From Lucasfilm comes Obi-Wan Kenobi, the new limited Star Wars series created exclusively for Disney+. The series stars Ewan McGregor, reprising his role as the iconic Jedi Master. The series begins 10 years after the dramatic events of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan faced his greatest defeat—the downfall and corruption of his best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the dark side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.
Featuring an atmospheric, gritty and emotional character-based story that explores how Obi-Wan went from a warrior hero in the prequels to the Zen Jedi Master seen in the original trilogy, the story is couched in the adventure and spectacle that is the signature of Star Wars filmmaking.
In celebration of the series and the return of Ewan McGregor, The Koalition spoke to Ewan about returning to role, the development of the series, his appreciation for the fans, the show’s connection to The Mandalorian, his love for the prequel movies, the return of Darth Vader and more.
“He was a man broken by the experience of Order 66, and the fact he’d lost his faith [felt right] to take him into a darker place. Over the course of the series, we see how he finds his faith again and gets back to being the Obi-Wan we knew and loved.”
The road back to Obi-Wan was a long and slow process that wasn’t originally in Disney’s plans. Through a series of interviews over the years, fans, interviewees and even Ewan demanded his return to the role.
“It was a very long, slow process of coming back to playing him. It was born of two things. I was just asked a lot. At 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 again. It was always the last two questions as the publicist was poking her head around the door saying, ‘That’s the last question.’ So, I just started answering it honestly and I think I became more aware of the fondness the generation we made the prequels for, have for those films.”
“One of the difficult things about being in the prequels when they came out was, they were not well received because there wasn’t any social media. There was no sort of direct avenue for the fans at the time. Plus, the fans were kids [and] we made those films for [them]. When New Hope [released], I think I was six or seven and I’ll never forget that feeling and my relationship with Star Wars and all those original first three films. One of the crazy things about being in Star Wars now is that I’m in it, having been that little kid.”
“Once those kids who were my age, when the prequels came out, grew up a bit, I was able to meet them, and I started hearing people really liked them. They couldn’t understand why I thought they weren’t liked when they came out. It meant a lot to me. I’m sure one of the reasons why I wanted to do this again was because of that.”
Speaking more about his experience filming the prequels, Ewan also found it “very difficult” filming the prequel trilogy because of the visual effects being pioneered by director George Lucas. When he first played Obi-Wan, Lucas used advanced visual effects (for that time) to depict the space setting and aliens in the movies. However, the new technology meant he spent “a lot of time” on his own because the aliens were added later.”
“George was pioneering that technology. He was pioneering sound, image, the cameras and visual effects. He wanted to utilize it as much as he could, but for us, it meant more and more on a blue or a green screen; and that’s challenging for the actors.”
“I’d never worked on the stagecraft set before and it was such a gamechanger for us. The experience of the first three, especially Episode II and III, there’s so much blue screen and green screen, it’s just hard. It’s very hard to make something believable when there’s nothing there.”
“Episode II was the first movie we shot on digital, but it was my first experience of shooting on digital cameras. Now it’s so rare to shoot on film, sadly. But those cameras were like dinosaurs. They were cutting edge technology, but compared to what we shoot on now, they had huge umbilical cords coming out the back of the cameras. They couldn’t change the lenses, or they could change the lenses, but it would like half an hour. So, everything was just shot on a zoom lens.”
“There are two digital cameras on two techno cranes. They literally, they just move the cranes and they zoomed in and out. That was the new setup, and the umbilical’s led to this big tent in the corner of the stage that literally hummed. It was so noisy and in post-production, they realized at the end, the noise they made was exactly in the frequency of the human voice. So, we had to ADR every single line of Episode II. None of the original dialogue made it through because the cameras were so new and none of the bugs had been worked out yet.”
“The fight scenes are always something extra when you’re doing something like this because they just require a lot of preparation and there’s a sort of real nervousness about when you walk on set to do a fight you’ve been learning and training for months. There’s a sort of real [element]. Your stomach gets really nervous because you want to do it the best you can and sometimes, you’re shooting them two-three days in a row, and it requires an enormous number of stamina which is also why getting fit beforehand was really important so we could sort of maintain that.”
When the right time came to actually talk about approaching the character again, Disney just causally asked Ewan to play the role again. “Disney just asked me to come in one day for a meeting because they kept seeing on social media, I would like to play Obi-Wan again. It looked like I was sort of touting for work at Disney’s door. ‘Like, you know, could you cast me?'”
