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THELOST JEDITwo of the biggest names in the Star Wars universe are returning for the latest Disney+ series, Obi-Wan Kenobi . As Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen prepare to draw their lightsabers once more, Total Film meets the stars and director to talk about iconic characters, crises of faith and life beyond Tatooine.WORDS JACK SHEPHERDThe Force has not always been strong with Ewan McGregor. In fact, had the actor been asked back in 2005, just after Revenge Of The Sith reached cinemas, whether he wanted to continue playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, the answer would have probably been no.
“I found it very hard to make those films,” McGregor tells Total Film, reflecting on the prequels. He swivels in his chair, his hair shorter than in The Phantom Menace, as he measures his words, though not too carefully.
“It was lots and lots of greenscreen and bluescreen. By the time we did Episode III, it was almost all entirely greenscreen. If there was a bit of a set, that was a turn-up for the books. They were just so hard to make. And also, at the time, they weren’t received very well. Every time they were released, they were being hammered. And that didn’t feel very good.”
But, as a wise Jedi once said, only a Sith deals in absolutes. Over two decades after McGregor first appeared as Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, the Scotsman is wearing the robe once more – this time in a limited sixepisode series set to debut on Disney+. Even now, though, McGregor’s not entirely sure what happened to change his mind about returning to that galaxy far, far away. He always knew there was more story to tell between Episode III and IV. That, however, was not reason enough to come back. There had to be something more, and as the years wore on, McGregor began to realise that an entire generation of Star Wars fans was awaiting Obi-Wan’s next adventure.
“Those kids we made those films for, grew up,” he says. “It was nice to imagine you might be able to give them more. I don’t know if it’s just being older and a bit wiser or whatever.”
And still, he had reservations – until a tipping point came while filming another nostalgic sequel, T2. “I didn’t want a sequel to Trainspotting to tarnish the reputation of Trainspotting because I loved it so much,” McGregor says. “And then slowly, I just started thinking, ‘I do want to do it. Why wouldn’t you?’ And the same thing happened with Obi-Wan. I believe that if you’ve explored a character in your work, somewhere they live in that compartment of your brain. They’re still in there, and it’s not very difficult to get them out again, I found.” Ewan McGregor is looking decidedly more Alec Guinness as he returns to the iconic role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.Around 2016, McGregor publicly started saying he was open to returning as Obi-Wan. “It started to look like I was knocking at Disney’s door, going, ‘Can I have a job?’”
That’s when Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy reached out. “They got me in,” he continues, “and I sat down with her, and she said, ‘It’s all over social media all the time. We just wanted to know if you mean it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I do think it would be an interesting prospect.’”
That was the first proper discussion McGregor had about Star Wars with the newly Disney-acquired studio – but the ideas soon started flowing. “He should be in a really bad state,” McGregor recalls of the initial pitch. “Taking a character who’s lost his faith, and telling a story about how that faith comes back, could be interesting.”
“ ‘I found it very hard to make those films, it was lots and lots of greenscreen and bluescreen. By the time we did Episode III, it was almost all entirely greenscreen. If there was a bit of a set, that was a turn-up for the books’”EWAN MCGREGORThe first director on board was Billy Elliot’s Stephen Daldry. At the time, Lucasfilm was marching ahead with numerous cinematic spin-offs, and Obi-Wan Kenobi was set to be a movie. McGregor workshopped ideas with Daldry, spending an entire weekend in a New York boardroom “eating hotel croissants and drinking loads of coffee, and talking about what it could be and what I remembered about playing [Obi-Wan].”
Then, Solo crash-landed in cinemas, underperforming at the box office, and leading to some rejigging at Lucasfilm. Daldry soon dropped out due to scheduling problems, then Disney launched a streaming service that required content. The first Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, concerned an unknown bounty hunter with no connection to the prequels, originals, or sequels. It was an enormous success.
THE WAN SHOWOne director’s work on the project was particularly impressive – Mr. Robot alumna Deborah Chow, who had helmed two Chapters of Mando. She met the Obi-Wan team a few months later and pitched the tone and visuals she anticipated for the project. She got the job.
“We took some ideas from the initial development, but then we did considerably move on,” Chow says.
“For anybody trying to tell a story in the middle of these two trilogies, there were only certain elements that made sense in where [Obi-Wan] is.”
Reports signalled that Darth Maul, the horned devil of The Phantom Menace, was intended to be Obi-Wan’s primary antagonist, which would have been counter-intuitive seeing as the character dies (again) in the animated show Rebels. “As long as I’ve been involved, we’ve never had Darth Maul in any of it,” Chow clarifies. “Dave [Filoni] did a beautiful job of telling that story already.”
