In the original Star Wars (1977) film, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi famously tells Luke the following as they look both look down on Mos Eisley from a nearby cliff:

“Mos Eisley Spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

Did Ben Kenobi really need to point this out to Luke? I mean they seem to have made a special/specific stop on that cliff simply to look at Mos Eisley in the distance… Why?

It seems to me that Luke Skywalker would have known about Mos Eisley (and possibly Mos Espa) since he was a gearhead who clearly tinkered with his X-34 landspeeder and the T-16 skyhopper on his aunt and uncle’s homestead. He even talks about going to Tosche Station to get some power convertors after his uncle purchases the droids from the Jawas. And it’s hinted that he explored the areas around him as well. Maybe Luke never visited it before, but would Ben Kenobi really make such a big deal out of showing it to Luke?

Is Ben Kenobi being obtuse—and a bit presumptuous—on purpose? Or is he just being a patronizing old man who is “mansplaining” the world to someone when he introduces Luke to Mos Eisley spaceport?

Looking for an in-universe canonical explanation. If a “Legends” rationale exists, let’s go for that; but canon takes precedent.

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    He’s reminding a dumb teenager to be careful in a place where he could quickly get in a lot of deadly trouble. That’s not presumptuous. It’s futile, but not presumptuous. – Paul D. Waite Mar 29 '17 at 8:31
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    He's just reminding him to be cautious. To me it seems a normal thing to say. – AndreKR Mar 29 '17 at 8:39
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    The simple answer is this: it's a film/story telling technique. Kenobi says it not for Luke, but for the viewers. Kind of like when Lando removed his face mask/covering in jabas palace, it was totally unnecessary except that the director wanted to be sure the viewers knew it was him. Like Merry have known the town was dangerous, but until Kenobi says it the viewers had no idea. He said it for us. – Andrew Mar 29 '17 at 12:00
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    Yup, this question is very ill-founded. Ben is simply describing the place. If I arrived in New York with some friends, and I stand up, spread my hands, and say "New York, big city of dreams!" there is no implication whatsoever that my friends "have never heard of" New York on this planet. I mean, it could be that we all were born there and have only lived there, it would still be a commonplace expression. The question makes little sense I'm afraid. – Fattie Mar 29 '17 at 12:18
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    As someone past 50 myself now, we oldsters feel a responsibility to point out to youngsters things of which they should damn well be aware of, just in case they aren't entirely. That way they at least can't feel like they weren't warned, and we don't have to feel guilty about whatever happens. – T.E.D. Mar 29 '17 at 13:47

Luke is clearly aware that Mos Eisley exists

He refers to the outpost in Obi-Wan's hut, shortly after viewing Leia's message:

Luke: Look, I can take you as far as Anchorhead. You can get a transport there to Mos Eisley or wherever you're going.

A New Hope (1977)

It's not immediately clear that he's familiar with Mos Eisley's reputation, but it does seem likely. At the very least he knows it's a spaceport.

The intention behind Obi-Wan's statement is unclear

None of the novelizations really delve into why Ben feels the need to point out Mos Eisley's seediness (though the out-of-universe reason is obvious). The best we can do is guess:

  • Obi-Wan may simply not know whether Luke is familiar with the spaceport or not. This seems an unlikely explanation, given how closely Obi-Wan seems to have watched Luke, but it's worth pointing out the possibility
  • He's trying to make a point. It's worth noting that the same line in the Alan Dean Foster novelization is much more hyperbolic than what made it into the film:

    "Mos Eisley Spaceport - the ideal place for us to lose ourselves while we seek passage offplanet. Not a more wretched collection of villainy and disreputable types exists any where on Tatooine. The Empire has been alerted to us, so we must be very cautious, Luke.

    Star Wars - Novelization Chapter 6

    By impressing on Luke that Mos Eisley isn't just dangerous, it's the most dangerous place on Tatooine (which, yes, is an exaggeration; that's the point of hyperbole), Obi-Wan is communicating to Luke the importance of caution. Yes, he could (and, indeed, does) just tell Luke to be cautions, but rhetorical devices work on us for a reason

  • Lucas isn't a very good writer. I know you're asking for in-universe reasons, but at a certain point the MST3K mantra starts playing in my head and I feel the need to share

