker on Hoth

Why did Obi-Wan Kenobi choose this moment to appear to Luke and deliver rather important instructions concerning next steps in his Jedi training?

It seems lucky that Luke remembered anything of the encounter at all. He probably thought he was hallucinating.

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    No canon for it, but I always assume that the proximity to death made communications easier with someone who hadn't developed a lot of sensitivity (Not raw power, but finesse) to the force. In a sense, he was awfully close to death flying in that trench, too. – K-H-W Mar 2 '12 at 20:25
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    Historically, hallucinations tend to occur in times of great stress. A lot of religious practices are centered around trying to induce hallucinations and hear the voice of God through fasting or self-flagellation. Out-of-universe, the decision to have Luke see Ben when he is so close to death is likely a callback to this. In universe, they are probably following this effect - just as we are most likely to hallucinate when having a near-death experience, so would Luke see Ben. – J Doe Jan 18 '17 at 22:28
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I don't think there's a canon explanation, but 3 possibilities come to mind:

  • It takes time and effort to master the whole Force Spirit routine. Obi-Wan appeared as soon as he was able to

  • Luke was in a particularly vulnerable state, and thus somehow more receptive to hearing Obi-Wan's Force Spirit (alternately, especially attuned to Force due to trying to survive)

  • Luke was collapsing and therefore wouldn't have been as likely to reject Ben's voice as a "can't happen" (e.g. he may have thought "well, i'm hallucinating from the cold. Might as well listen".

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    Isn't it possible that Ben wanted to help Luke survive? – TLP Mar 3 '12 at 3:35
  • @TLP - I don't see how that was very helpful, but may be worth an answer :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 3 '12 at 14:26
  • I barely remember the scene. I haven't watched empire all that many times. =P – TLP Mar 3 '12 at 14:29
  • @TLP - good excuse to re-watch :) It is, after all, the only of the 6 movies that is worth re-watching – DVK-on-Ahch-To Mar 3 '12 at 14:34
  • @DVK Of your three possibilities, I am inclined to discount the first and third. Obi-Wan could at least produce a disembodied voice immediately after Darth Vader killed him, and considering how willing Luke was to follow his post-mortal advice in A New Hope -- "Run," in the first instance, and "Let go," in the second -- I doubt a visible appearance was really necessary. – William Jackson Mar 4 '12 at 2:54
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A few minutes prior to Ben's arrival, Luke focused his Force powers to the point that he was able to move his Lightsaber. This, apparently, is the first time he's meditated, something (that we learn from Yoda in RotS) is key to communing with Force Spirits:

You look back at the lightsaber. Then you think of Old Ben. Obi-Wan Kenobi. The man who gave you the lightsaber. The man who turned your father into one of the greatest Jedi Knights of all time. The man who began to train you—before he was killed by Darth Vader. Darth Vader, the Emperor’s right hand. Darth Vader, who killed your father. You stop your mind from wandering. You focus on the lightsaber. You know what Old Ben would tell you to do. Close your eyes. Count to ten, letting the thoughts clear from your mind. Breathe in and out. In and out. Until your mind is as empty and bright as a snowfield on a clear morning. Until you can feel everything around you. As if everything in the room has a physical shape on the field of your mind. You feel the great, hot wampa. You feel the smooth, sticky bones of the tauntaun. Then closer. The mound of snow. The lightsaber.

When he moves out into the snow his delirium (coupled with his extreme state of relaxation) seems to have made him more receptive to a visit from Kenobi:

You decide just to go back to sleep. The cold is so gentle, and your heartbeat seems, now, so superfluous. “Luke…” The voice sounds like Old Ben’s. But that’s not possible. Old Ben is dead. Unless you’re dead, too… And then you realize that you are dying. Wake up! you shout at yourself. But your eyes won’t open. You cannot raise your head. You are going to die. The voice is speaking. “Luke…Go to the Dagobah system.” It sounds like Ben. “Find my old teacher, Master Yoda…”

Quotes from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - So You Want to be a Jedi?


