Hear from the stars and director of the Disney+ limited series
Obi-Wan opens up …
Hello, there! Obi-Wan Kenobi is back for an eponymous, six-part adventure. Star Wars fans are nothing if not patient, but the journey through the sandy wilderness years this time may seem longer than most.
The director and stars of the limited Disney+ series are nearing the end of their press tour, and Nerdvana was invited to a global press conference to explore with them just how the Jedi Master and his world have changed since we saw them last …
Deborah Chow, executive producer and director, warned that Obi-Wan Kenobi is a darker Star Wars story than many casual fans will be expecting.
“Obviously, we’re starting in a pretty dark time period,” she said, with the story happening 10 years after Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, when the Emperor emerged from a shadowy plot to exterminate all but a few of the Jedi and consolidate the Old Republic into a fascist regime under his absolute rule.
Chow addressed the challenge of telling a story that is already framed into a specific timeline’s context.
“Obviously, we have these huge legacy, iconic characters and we’re in between two trilogies, so we’re telling the second act of a story — which is often challenging enough.”
She had to respect canon — or the fans will know and let her know — while having an original vision for the story.
“Obi-Wan’s character is in a dark place but we’re also starting in a period of the timeline that’s pretty dark,” Chow said.
It’s a period before the civil war that kicks off in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the original Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope. Before that hope manifests to the galaxy. You can see much of it play out in the animated Clone Wars successors The Bad Batch and the highly acclaimed Rebels.
Moses Ingram, who plays the evil Inquisitor Reva, hot on Kenobi’s trail, said she didn’t know the script she was reading was even Star Wars at first, and the darkness of Kenobi reflects a tone she didn’t expect. “From what I knew of Star Wars, I didn’t realize it was that dangerous …”
She called Reva “really smart — she plays the offense, always 10 steps ahead. She’s a subordinate of Darth Vader, and she’s going to do all she can. The cat and mouse of it all …
“So many moving parts! The places and the people that are involved … I really wish I could say more to you about what was happening!”
Ingram said the producers allowed her to help inform Reva’s character — a new one, though other Inquisitors have appeared in Rebels and the Jedi: Fallen Order video game. Evil or not, she wanted to embody a character little girls who looked like she did could roleplay and be as tough as the boys acting out action heroics. Ingram said the crew even worked with her to adjust Reva’s hair, conceived along with the costume before her casting, into something braided that felt more suited to both her and, ultimately, the character.
Despite — or perhaps because of — the series’ darker tone, Chow said the hermit Jedi’s famous warmth, compassion and humor helps to balance the “dark times” of the ascendant empire — he’s a “character of light and hope.”
Ewan McGregor, for his part, pins that hope on more than good writing, but also the spirit of the man who originated his role.
“Alec Guinness had this wit behind his eyes, he had a twinkle I think in his eyes. I always try to think of him, to sort of hear him saying the lines. From the word ‘Go!’ all of his dialogue felt like Alec Guinness saying it, and I knew we were on the right path.”
Even though he was well known to voice his willingness to take up the robes again long before this series came about, the star said it took a bit of work to coax the younger Kenobi’s iconic voice out of retirement for him.
“Playing him was like, he was ready to come out at any minute, but his voice needed a little work” at first, he said, saying it started out as a “vague English accent, not Obi-Wan’s voice at all. Luckily, we had months before shooting” — months the actor used to, once again, do some homework referring back to Guinness’ work in the original Star Wars trilogy.
McGregor, who mostly does film rather than television, said the biggest difference for him was the technology used to bring the planet Tatooine to life. Since The Mandalorian, Star Wars filming has relied upon Industrial Light & Magic’s StageCraft Volume set, which imposes immersive, wrap-around HD images of the environment around the actors on stage. Chow called it a natural evolution of the filmmaking technology ILM and Lucasfilm pioneered with the original Star Wars and again with its green-screen prequels.
McGregor reflected on the rapid advancement of two decades: Episode II: Attack of the Clones was one of the first movies shot entirely on HD digital cameras, “and now it’s so rare to shoot on film.
“George (Lucas) was pioneering that technology — sound, image, cameras, visual effects — so of course he was wanting to utilize it as much as he could,” but, the actor noted, that meant more work with the green screen. It’s an enormous trade-off: phenomenal capabilities in post-production, but difficult for even the most accomplished actors.
“The experience of the first three, especially II and III — so much blue- and green-screen. It was hard to make something believable when there’s nothing there. Now, everywhere you look it’s desert, or flying through space … It’s so cool.
“The technology is so different from when we made the original (prequel) movies; it felt like a different experience, anyway…” McGregor said. “The beauty is, being a series, we have longer to tell the story, but because of (Chow’s) singular vision it felt like we were making a movie.
“The Mandalorian feels more episodic, if you like, because it suits that storytelling … But ours is like a movie that happens to be split up into these episodes.”
McGregor relished returning to his familiar Star Wars character while also being able to grow the mythos.
“At the end of (Episode III — Revenge of the Sith), the Jedi Order are all but destroyed, and those that aren’t killed have gone into hiding and can’t communicate. He’s living a pretty solitary life, he’s not able to use the Force, so in a way he’s lost his faith. The only responsibility to his past life is looking over Luke Skywalker. That’s his only sort of link to his past, so it’s interesting to take a character we know and love from Alec Guinness’ portrayal in the ’70s — a sage, wise old man — to take that Obi-Wan and take him to this sort of broken place … That was really interesting to do.”
McGregor admitted to still making the lightsaber noises in fight scenes himself: “It’s impossible not to, and if you’re not doing them, you’re doing them in your head …” Chow said the action sequences were enhanced on set with the iconic music of John Williams (“The music brings an emotional component … everyone responds to it,” she said); the now-90-year-old composer returned yet again to score Obi-Wan Kenobi.
McGregor said being closer himself now to Guinness in age was also interesting, along with portraying the character he brought to life as a younger man in the prequels now as a solitary figure, living in the desert alone like Guinness’. “My Obi-Wan now is closer to his.”
Chow said the opportunity to use this project to reunite prequel actors McGregor and Hayden Christensen, who returns as Kenobi’s old Padawan turned Sith Lord, was irresistible.
“What was important in (Obi-Wan’s) life? Relationships that were meaningful? It really felt like, for us, to be so much weight connecting to Anakin/Vader, it just felt natural that it would be Hayden and that we would continue that relationship in the series.”
McGregor said he and Christensen became very close filming Episode II (which just turned 20) and III, but naturally lost touch over the years. “So when I saw him again, was able to talk about this project again, it was great. When we were acting together, it was like a time warp, like the last 17 years didn’t happen at all.”
From a certain point of view, perhaps…
Obi-Wan Kenobi premieres May
25 27 on Disney+.