'Obi-Wan Kenobi' renews sci-fi's long-running rivalry

Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen return to their beloved roles in new 'Star Wars' series on Disney+

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It’s been 23 years since Ewan McGregor first pulled on the robes of Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, George Lucas’s own reboot of his seminal 1977 space opera Star Wars. It’s hard to forget the childlike excitement then-rising star McGregor exhibited at joining the cast of one of the biggest, and most fanatically followed, franchises in pop culture.

McGregor has since gone on to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, but judging by the ecstatic grin and excited babbling that greets The National over Zoom when the star talks about his latest venture to a galaxy far, far away, the thrill of picking up Kenobi’s blue light sabre hasn’t dimmed at all since he last wielded it in 2005’s Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.

“I was in my early twenties, I suppose, when I played him first time, and it was the biggest thing I'd ever done — there isn't anything quite like Star Wars in terms of its scale, so that hasn't changed at all,” he says. “I've done a lot of work since then, so I suppose I'm closer in age to [original Kenobi] Alec Guinness now, and my goal for Obi-Wan has always been to end up being him.

"It's sort of a backward process, of creating a character based on somebody who he becomes when he's older, which has been a unique acting challenge in a way, but it kind of all remains the same.”

One thing that hasn’t remained the same is the format in which we’ll watch the latest adventures of Kenobi. The project was originally announced in 2013 as a stand-alone origins movie. As the battle for streaming subscribers has raged in recent years, however, it has found itself transplanted over to Disney+'s popular roster of Star Wars spin-offs including The Mandalorian and Star Wars: The Bad Batch.

McGregor, who is also credited as an executive producer, has been closely involved with Obi-Wan Kenobi since the series' inception. So how does he feel the change of format has affected the show?

“I just felt like it gave us longer, not much longer in terms of weeks on set, but longer to tell the story,” he says. “I like the faster pace of shooting for TV. I've been doing this for a long time and I don't need practice at sitting around in my trailer waiting to shoot. I'm very good at it, and I just want to be on set shooting.

"When you're doing a TV series, you just shoot that bit quicker, but the technologies are such now that you are still able to build these amazing worlds that we would never have been able to build on a set.”

The affable Scot does admit, however, that his willingness to shoot a TV show is a fairly recent development, thanks in large part to the huge increase in quality that has come with the rise of streaming.

“I don't know, if in 2003, I would have wanted to make a TV series for anything, because they were so different. I was a movie actor and TV series were very different then,” he says. “But now the industry has changed so much that some of the best writing is on television. I've experienced that through my work on Fargo, and there's something very satisfying about telling a story that you can dig into for longer.”

Another familiar face returning to the Star Wars universe is Hayden Christensen. The last time we saw him as Anakin Skywalker on screen, he was floating off down a lava river with his limbs removed while the imposing armour of Darth Vader was being prepared to encase his charred remains.

“Iconic” is probably an overused word when discussing popular culture, but in the case of Vader, it's surely a strong contender for describing one of the greatest movie villains of all time.

Having spent three films exploring the human character that would become Vader, Christensen is clearly delighted to finally have the opportunity to get under the skin of the heinous Sith Lord himself.

“I was just so excited by this opportunity,” he says. “The character of Anakin is one that I spent a lot of time with when we were doing the prequels and one that I have continued to think about over the years.

"Being given the opportunity to come back and really explore the character of Darth Vader was an incredible thing, and it fleshes out these characters a little bit more and bridges the gap between episode three and episode four. The first time I read these scripts, I was blown away, and I'm really excited for people to get to see it.”

Newcomer Moses Ingram, who plays the new character, the Jedi-hunting Inquisitor Reva, wasn’t even born when the original Star Wars trilogy came to our screens. The actress only graduated drama school in 2019, but has since spent 2020 playing Jolene in Netflix’s critically adored The Queen's Gambit and 2021 picking up plaudits as Lady Macduff in the Coen brothers’ award-winning The Tragedy of Macbeth.

Adding Star Wars to her portfolio in 2022 is quite some run of good fortune.

“It really was insane. A lot of us are just big kids at the end of the day, so we’d spend a lot of time playing with blasters and having light sabre fights. It really is insane, and even more so now people are about to see it,” she says.

Another face who will be returning to the world of Star Wars is Canadian director Deborah Chow. She previously directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, and for Obi-Wan Kenobi, she has been granted the director’s chair for the entire series. The franchise seems to create an interesting dilemma for directors. Of course, what director wouldn’t want to be involved with Star Wars, but at the same time, can the challenges of working within the parameters of a property that is revered by fans with such utter devotion prove artistically restrictive?

“That's the biggest challenge with a project like this, where we have these huge iconic characters,” she says. “We're so tied to the legacy and we're in between two trilogies, so you want to be respectful, to respect the canon and respect everything that had been done with within those two trilogies, but at the same time, you still have to find your own original voice and tell an original story.”

Ultimately though, it’s clear that Chow feels the effort of juggling her own creative urges with the expectations of fans was worth it.

“In some ways, the parameters help because you have guard rails for where the story is going, but from there on you're sort of working within it to find another vision,” she says.

“I've always loved science fiction and fantasy. I was reading a ton of it growing up, and Star Wars has always been the mother ship of all that, so it was just incredibly exciting getting to finally come into this universe.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi will have its international premiere on Disney+ on May 27, and in the UAE with the launch of Disney+ on June 8

Updated: May 29, 2022, 5:56 AM