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    Good answer. In the original novelization it sounds like an old man musing to himself and “thinking out loud” so hey… It works! – Giacomo1968 Mar 29 '17 at 2:14
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    "The intention behind Obi-Wan's statement is unclear" this is really pretty nonsensical. If I'm walking down the street with a friend, and I see a Ford truck, and I say .. "Ford trucks, what a pile of rustbuckets" there is not the slightest implication that my friend "doesn't know what a Ford truck is". It's nothing more complicated than me commenting on Ford trucks. As immediately mentioned in all the comments under the question, it's just an ill-founded question. – Fattie Mar 29 '17 at 12:22
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    @Fattie Your logic makes sense in a colloquial way, but it still doesn’t explain why the whole crew made an odd pit stop to look at Mos Eisley. You’re telling me they had to pull R2-D2 off the back just for a photo-op? – Giacomo1968 Mar 29 '17 at 13:46
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    There's also the possibility that that part of the comment wasn't directed at Luke, or anyone at all, really. He could have just been making a general comment, and only the line "We must be cautious." is specifically directed at Luke. – Irishpanda Mar 29 '17 at 14:24
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    @JakeGould "...but it still doesn’t explain why the whole crew made an odd pit stop to look at Mos Eisley." Clearly both Luke and Obi-Wan are taking a pee break during this scene (explaining why the scene was shot waist up). :-) – RobertF Mar 29 '17 at 19:21

Luke lived about 6 km from Bigg's homestead, 12 km from Tosche Station, 24 km from Anchorhead and roughly 80 km from Mos Eisley (60 km as the crow flies, but marked paths show much further).

This measurements were done by using the scale on the canonical Disney map (see below; click to enlarge) to determine width of a finger in km, then determining how many finger widths it took to get to destinations, and could be off slightly. Remember that is one way distance, so double for a round trip.

That's a far way to go, in an open topped vehicle in a desert planet with two suns. Heat, dust and chores to do would likely encourage going to the close shops over the ones with slightly better stuff.

Tatooine map

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    If we can go by Legends the top speed of the speeder is 250 kph, which makes an 80km trip go pretty quickly. – Michael McGriff Mar 29 '17 at 13:11
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    That map doesn't make much sense. Why were Luke and Ben going north around the Juntland Wastes, ie via Bestine, if Luke was only planning to take Ben as far as Anchorhead? Mos Eisley seems actually closer than Anchorhead by that route. – Daniel Roseman Mar 29 '17 at 13:43
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    “I used to hop over to Beggar's Canyon to bullseye womp-rats in my T-16 all the time. That's a lot more than eighty kilometers.” —Luke, probably – David Moles Mar 29 '17 at 19:36
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    @MichaelMcGriff the speeders are open topped, in a desert. Top speed is based on your pain threshold, not the speeders top speed. Likely to be 40 km/h or lower for anything that isn't an emergency. – Scott Mar 29 '17 at 23:14
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    @Scott If it was an actual quote it wouldn't say "probably." :) I don't know for a fact the womp-rats were in Beggar's Canyon, but Luke and Biggs flying T-16s in it appears to be canon. – David Moles Mar 30 '17 at 0:36

Now this is an interpretation:

Ben is just thinking out loud

Ben is an old wise man. He states the obvious because old wise men know that young men are not wise.

Ben already needed to save Luke a few hours ago when they've met.

It's quite reasonable that in Ben's logic it wouldn't matter what Luke thinks he knows about Mos Eisley, he is prone to do stupid things because he is currently not a warrior, not even someone smart.

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The rest of the answers are pretty good, but I'd like to point out that since Luke has only ever lived on Tatooine that he knows of, he may not know how Mos Eisley compares to other cities on other planets. To me, Kenobi is suggesting that Mos Eisley is a hive of criminal activity, arguably one of the worst in the galaxy, that thrives due to being so far from the galaxy's political epicenter, and is rarely policed, which Luke does not have a reference for.

It doesn't say whether Luke has been or not in the movie, but considering he can't walk into a bar without a run-in with a wanted murderer, I'd say probably not.

Additionally, Lucas, to me, is obtusely foreshadowing that there is going to be trouble when they get there, which creates tension for the next scene. It also sets up Kenobi as a capable character to those unfamiliar with him, which is everyone in 1977.

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Yes, Luke knew of Mos Eisley, but Obi-Wan felt the need to remind him how dangerous it was.

It's important to remember that - especially in the eyes of Obi-Wan Kenobi - Luke was a very inexperienced youth with a penchant for getting himself in trouble. Luke has led a very isolated life on the Tattooine equivalent of a small rural farm. Also, settlements on Tattooine tended to be very, very small due to the climate & rough conditions. Life on Tattooine was very similar to that of the early pioneers heading west back in the Old West of 1850's America.