Rather than bringing back characters for the sake of it, Chow was more interested in directing a character-driven piece in the Star Wars universe. “I loved this idea of getting to take one character out of a franchise, and really having the time to develop them,” she says. “Our starting place was always him. And that, for me, was always the touchstone, to go back and make sure that we were always connected to him.
“With a lot of the legacy aspects, the decision to bring Vader into it was not made lightly,” she adds. “We’re 10 years after Revenge Of The Sith. Where is Obi-Wan’s starting place? What has been important to him in his life?
Anakin and Vader are a huge and very profound part of his life. We ended up feeling that he made sense in telling this story. And Vader casts such a dark shadow in this, that to have Maul as well, it might be a little bit much.”
Ah, Vader. The heavy-breathing, Force-choking, scene-stealing Sith – arguably the most iconic villain of all time – returns in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, is back in the suit. Though he may have taken a step back from mainstream Hollywood roles over a decade ago, Christensen could not be happier to return to the franchise that made him a household name.
STARTER FOR BEN“The experience of making the prequels was phenomenal,” Christensen says with far more fondness than McGregor. “I mean, getting to work with George Lucas, and getting to play this character, I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better. I didn’t want it to end. It was a sad thing when it concluded. At the time, I thought that was that. I thought George had told his story, and my journey with the character was complete. After all of these years, to get to come back and to continue my journey with this character, it’s so cool and extremely meaningful to me.”
Like a Jedi deflecting Stormtrooper blasts, Christensen avoids talking spoilers. When TF asks who will voices Vader in the new series, him or James Earl Jones, Christensen simply replies: “Good question.” He will, however, talk about putting on the suit. “It was amazing,” he says. “And I think the impact will deliver.”
Kennedy has already promised the “rematch of the century” between Obi-Wan and Vader, but how exactly they come to blows remains a mystery, especially as the series begins with Kenobi in hiding, keeping a watchful eye on a young Luke Skywalker.
Moses Ingram plays Inquisitor Reva, one of the most dangerous enemies Obi-Wan has ever made.
“He’s lost so much,” McGregor says of his character. “The Jedi Order’s been slaughtered. He’s lost so many of the people he knows and loves, and everyone else is in hiding. He’s lost touch with everybody. He’s trying not to live the life of a Jedi. He’s lost his faith.
He’s somewhat broken. He’s lost his best friend and his brother to the Dark Side, and he feels responsible for that.
He feels like it’s his fault in a way. He carries a lot of guilt because he wasn’t able to stop it from happening. They lost Padmé. He’s in a very dark place.”
However, Chow adds that a “totally bleak” story would not have done the character justice. “Tonally it’s a mixture,” she says. “We were trying to get that weight, coming out of Revenge Of The Sith, but ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s about hope, and it’s about him then going on into A New Hope.
The story we were trying to tell in the biggest picture was: how did he go from screaming on the banks of Mustafar at the end of Revenge Of The Sith, to the peaceful monk of A New Hope?
Something happened in those 20 years. And that’s why we had a story to tell.”
Of course, Alec Guinness established the character as Ben Kenobi in A New Hope, and McGregor continues to look to the old master for guidance.
“It just always has to feel like him,” McGregor says. “I have to hear him in my head when I’m reading the scripts.
There would occasionally be a little Americanism that just didn’t feel right immediately. You’d Anglo-fy it slightly to make it feel like Alec.” MOSES INGRAM Inquisitor Reva The Third SisterWhat was your relationship like with Star Wars before this?
I didn’t know so much about the Star Wars universe. Of course, I knew what it was culturally. It’s a super phenomenon. You hear about it in songs. People reference it any chance they get. So, of course, I knew Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. And then I probably saw one of the later ones, with John Boyega. It wasn’t until I got the job that I really started to get into the universe. Putting on a costume, and joining the universe, was something totally different.
What made you want to pursue it if you didn’t know it was Star Wars?
Because the writing was good. When I was reading it, I was like, “Who is this? She’s dangerous. I kind of love it.” And then once I found out it was Star Wars – initially there was some shock that this woman, talking like this, was Star Wars. And that was kind of crazy.
Lots of great villains have these tragic stories. With Reva, are we going to empathise with her?
It’s hard to assume what people might feel about her. But I’ll say this: in any story like this, with a villain, for there to be good, there must be some bad. And everybody’s the villain in somebody’s story. Is she the villain in her own? No. She’s all heart. She’s driven by her passion, and what she thinks is right. She believes in what she’s doing.
What was the training process like?
