Ewan McGregor wants more Obi-Wan Kenobi after his Disney Plus series
“I’m sure we can think of a few more stories before I turn into Alec Guinness.”
It’s been a long wait for Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to rise again – and from the sounds of it, he’s just getting started.
“It's exciting to be to be this close to people getting to see it,” Ewan McGregor, who played the iconic Jedi Knight in the three Star Wars prequel movies from 1999 to 2005, tells RadioTimes.com. When we speak over Zoom it’s just a couple of weeks before the launch of his new series Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney Plus, where he’ll swing his lightsaber for the first time in 17 years and after a long, protracted period of behind-the-scenes development.
“It's true, it was a long journey to get here. It goes back to finishing episode 3, really, and the journey from there. It was interesting that it was it became more and more something that I wanted to do, the longer I got away from actually finishing episode 3.”
At one point, it would have been hard to imagine McGregor leaping at the chance (Force-assisted or not) to reprise his role from the Star Wars prequels, which were mocked and maligned when they first came to cinemas. The performances were too wooden, some said, the effects too lifeless, and altogether this newer (but paradoxically, earlier) trilogy was no patch on the original films that had entranced the world in the 70s and 80s.
McGregor clearly took some of the criticism to heart at the time, and regularly rubbished the idea of returning in interviews for years after. And yet, and yet. Over the years, the prequels ended up having something of a reappraisal, with the fans who were just kids when they came out eventually representing a much more vocal chunk of the viewing public.
“It took years to realise that there was an audience out there who really loved them,” McGregor tells me now. “The sort of sound wave that came out after the films were released wasn't very positive, because back then there wasn't social media. And then we were just hearing the critics. And they decided not to like them.
“But then slowly, you start meeting these people who were kids, when we made those films, who are now young adults, and you realise that for them are our Star Wars films were their Star Wars films. And that's really nice. It's nice to have that relationship with them now.”
So when the call actually came to play Obi-Wan again, McGregor was in a much more amenable place than he once had been.
“If I hadn't wanted to do it, I just wouldn't have done it,” he says, slightly forcefully. “So it was totally something I wanted to do. I just think once you once you've put your mind to something, or at least for me, and I started thinking about it. “
And it was lucky that he was so single-minded, because bringing Master Kenobi back to screens wasn’t to be the easiest production process. First there was a movie idea, directed by Stephen Daldry, which was dropped after the underperformance of Solo in 2018. Then there was a first draft of a Disney Plus show which was about to start shooting in early 2020 before LucasFilm pulled the plug, with rumours of problems with the scripts.
Now, finally, version three of Kenobi’s return has finally come together under the eye of director Deborah Chow – and Kenobi says all the production difficulties were worth it in the end.
“I've always felt that there could be a good story between episode three and episode 4, between my last one and Alec Guinness in [1977’s] episode 4,” he says.
“We really spent all of the iterations –the movie with Stephen, and then with Deborah, and, you know, the different versions of the story with Deborah. We nailed it, I think we really got a good story, we've found the best story with this one.”
Exactly what that story entails remains a tightly-lidded mystery – by the time you read this the first two episodes will have been released, but beforehand details were kept limited beyond the fact that we’d see Kenobi watching over a young Luke Skywalker, avoiding Imperial Inquisitors and (at some point) facing off with Darth Vader, played once again by McGregor’s prequel co-star Hayden Christensen.
McGregor is an old pro at avoiding spoilers at this point. Instead, he prefers to wax lyrical about exactly how they brought the series to life, with the actor much more involved with the production process this time than when he made the prequels.
“It wasn't that I was in the room with the writer,” he explains. “But at the same time, I was reading all the different drafts and giving my thoughts about them. So I was sort of a bit more part of the process.
“And it became quite exciting to the point where when we actually started shooting. I really loved working with Deborah, she's really an amazing director. And she really understands this world. And it was an amazing experience, because we had those technology that we didn't have when we made the first three.”
What does he mean?
“When we made episode two and three, George [Lucas] was really pioneering digital cameras, and ILM and visual effects, you know, he pioneered that whole world,” he says.
“So of course, he wanted to use more and more of it, which meant on set we had less and less actual sets, we had more and more green screen more and more blue screen.
“And by the end, episode 3 was so much blue screen, it was three months, four months of standing in front of a blue curtain, and it's quite hard work.”
But gone are the days of McGregor and his co-stars wondering around empty soundstages with nothing but the odd prop to ground them. Now, he’s evangelical about The Volume, the 360-degree screen technology previously used to film The Mandalorian and now turning its power to other Star Wars TV shows.
“Here, we have this incredible new technology called Stagecraft, we call it The Volume, which is like a dome of an LCD screen that covers the whole set over your head and all round,” he tells me enthusiastically.
“And it plays the backgrounds live so that when the camera’s shooting us, you're back in the desert. Everywhere you look is the desert and as your camera moves the technology's reading the camera and the lens, the aperture, everything.
“So as the camera moves, the background changes perspective. So you're not creating any background afterwards. It's all in the camera. And that just makes for a very different experience. It feels much more realistic to us.
“You can be in an environment that you could never build. We were in cities that you couldn't have built, you can do exteriors as if you're in a cockpit flying through space, outside the window is space going past you, you know, it feels really real.
“It's good. It's good fun for us.”
As Obi-Wan’s experience in the Star Wars universe gets worse, it seems like McGregor’s just gets better. Is it any wonder that he thinks this six-part miniseries might just be the start?
“I hope it’s not the last time I play him,” he says. “I hope I do it again. I’d like to do it again.
He smiles. “I mean I had such a great time doing this, I’m sure we can think of a few more stories before I turn into Alec Guinness. Don't you think?”
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