Taking the official Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back novelisation as a source of info, we can also see that Ben was urging Luke to survive, preventing him from sleeping (which would have likely resulted in his death) and having him make sounds that drew Han closer

The apparition spoke with the same gentle authority Ben had always used with the young man. “You must survive, Luke.”
The young commander found the strength to move his lips again. “I’m cold … so cold …”
“You must go to the Dagobah system,” the spectral figure of Ben Kenobi instructed. “You will learn from Yoda, the Jedi Master, the one who taught me.”
Luke listened, then reached to touch the ghostly figure. “Ben … Ben …” he groaned.
The figure remained unmoved by Luke’s efforts to reach it. “Luke,” it spoke again, “you’re our only hope.”

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    This whole meditation answer is bogus. Kenobi's ghost spoke twice to Luke during ANH. Once right after Kenobi died when he told Luke to run. And again during the battle when he told Luke to use the Force to destroy the Death Star. Luke wasn't meditating during either moment. Are we really supposed to believe Kenobi didn't talk to Luke during the entire 3 years from ANH to ESB because Luke didn't meditate? – RichS May 18 '16 at 6:41
  • @RichS - He half-heard Obi-Wan's voice, maybe. He certainly didn't see him until he'd grown in the Force and meditated recently. And he then saw him even more clearly after he'd been trained in the Force and had been meditating recently. – Valorum May 18 '16 at 6:54
  • He maybe heard Kenobi's voice during the Battle of Yavin? Seriously? That would imply he decided to turn off his guidance computer and use the Force based on a hallucination. No, he clearly heard Kenobi's voice not once but twice in that movie. And both times he clearly acted on Kenobi's advice. This whole meditation justification seems too ad hoc of an explanation. You might be better off going with an out-of-universe explanation for why Kenobi didn't appear to Luke (or speak to Luke) sooner. The simplest answer might be that Lucas didn't think of it when he wrote ESB. – RichS May 18 '16 at 7:04
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    I just watched the entire Battle of Yavin scene and counted how many times Kenobi's ghost spoke to Luke. The total number of interactions is not once, not twice, but 6 times! Once seconds after Kenobi died. 2nd is right as Luke is leaving the rebel base. The next 3 are during intense battle moments. (Two of those are close together, but since there is a pause between them, I counted those as two separate vocalizations). The 6th was right after the Death Star went kablooie. Luke clearly knew Kenobi was speaking to him and followed his mentor's instructions each time. – RichS May 18 '16 at 7:30
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    @RichS - Each of those times Luke sort of looks around as if he can't trust his senses. Did you note that most of the things he says are things he's already said to Luke before he died? – Valorum May 18 '16 at 7:35
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(This answer uses Legends continuity)

According to the game Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Hoth was a Force Nexus, a location where the Force was unusually strong.

In the game, Luke mentions that Obi-Wan was able to appear to him because of Hoth's status as a Force Nexus.

So it appears Kenobi would have always appeared to Luke on Hoth and chose that exact moment for unknown reasons.

  • In the absence of the star-wars-legends tag on the question, it is probably best to ask the author in a comment if Legends is acceptable before posting a Legends-only answer. – Null Sep 17 '15 at 15:15
  • @null Ok, thanks for telling me. – Rogue Jedi Sep 17 '15 at 16:46
  • This explanation also begs the question of whether Yavin was a Force-nexus too since Kenobi's ghost spoke to Luke 5 times before, during, and after the Battle of Yavin. He was giving Luke instructions to destroy the Death Star during the battle. I don't think Kenobi's ghost needed a Force-nexus to do speak to Luke. – RichS May 18 '16 at 7:33
  • @RichS It's not my interpretation. Luke explicably states this in the game. – Rogue Jedi May 18 '16 at 13:08
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    @RogueJedi I get that the game says Hoth is a nexus. If we accept that Kenobi appeared to Luke then and there because Hoth was a nexus, then what about when Kenobi's ghost spoke to Luke right after his death and during the Battle of Yavin. Is there any G-canon reference of Yavin being a nexus? This is one of the reasons I prefer to stick with G-canon. The games and expanded universe tend to say things that contradict each other and the G-canon. Thanks. :-) – RichS May 18 '16 at 15:24

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