We started training four months before we actually started shooting. We had Jedi School with our amazing stunt team three times a week. Jedi School is so involved. You’re flipping, you’re tumbling, you’re in the wires. You’re working out, you’re running. Literally anything you can think of, we probably did.
Something that’s really moved on in the Star Wars world also is just representation on screen. You’re one of the first major Black female villains in this world. That must be gratifying?
It is, and it’s going to mean a lot to a lot of people. There aren’t many people of colour in the galaxy far, far away. But this time around, we get a lot of colour, and it’s going to make a lot of people feel seen, and make a lot of people feel very inspired, and make a lot of people feel very excited about what’s possible for them, and what will hopefully continue to be possible as we progress as a society. JACK SHEPHERD
McGregor found that, this time around, he wasn’t taking this “greybearded, wise, quiet, thoughtful, old man” and playing a younger version who just happened to be “a soldier with a sword and flying spaceships,” as had happened in the prequels. “Now I’m closer to Alec Guinness in age,” he says.
“I’m 50 now. I watched him again in a different way.
“Alec did these little eye rolls,” he says, going into a spot-on impression.
“‘Oh, he’s not dead. It’s me.’ Every now and again, I tried to throw in a little eye roll. And things like, he would play with his beard. I did physically borrow some of the things he did, which I wouldn’t have done in the original films because I was too much younger. But I felt happy to be in the shoes again. I really felt like it was more interesting playing him because he’s older.”
“There’s such a warmth to this character,” Chow adds. “He embodies the Light Side, but he does it with such humanity and humour. Ewan’s characterisation, and what he did in the prequels, he’s warm and has this wit that’s really hard not to love. When Ewan walked onto set, he was Obi-Wan Kenobi. He embodied that character. He, himself, just internally, feels like the character. He is the character.”
READY JEDI GOChow was inspired by westerns and samurai films – so influential across the entire Star Wars saga – though not necessarily the ones Lucas took cues from. Due to the nature of the series, she looked to “gritty, poetic westerns,” including Andrew Dominik’s epic The Assassination Of Jesse James and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition.
“I love Kurosawa, too,” she adds. (Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress was a primary inspiration for A New Hope.) “There’s such a strong correlation for me between the Jedi and the Ronin – particularly in this period where all the Jedi are being hunted.
I was really looking at what you do if you’re the last samurai. You’re more than just a warrior. There’s also an ethical code that goes along with it, in a world that’s vastly changed. That really had a pretty big effect on what we were trying to do.”
“ ‘I loved this idea of getting to take one character out of a franchise, and really having the time to develop them’ ”DEBORAH CHOW
When the series takes place, the Jedi have been outlawed by Palpatine’s Empire, and a group of menacing Inquisitors, previously seen in the animated Star Wars shows, have been hired to kill any remaining Force-users.
Rupert Friend plays the sinister Grand Inquisitor, and is backed by Reva, the Third Sister, portrayed by The Queen’s Gambit breakout Moses Ingram. “She is dangerous,” Ingram teases.
“And she is not to be played with. With women, it’s often easy to shuffle them off to the side, and say, ‘Yeah, she’s dangerous, sure…’ But I had no doubt in my mind that if someone was standing in front of her, and they were wasting her time, or underestimating her in any way, she would take them down in one fell swoop, and not think twice about it.”
“ ‘He’s lost so many of the people he knows and loves, and everyone else is in hiding. He’s lost touch with everybody. He’s trying not to live the life of a Jedi’ ”EWAN MCGREGORChow describes the Inquisitors as “part and parcel” of the time period, with the Empire still in ascendancy, and confirms the group are working directly under Vader.
Ah, Vader. That name again. Can we expect to see the black-bucket-wearing Skywalker step foot on Tatooine, Anakin’s homeworld and current residence of Luke? The cast remain quiet, but Chow promises that we will leave the sandy planet. “ ‘I turned around, and f-ing Darth Vader was coming at me. It was like I was six again. […] It gave me a jolt of absolute fear’ ”EWAN MCGREGOR
“We do start in Tatooine, and then we leave it – Ireally wanted to get off Tatooine,” laughs Chow. “Visually, and also just for Star Wars, I’ve always loved that you get to go to different planets, and you get something different and new. You get to go to new worlds and galaxies. The fact that we had such a legacy-heavy story – we needed something new to balance it out, so it didn’t feel all the same.”(NOT) JUST DESERTSTraversing the galaxy has changed since McGregor and Christensen filmed the prequels. Back then, they had to imagine the worlds around him, acting before masses of greenscreen. Obi-Wan Kenobi utilises the same digital magic that the team used to make The Mandalorian – ahuge, immersive hightech soundstage named The Volume, where screens surrounding the actors project images of other worlds. “It is so crispy that sometimes you can’t see where it ends,” Ingram says. “You’re fully engulfed in this world. And [McGregor’s] like, ‘We used to just do it with tennis balls and greenscreens.’ Technology has come so far since those days.”Obi-Wan faces foes both old and new, but most tantalising has to be him and Vader finally squaring off in battle.HAYDEN CHRISTENSENDarth VaderDid you feel that you had unfinished business with Vader?
