Hayden Christensen, Lightsabers And Nostalgia: Ewan McGregor On Returning To ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’

Hello there. 

With all the current talk by Lucasfilm about not recasting legacy characters when developing new movies and shows set in the massive Star Wars universe, it’s easy to forget that one of the most famous and iconic recast happened 33 years ago, when fans were first introduced to Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, back in 1999.

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Compared to the Obi-Wan everyone knew from the Original Trilogy, then played with much sincerity by Sir Alec Guinness, this much younger version is an almost completely different character, lacking the confidence and charm of the elder statesman. Fast forward to Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), and the actor and his character had grown on audiences, so much so that since then, fans have been asking McGregor if he’ll ever return to the character. 

No one knows if Lucasfilm or Disney ever had any concrete plans to revisit the iconic Jedi Master, but when McGregor started indicating that he was open to the idea, the House of Mouse came knocking.

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“Disney just asked me to come in one day for a meeting because they kept seeing on social media that I was saying that I would like to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, and asked me if I meant it,” said McGregor at a press conference that Geek Culture attended. 

“I said ‘Yeah I would love to play him again.’ I think there’s got to be a good story between Episode Three and Episode Four, and that’s what we definitely found after a lengthy process of exploring some different storylines. I think we’ve ended up with a really brilliant story and one that will satisfy the fans sitting between those two episodes.” 

Obi-Wan Kenobi marks the return of the 51-year-old actor in his Jedi robe, and (sort of) wielding the Force once more in the Disney+ series. While Disney has been exploring the in-universe narrative with a slew of new live-action films, TV shows and animated programmes, this marks the first time that a film actor has revisited a core character in a new series.  

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Set 10 years after the events of Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi Order has been completely decimated. Those who weren’t killed, including Obi-Wan, have gone into hiding, either having been completely cut off from the Force, or not using it as much as before. 

According to actor McGregor, those 10 years of isolation had changed the man entirely. Simply put, McGregor describes Obi-Wan as “broken”.

“10 years Obi-Wan has been in hiding. He can’t communicate with any of his old comrades and he’s living a pretty solitary life. He’s not able to use the Force so in a way, he’s lost his faith. It’s like somebody who stepped away from their religion or something,” explained the actor. 

“It was just interesting to take a character that we know love from Alec [Guinness], this wise spiritual man, and then the work that I did in Episodes One to Three, from the Padawan, from the student to the Jedi, to somebody who’s sitting on the Jedi Council, to take that Obi-Wan and take him to this more sort of broken place was really interesting to do.”

Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi

And even though the actor was willing to return to the role, nothing could prepare him for the blast to the past that he experienced when he finally signed on to the role, including reuniting with actor Hayden Christensen.

Christensen famously played Anakin Skywalker in the second and third movie, and transformed into Darth Vader in the final moments of the last film in the Sequel Trilogy. The former student and friend turned adversary returns in the Disney+ series, and fans have been revisiting what they know of the relationship between the two in the films, and the new revelations that the show promises to bring. An example would be, when did Obi-Wan, who left Anakin for dead after their final battle, realise that Anakin survived and would become Darth Vader? Fans have always assumed the moment, but the new show has revealed that moment in the second episode, reframing events that fans thought they understood. 

And as the first two episodes has shown, the series is not against revisiting the relationships between characters and adding new details to the delight of fans, such as the inclusion of other legacy characters.

For McGregor though, it was about reuniting with Christensen once again, which proved to be  “peculiar”, said the actor, who felt like time hardly passed at all even though the two have lost touch. 

“We were so close when we made Episodes Two and Three together in Australia. We had so much time training for the fights together and then being on set together, but also because we were so far from home, we spent a lot of time outside of work together as well. We were close and then over the years, we just slightly lost touch and hadn’t seen him for years,” said McGregor of his relationship with Christensen. 

“So when I saw him again it was very, very exciting. It’s great. And when we were acting together, it was really like some sort of time warp. Looking across at him on set was like the last 17 years didn’t happen at all, you know, it was really peculiar.” 

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Unlike the relationship that quickly picked up between the actors, returning to the lightsaber and nailing the classic ‘Obi-Wan’ voice and accent took some work for McGregor. 

“We did a lot of lightsaber drills with JoJo [Jonathan Eusebio] and his team. It was something that you have to work on, it’s not like there right away. There are two things I think I had to work on – that and his voice,” admitted the humble actor. 

“I was doing a sort of vague English accent and it was not, wasn’t really Obi-Wan at all. I was like ‘Oh dear, that’s not very good’ so luckily, we had months before we actually started shooting so I went back and did some homework with Alec Guinness and what I’d done before in the original films.” 

It’s no secret that McGregor and co-star Christensen went back to review and revisit the films to prepare for their roles, and in doing so, used it as an opportunity to reframe the perception of the Sequel Trilogy. 

When the movies were first released in 1999, critical response wasn’t great and the cast received plenty of flack and criticism for the films though since then, the generation whom those movies were made for are finally expressing their love for those movies now, almost 20 years later. 

“One of the difficult things about being in the prequels was that when they came out they were not well-received, because there were no social media, there was no sort of direct avenue to the fans at the time,” reflected McGregor. 

“Also they were kids you know! When the first film came out, I was six or seven. I’ll never forget that feeling and one of the craziest things about being in Star Wars now is that I’m in it, having been that little kid, you know?” 

It’s a pattern of behaviour that is being repeated, since Star Wars fans are known to be critical, especially when it comes to legacy characters that many have grown up loving and watching. Whilst Disney+ The Mandalorian, starring Pedro Pascal as a new bounty hunter, became an instant hit and favourite amongst fans, The Book of Boba Fett, which focuses on legacy character Boba Fett, has suffered harsh criticisms that have split fans down the middle.

Obi-Wan’s return has been highly anticipated – for both the right and wrong reasons. Whilst fans celebrated knowing that yet another legacy character is getting a solo series, there was fear that the series would be a letdown and shatter their love and perception of the Jedi Master. With this in mind, McGregor can only hope that fans will enjoy what Obi-Wan Kenobi has to offer, especially after seeing how much the fandom has evolved and changed in the years since the original Star Wars movie came out. 

“And so when once those kids who were my age when the prequels came out, grew up and I was able to meet them and started hearing that people really liked them, it meant a lot to me,” he continued. “Star Wars fans are amazingly passionate, it’s probably some of the strongest fandoms and so, to be able to make a series that there’s been a hunger for some long time is really exciting.”

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Aside from seeing the fandom grow, the Star Wars actor also noted how vastly different it was to film Obi-Wan Kenobi versus the films. Sure it goes without saying that technology has advanced but experiencing it in itself has been “night and day” for the actor. 

“They weren’t cutting edge technology compared to what we shoot on. They had huge umbilical cords coming out the back of the cameras, couldn’t change the lenses, or they could change the lens but it would take like half an hour so everything was just shot on a zoom lens,” shared McGregor. “But George [Lucas] was like pioneering that technology, was pioneering sound and image and he was pioneering the camera and the visual effects.”

McGregor talks about Star Wars so fondly and holds a lot of nostalgia for the good old days of filming the earlier movies. When asked what his favourite Star Wars movie or series of all time is, he did not wait for a second to answer. 

A New Hope!” 

“It’s the one that changed my life, I suppose in many ways, but as a kid watching that movie and when I hear the word Star Wars, I always think of C3PO and R2D2 go through the desert, through the sand – that’s the first image.”