The Tosche Station mentioned by Luke is nothing more than a run-down little bar/garage consisting of two buildings on the surface. Underneath the buildings (Tattooine settlements tended to be at least half underground because of the heat), there was a garage large enough to hold a few speeders and something the size of Luke's T-16 Skyhopper. There was also a small restaraunt/bar and a few rooms that you could rent like a motel. Tosche Station basically acted as a waypoint for the numerous people living out on the edges of the Jundland Wastes. Think of it as the "general store" from an Old West town - a place where you go pick up the mail, get that part you ordered, buy supplies, etc.

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The next largest place is Anchorhead, which is roughly equivalent to a very small town - a point where you can "catch the bus" to the city (which is exactly what Luke had offered to Obi-Wan).

enter image description here

Mos Eisley - in comparison - would be a huge city, like the Tatooine equivalent of New York City.

enter image description here

Even IF Luke had been there before (he had been there at least once in the Legends continuity), it's still likely that he would vastly underestimate the kind of trouble they might find there. Luke's idea of trouble would be more like, "Hey - remember the time that swoop-racer got drunk at Tosche Station's bar and started a fight with a Jawa?". A hilarious example, yes, but it illustrates the difference. A drunk fighting a Jawa and wrecking the place wouldn't even earn a batted eye in Mos Eisley, whereas in Tosche Station they'd be talking about it for months if not years later.

Kenobi, on the other hand, understands how dangerous it can be and is simply reminding Luke to be careful while they're in the spaceport. The fact that the Empire has a garrison there is completely irrelevant, as well - the city itself offers far more danger than just a few stormtroopers.

As for why they're overlooking Mos Eisley from a cliff, the most likely explanation is that Obi-Wan wanted to check out the city from a distance just to make sure nothing was obviously wrong - like an Imperial Star Destroyer hovering over it, for instance - before they got any closer. He then took the opportunity to warn Luke... a warning which apparently fell on deaf ears since Luke got into trouble not five minutes after they arrived.

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    +1 - how many times has an older person told you something you (in your mind at least) "already know?" It'd be weirder if he didn't. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Mar 31 '17 at 13:32
  • @mxyzplk - yep, I do it myself. I often get fussed at for doing that to grown/teen kids, or even my wife. Ok... especially my wife. – Omegacron Mar 31 '17 at 17:36

Luke wasn't paying attention (thinking about his recently killed relatives). Ben was reminding him of the dangers that Mos Eisley posed to the inattentive and naive.

En route to the group’s destination, Luke had a hard time concentrating. He couldn’t stop thinking about his aunt and uncle, and what the Empire had done. But after the third time he’d strayed off course, Ben suggested they park the landspeeder and take a moment’s pause.

Luke parked on a high, craggy bluff that overlooked a canyon. The droids followed Luke and Ben to the edge of the bluff and gazed out over a wide, haphazard array of runways, landing pads, crater-like docking bays, and semidomed structures that sprawled across the stark canyon floor.

“Mos Eisley spaceport,” Ben said. “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Glancing at Luke, he added, “We must be cautious.”

Ben and Luke got the droids onto the back of the landspeeder, then the group resumed their journey. This time, Luke stayed on course.

Star Wars: A New Hope - Official Junior Novelisation

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    “Ben suggested they park the landspeeder and take a moment’s pause…” Excellent! Explains something I mentioned succinctly in the original question. – Giacomo1968 Mar 31 '17 at 19:50

As with most of the other answers, I think this is just Obi-Wan making a point. There's no particular reason to assume that Luke is unfamiliar with Mos Eisley's reputation and he certainly knows it exists, as other answers have shown.

That said, he does say "Mos Eisley spaceport" and not simply "Mos Eisley", even if they're overlooking the whole place when he speaks. If you're really concerned about Obi-Wan being patronising, you could interpret it as a warning about the spaceport specifically, not the port town around it. Mos Eisley is a large settlement (especially by Tatooine's sparsely-populated standards) and it's quite possible Luke has been there without visiting the particularly nasty hive of scum and villainy that is the spaceport itself.

He wouldn't have had any particular reason to go there and he obviously would've had plenty of reason to stay away.

The idea that there are nicer parts of town is backed up in Legends, where Mos Eisley had several distinct districts, including the New Quarter, a tourist-friendly merchant area. It seems like a reasonable guess in canon too, just based on the fact that if every bar was as lethal as the cantina, there wouldn't be much of a town left.

Add in the fact that Luke has plenty of reason to not be thinking clearly (after all, this is at most a few hours after he's seen the charred corpses of the only family he's ever known) and it seems perfectly reasonably for Obi-Wan to spell out exactly what they're getting into.

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    The question clearly states, “Looking for an in-universe canonical explanation. If a ‘Legends’ rationale exists, let’s go for that; but canon takes precedent.” Meaning what you are posting about is just speculation filled with inferences and not an answer. – Giacomo1968 Apr 1 '17 at 23:29

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