You can thank Ewan McGregor for ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ on Disney+: The actor talks about what it’s like to bridge the gap
We were privileged to recently attend a press conference with some of the stars of the new “Obi-Wan Kenobi” limited series on Disney+, including the lead actor himself, Ewan McGregor. He played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy in the early 2000s and since then, in almost every interview he did, he would inevitably be asked, “Would you play Obi-Wan again?”
“The end of every interview I ever did for years I was asked two things: Would I do the sequel to ‘Trainspotting’, and would I ever play Obi-Wan Kenobi again,” said McGregor. “It was always the last two questions as the publicist is poking her head around the door, saying, ‘That’s the last question.’ And so, I just started answering it honestly.”
Yes, he said yes, but there was some doubt at first because the movies weren’t critical hits.
He said, “I think I became more aware of the fondness that the generation that we made the prequels for, have for those films. Because when we made them, we didn’t hear that. We didn’t get that response, really. So, gradually, I started realizing that people really liked them and that they meant a lot to that generation. So, that made me … that warmed my feelings about them, I guess, or my experience of being in the Star Wars world.
“And then, Disney just asked me to come in one day for a meeting, because they kept seeing on social media that I’m saying I would like to play Obi-Wan Kenobi again. It looked like I was sort of touting for work at Disney’s door. Like, you know, could you cast me? But anyway, they got me in and asked me if I mean it and I said, yeah, I would love to play him again.”
But what story is left to tell? The prequels ended with Obi-Wan taking baby Luke to Tatooine to live with his aunt and uncle, and we all know “old Ben,” as Luke would later refer to him, was nearby watching over Luke, as we saw in “A New Hope,” so was there story to tell in that 20-year span?
“I think there’s got to be a good story between Episode III and Episode IV and that’s what we definitely found, you know, after a lengthy process of exploring some different story lines,” added McGregor. “I think we’ve ended up [with] a really, really a brilliant story, and one that will satisfy the fans sitting between those two episodes.”
The “Obi-Wan Kenobi” series takes place approximately 10 years after we last saw baby Luke, so how is this Obi-Wan different from the one McGregor played before? The Jedi are in a far different place, with most having been killed as part of order 66 and the rest in hiding.
“For 10 years, Obi-Wan has been in hiding,” said McGregor. “He can’t communicate with any of his old comrades and he’s living a pretty solitary life. He’s not able to use the Force. So, in a way, he’s lost his faith. It’s like somebody who’s stepped away from their religion or something, if you like. And the only responsibility to his past life is looking over Luke Skywalker, so it was interesting to take a character that we know and love from Alec Guinness’ creation of the character in the ‘70s of this wise, sage-like, spiritual man.”
As you have probably heard, McGregor isn’t the only actor to reprise his role in “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Hayden Christensen is also returning, not so much as Anakin, but as Darth Vader. McGregor says they were close while filming the two prequels they were in together, but they lost touch over the years.
“I hadn’t seen Hayden for years, so when I saw him again and was able to talk about this project with him, it was very, very exciting. It was great. And when we were acting together, it was really like some sort of time warp. Really, like looking across at him on set was like the last 17 years didn’t happen at all, you know. It was really peculiar.”
Filmmaking has come a long way since the early 2000s, and no more so than the cutting-edge filming techniques used on the Disney+ Star Wars sets of “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.” Those were filmed on a set called The Volume or Stagecraft, where high-definition screens surround the actors instead of green screens.
McGregor said, “The experience of the first three, especially Episode II and III, there’s so much blue screen and green screen, and it’s just hard. It’s very hard to make something believable when there’s nothing there, you know. And here we were in this amazing set where, you know, if you’re shooting in the desert, everywhere you look is the desert. And if you’re flying through space, then, you know, the stars are flying past you as you scout along. It’s so cool.”
Fun Fact: Episode 2 was one of the first films shot on digital instead of film. Because the technology was so new, the cameras were really large and really noisy. McGregor told us, “It was so noisy. And in post-production, they realized at the end, that the noise they made was exactly in the frequency of the human voice, so we had to ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement – replace the audio) every single line of Episode II. None of the original dialogue made it through because of that – because the cameras were so, like, new, you know, and none of the bugs had been worked out yet. So, compared to what we’re doing now it’s like night and day, really.”
Being a true Star Wars fan, having grown up with the original trilogy in the ’70s when McGregor was a kid, of course he’s going to have fun shooting the lightsaber battles. He reluctantly admits he makes the Lightsaber “whooshing” sounds as he swings his during practice. He added, “It’s impossible not to. And if you’re not making them, you’re doing it in your head.”
But were his Lightsaber skills rusty after the past 20 years? What else did he have to work on?
“Yeah, we did a lot of lightsaber drills with JoJo (fight coordinator) and his team. And, yeah, it was something that you have to work on. It’s not, like, there right away. The two things I think I had to work on was that and his voice,” said McGregor. “I was doing a sort of vague English accent and it wasn’t really Obi-Wan’s voice at all. And I was, oh dear. That’s not, that’s not very good. So, luckily, we had months before we actually started shooting, so I went back and did some homework with Alec Guinness and what I’d done before in the original films. But those, I think, were the two things. Playing him felt totally like he’d always been there ready to come out any minute. But just his voice needed a bit of work.”
Playing Obi-Wan at about the same age Alec Guinness was in the original trilogy, and just 10 years from that version of Obi-Wan, made McGregor want to bring that same wit to the role that Guinness did. “I always try and think of him and try to feel him sort of somewhere. Like, hear him saying the lines,” said McGregor. “And that’s why I think the writing was so, so good in this, because right from the word go, all of his dialogue felt to me like it could have been Alec Guinness saying it. Then I knew we were on the right path, at least with him. And yeah, he’s got a wit to him.”
So, what can we expect from “Obi-Wan Kenobi”? How was it filming a television show versus a movie? McGregor says it felt more like filming a longer movie than a weekly TV show. “The beauty of it being a series is that we’ve got longer to tell the story. But because Deb (Chow) directed them all and it’s her singular vision throughout, it did feel like we were just making one movie. And the episodic nature of our series falls really cleverly in the story line, but it is one driving narrative. I think ‘The Mandalorian’ feels more episodic, if you like, because it suits that storytelling and it, of course, has a driving storyline through each season. But ours is like a movie that just happens to be split up into these episodes. That’s how I feel about it.”
The first two episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” air on Disney+ this Friday, May 27, 2022, with a new episode each Friday for the next four weeks.