“They got me in and asked me if I meant it and I said, ‘I would love to play him again.’ I think there’s got to be a good story between Episode III and Episode IV and that’s what we definitely found after a lengthy process of exploring some different story lines. I think we’ve ended up with a really brilliant story and one that will satisfy the fans sitting between those two episodes.”
“The Star Wars fans are amazingly passionate and they’re probably some of the strongest fans in the world. To be able to give them something like this; to make a series, the Obi-Wan series, which it seems there’s been a hunger for, for some long time. To be able to give that to them is really exciting.”
Although the story bridges the gap between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, it is most deeply rooted in the events of Revenge of the Sith. Ewan McGregor, who returns to the Star Wars galaxy as the venerable Jedi Master for the first time since Revenge of the Sith, finds Obi-Wan in a very different place psychologically and spiritually than he was during the prequel trilogy. “We just started with this idea he was broken.”
“I think because of what happens at the end of Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi Order are all but destroyed and those who aren’t killed have gone into hiding and they can’t communicate with one another. For 10 years, Obi-Wan has been in hiding. 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.”
“In a way, he’s lost his faith. It’s like somebody who’s stepped away from their religion and the only responsibility to his past life is looking over Luke Skywalker who we see at the end of Episode III he delivered to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. That’s his only sort of link to his past.”
“It was interesting to take a character we know and love from Alec Guinness’ creation of the character in the seventies of this wise, sage-like, spiritual man and then, the work I did in Episode I to III from the Padawan, from the student to the Jedi to somebody who’s sitting on the Jedi council to take that Obi-Wan and take him to this more sort of broken place.”
This limited series have viewers immersed in the lore plus the excitement and thrills of a new adventure, featuring the return of a beloved character…and an iconic evil. Hayden Christensen, who portrayed Vader in Revenge of the Sith, returns to the role for the first time.
“We were just so close when we made Episode II and III together and we made them in Australia. So, we were both away from home and we had so much time training for the fights together and then, being on set together. But also, because we were so far from home, we spent a lot of time outside of work together as well. We were close.”
“Over the years, we slightly lost touch. 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. Then, when we were acting together, it was really like some sort of time warp. Looking across at him on set was like the last 17 years didn’t happen at all. It was really peculiar.”
Ewan called witnessing the Vader reveal “amazing,” adding, “I’ve never quite seen a crew react the way they reacted when Hayden came on set for the first time as Vader. I mean, it was like one of the greatest moments on any film set that I have ever seen.” Ewan not only teased that the show would feature more than “just one scene” with Vader and Kenobi fighting it out, but there’s also a “very strong character arc” for the Sith villain.
“We were under the great JoJo [Jonathan Eusebio], our fight coordinator, who is really an amazing, thoughtful man. He’d taken the fights we did in the original three films, and he studied them with his stunt crew, and developed them. [The fight scenes are] very thoughtful. It’s not just random. [JoJo] really is a thinking fight arranger, which was cool to work on. [Hayden and I’s] fighting styles are very different, as they should be. We did a lot of lightsaber drills with JoJo and his team. It was something that you have to work on. It’s not there right away.”
When Ewan was in the early stages of development, “I was doing a sort of vague English accent and it wasn’t really Obi-Wan’s voice at all. 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. Playing Obi [again] felt like he’d always been there, ready to come out at any minute. His voice just needed a bit of work.”
While working alongside Hayden felt the same, one of the biggest changes was the technology. “Here we were on this amazing set where, if you’re shooting in the desert, everywhere you look is the desert. If you’re flying through space, then, you know, the stars are flying past you as you scout along. It’s so cool.”
“[It’s] also so different from when we made the original movies, it felt like a different experience. I don’t think it’s because this is a TV show. The beauty of it being a series is that we’ve got longer to tell the story. By having Deborah Chow directing them all, it’s her singular vision throughout, so, it did feel like we were just making one movie.”
“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 because it suits that storytelling and it, of course, has a driving storyline throughout each season. But ours is like a movie that just happens to be split into these episodes.”
Speaking of The Mandalorian, they used their set to film Obi-Wan. “We borrowed a bit of The Mandalorian stage on a Sunday when they were off and some of their crew and I walked into the dressing room where there was a sort of Obi-Wan-ish costume hanging up in the wardrobe The Mandalorian’s wardrobe department had put together. Putting that on was just really crazy after all that time. And then walking out onto the set was crazy because there were so many Star Wars fans in the crew, which was a new experience for me.”
The Obi-Wan Kenobi series is streaming now on Disney+. Check out our gallery below to see new images from the series.