I was just really excited about the opportunity. When George had brought me onto the prequels, it was to play Anakin. He gets knighted as Darth Vader towards the end, and for a couple of scenes I get to put the suit on. But my journey with the character was with Anakin Skywalker. But the character? He’s such a complex character. And now, getting to explore the mindset and the emotional state of Darth Vader, has been a lot of fun.
How was performing in the suit?
In terms of his movements and whatnot, that’s all sort of previously established stuff. We’re adhering to continuity. They had a Vader movement specialist on set. So I had help and I was able to spend most of my time just sort of focusing on the emotional and mental experience that he was having.
Do you think your performance in this is borrowing more from the original trilogy and the versions of Vader we’ve seen elsewhere, rather than just the version in the prequels?
We’re adding more connective tissue, and so that has to line up. That was something that I was cognisant of, even when we were doing the prequels, in knowing that there’s someone else that played this character before me and after me, and we have to find something that feels right. I spent a lot of time just watching all the Star Wars stuff I could, from the original films to all of the animated shows – Clone Wars, Rebels, and all that.
Is Darth’s fighting style more in line with the prequels or the slower dancing in the sequels?
We’re more in line with the prequels than we are with how the fights are in the original trilogy. These characters have aged, but not that much yet.
There’s a palpable excitement that it’s you back as Darth, rather than just Darth being back, like in Rogue One.
It’s been a very rewarding experience in that regard, and it’s been really nice to have this wave of positivity over the prequel films. And to see that expression come across has been really nice.
The internet has truly embraced the prequels. We see the memes everywhere. Are you aware of that? Do you have a favourite meme?
I hear about them. I don’t have social media. I don’t spend an awful amount of time on the internet either. But I hear about the memes. I think it’s all fun stuff. But it’s not a world that I know much about, other than I know it’s there. JACK SHEPHERD
That’s no understatement, and McGregor was thrilled by his new digital surroundings. “I found that it really enhances the work,” he says. ”You’re in the environment that you’re meant to be. And even though it’s not real, it feels like it. It can be the desert one day and space the next day.”
The experience was also extremely different for McGregor when it came to working opposite Christensen. “I’ve never met Darth Vader,” he says. “I had rehearsed the scene with Vader, but not with the helmet on or anything like that. When we came to do the scene, when they shouted ‘action’, he had to come from behind me. I turned around, and fucking Darth Vader was coming at me. It was like I was six again. I’d never acted into Vader’s helmet. I’d never looked him in the eye..
“It scared the shit out of me,” he chuckles. “I’m not joking. It gave me a proper jolt of absolute fear. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not acting. That’s real. I’m really, truly frightened right now.’ And the same thing would happen with the Stormtroopers. I’d worked with Clone troopers before, but so many of them were CGI. I never worked with Stormtroopers, and, again, I was like seven years old again. Because when you’re actually faced with a Stormtrooper, with a blaster, it’s like: ‘Fucking hell.’ It’s like actual childhood memories of being scared. That’s how deeply it’s in us. I’ve acted for 30 years, and I’ve never been genuinely frightened when I’m acting frightened… But I had moments on this that were genuinely quite scary. It’s so funny.”
McGregor was not the only one astounded by Vader’s appearance on set. “There was a moment of silence, collectively, when he first came onto set,” Chow says. “Just having Vader standing in front of you is a crazy thing. It’s an amazing thing, but it’s very intense when you first start doing it.”
FORCE OF HABITFor Christensen, the experience of seeing McGregor back as Obi-Wan left him equally dazed. “It’s hard to really describe how surreal it was to get to be on set with Ewan as Obi-Wan Kenobi again,” he says. “It’s just one of those really, really special things. It was incredible.” Ingram adds, “It was like watching fully-grown, large men turn into children when he walks on set with his lightsaber.”
In the prequels, Christensen rarely wore the suit, having only one climactic scene as the fully formed Darth Vader. For this series, he had to prepare for the physicality of taking on the part. “Most of my work on this project was in preparation,” he says. “The physical preparation was intense. I had to put on a decent amount of weight and size to fill up the suit.”
