Ewan McGregor relished in playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in three Star Wars prequels released between 1999 and 2005. But the Scottish actor never thought he’d pick up a lightsaber again after Revenge of the Sith.
“I think if you'd asked me when we finished [filming] Revenge of the Sith, I would've said, ‘No, I've done my three movies and I was so happy to be part of the Star Wars world and be part of its legend,” McGregor told us while promoting his long-awaited return to the role in the new Disney+ spin-off series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
The now-51-year-old McGregor found the technical elements of the trilogy challenging, particularly shooting much of his action in front of blue and green screens — notably Obi-Wan’s epic, climactic lightsaber clash against his Dark Side-tainted protégé, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen).
There were also the initial, sometimes brutal reactions to the George Lucas-directed prequels. Critics panned 1999’s The Phantom Menace and 2002’s Attack of the Clones (2005’s Revenge of the Sith fared a bit better), and fans bemoaned the tone of the films, complaining that Lucasfilm was targeting a younger-than-expected demographic.
“When they came out, there was a period, a long period of time when it didn't seem that [the prequels] were much liked the prequels, you know, the critics didn't like them,” McGregor said. “And we were sort of left feeling that we'd put all this effort and time into these movies and that the response was pretty much negative, which was very difficult to deal with.”
Over time, though, there was a gradual shift — both in the Star Wars fandom’s attitude toward the prequels and McGregor’s interest in someday reprising the role of the Jedi master.
“Years go by and then I start feeling that there is this warmth for the prequels. That the audience we made them for, who were kids when they came out, [the movies really] mean something to them and they're important to them. And so I started feeling that.
“And then I was always asked on social media, if I'd play Obi-Wan Kenobi again. And then I was always asked by journalists, if I would do it again. And I started thinking, ‘Yeah, maybe there is a good story to tell between Revenge of the Sith and [1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope] and that's how [and] why it came about, really.’”
McGregor began talking to Lucasfilm about doing a stand-alone Obi-Wan movie around 2016. However, after the box-office disappointment of 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, and with the pending launch of the Disney+ streamer, the project was reimagined as a series.
Set 10 years after Revenge of the Sith, the six-episode Obi-Wan Kenobi follows the titular hero’s adventures as he keeps a watchful eye on the young Luke Skywalker on the desert planet of Tatooine while Darth Vader (Christensen) has ordered lethal Sith inquisitors to hunt down any surviving Jedi.
Deborah Chow (The Mandalorian), who directed all six episodes, spoke to the prowess McGregor exhibited on set.
“Not only [does he bring] such soul and sensitivity, he's such a tremendous actor,” Chow says. “This role for him feels so well-suited. It feels seamless … sometimes you do get that combination of the actor and the role coming together. … The first time I ever saw him back in costume, and just having him standing there for me, it just sort of clicked to go, ‘There's the show. It's all in him.’ Like this is what the show is.”
“He leads by example,” says Moses Ingram (The Queen’s Gambit), who plays the inquisitor Reva Sevander. “He’s so down to earth, just kind of a regular human. He welcomed me as peer and [was] always a resource available to answer any questions that I might have. But I think the biggest thing has been watching him in action.”
Now the question becomes how long will McGregor continue to play Obi-Wan beyond these six episodes? Alec Guinness was 63 when he introduced the role in 1977’s Star Wars. Does McGregor have (at least) 12 more years in him?
“I hope so,” McGregor says. “I mean, I'd love to just because I had such a great time with Deborah Chow and Hayden and Moses and the other actors. ... The technology is so different from what it was back in the early 2000s. We’re no longer working in front of blue screens and green screens. We're in the environment. We did a lot of location shooting for this. But also, the new stagecraft sets are just amazing… So if you're in the desert, it feels like you're in the desert. And if you're in space flying your spaceship through space, there is space all around you. It's really quite a game changer for the acting. I just loved it so much.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres Friday on Disney+.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo
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