Although we’ve seen Vader numerous times in live action, the time period between Episode III and IV remains fertile ground for character exploration. “This is not Vader from A New Hope, exactly,” Chow says. “This is not exactly Revenge Of The Sith.”
“He is 100 per cent a fully realised Vader,” Christensen adds. “This is, in a lot of ways, Vader in his prime. But he’s a very complex character, and there’s an inherent struggle of identity that is always present – there’s inner conflict. He’s always going to be struggling with the loss of Padmé. He’s got Anakin buried deep down inside. There always has to be that element of Anakin there, because he does eventually find redemption in the end – through the love of his son, no less. So there has to be that bit of him in there for Luke to be able to access. There’s a lot going on.”
Christensen saw there was “a tremendous amount of value” in further fleshing out the character. “We’re giving a glimpse into the experience of being Darth Vader,” he says. “There’s so much mystique and mystery around the character. We’re informed of much of that in the prequels. But to be able to humanise Vader a little bit more adds more depth. Which you need to do to continue with him, otherwise you run the risk of him becoming a twodimensional character.”
Being able to revisit the character was a fulfilling experience for Christensen, and although there’s been no official confirmation, there have been reports that his journey will continue in the upcoming series centred on Rosario Dawson’s Ahsoka. Though Christensen cannot confirm whether he will be back as Vader, his words are telling. “The extent of this journey, I think, remains to be seen,” he says. “But what a privilege to get to come back and do this, and to be a part of this project.” “ ‘I got as much, or more, out of playing him this time than I did in the first three movies put together’ ”EWAN MCGREGORTALKING POINTThere’s some dialogue in Revenge Of The Sith that TF recalls to Chow. It comes during the film’s final act, after Obi-Wan has defeated Anakin, Padmé has died in childbirth, and the children go into hiding. “In your solitude on Tatooine, training I have for you,” Yoda tells Obi-Wan. “An old friend has learned the path to immortality… Your old master.”
Obi-Wan enjoys a moment of calm with an eopie, a camel-like creature.Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn was an integral part to Obi-Wan’s journey through those prequels, and it’s no leap to expect a potential reappearance from the Jedi as a Force ghost. As you would expect, Chow won’t budge. “Obi-Wan’s going on a journey,” she says. “There’s going to be different people that come into his life. One of the things I was trying to do with this series was to have the legacy, and who is important in Obi-Wan’s life, and to also have some new characters. So it’s going to be a mixture of the two. But I do think there are some surprises to come. I hope.”
Those already confirmed to return include Joel Edgerton and Bonnie Piesse as Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Luke Skywalker will also be kicking around, newcomer Grant Feely playing a younger version of the character. Meanwhile, Chow’s not kidding when it comes to new additions to the Star Wars universe – along with Ingram’s Third Sister, Fast & Furious actor Sung Kang is playing another Inquisitor, the Fifth Brother, while Game Of Thrones alumna Indira Varma is an Imperial Officer. In undisclosed roles, we have Kumail Nanjiani (Eternals, The Big Sick), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Straight Outta Compton), Maya Erskine (PEN15), and Benny Safdie. That’s a lot to fit into one series – yet Chow’s adamant that Obi-Wan tells a complete story without necessarily setting up further seasons or spin-offs.
“We really did conceive this like a beginning, middle, and end,” she says. “It is one big story, and it was always meant to be. You can never tell what happens in the future. But, if another series were to happen, it would be the same process of making sure that there was a real story to tell. Ours is obviously very connected to the prequels, but I love the idea that there can be more stories that are all over the timeline.”
Should this be Obi-Wan’s final outing, McGregor’s content with the work they have done. “It was nice to come back and to bridge that gap between me and Alec Guinness,” he says. “I got as much, or more, out of playing him this time than I did in the first three movies put together. That’s to do with the writing, and the people we were making the series with, and the technology, and how different everything is. “However, if we were to get an opportunity to do it again, I’d be totally up for that,” he grins. “Here I go again! It’s like me knocking at Disney’s door again.”
After all these years, it’s clear that McGregor’s relationship with Star Wars is now only positive. “I’m very happy to be able to make people happy,” he says. “People wanted this spin-off, whether it was going to be a movie or a TV show, and I’m so happy to have been able to do it. I understand, maybe more, people’s love for Star Wars. It’s an important part of my life, and whether I like it or not, that’s the case. But I do like it. So it’s great.” Looks like the Force is still strong with this one after all.
THE FIRST TWO EPISODES OF OBI-WAN KENOBI WILL STREAM ON DISNEY+ ON FRIDAY 27 MAY, WITH SUBSEQUENT EPISODES PREMIERING WEEKLY ON WEDNESDAYS.