Ewan McGregor Has Become the Definitive Obi-Wan Kenobi Actor
Kathleen Kennedy—president of Lucasfilm, and thus, head honcho of any and everything related to Star Wars and everyone’s favorite galaxy far, far, away—made an eyebrow-raising statement in a recent Vanity Fair cover story. In discussing Solo, the 2018 film that explored Han Solo’s younger years and cast Alden Ehrenreich in Harrison Ford’s iconic set of vests and jackets, Kennedy seemed to acknowledge that she had drawn the conclusion to no longer attempt to recreate the magic of beloved Star Wars characters with new actors. “There should be moments along the way when you learn things,” Kennedy said. “Now it does seem so abundantly clear that we can’t do that.”
It’s an eyebrow raising statement, mostly, because Lucasfilm was about to launch Obi-Wan Kenobi, a series starring Ewan McGregor as the titular Obi-Wan Kenobi—a recast version of a character played by Alec Guinness in 1977’s original Star Wars: A New Hope. And while Guinness was the first one to ever claim his name was actually “Ben” and not “Obi-Wan,” it’s McGregor who’s become the performer most eternally connected with the character—one of the most storied Jedi Knights in all of Star Wars lore.
Kennedy continued in another Vanity Fair interview: “We would never make Indiana Jones without Harrison Ford….We also can’t go do something with Luke Skywalker that isn’t Mark Hamill. We’re not going to suddenly go try to do that.” Considering McGregor himself was, at first, a recast version of Guinness’ original portrayal, it makes the release of Obi-Wan Kenobi a bit confusing, no?
While Guinness, an Oscar-winner in the ’50s long before he ever even heard the word “Jedi,” was the original Obi-Wan, it’s Ewan McGregor who’s performance has best stood the test of time. In the prequels—which were largely dismissed upon release but have found admiration as its original audience has grown older—McGregor’s Obi-Wan was the rock that held the movies down amidst some undeniably strange writing choices, racist caricatures as characters, and CGI that would prove to age poorly. McGregor plays the Jedi apprentice-turned-master with a calm and effortless charm that led audiences to welcome him home all these years later—and must have been fun enough to draw its A-list star back, too.
Clearly, Kennedy must be talking out of both sides of her mouth at least a little bit as well, as she basically refers to McGregor as the definitive Obi-Wan Kenobi (despite not being the original actor). “The beauty of Obi-Wan Kenobi is Ewan [McGregor] desperately wanted to do this,” she said. “He has been so engaged in the entire process, and our excitement and reason for doing this is that the real Obi-Wan wanted to tell this story.”
The money quote there is a simple three-word phrase: “the real Obi-Wan.” And she’s absolutely right there. Sure, Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan first, and McGregor isn’t the only one who’s played the character in the years since. But he’s been playing the trilogy-spanning Jedi master since 1999—23 years at this point—and is someone who knows the character better than anyone. And for a whole generation of Star Wars fans, and likely more, that is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Ewan McGregor plays Obi-Wan Kenobi in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and all three Star Wars prequel films.
McGregor returns to the role in perhaps Disney+’s most highly-awaited Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now 51 years old, McGregor first played the role in 1999’s Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, released when he was only 28. He reprised the role (in a sort of space-noir side quest) in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, before witnessing the fall of Anakin Skywalker first hand in the epic Star Was: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
He even had an uncredited and super minor cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
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If you’re not paying close attention you may have missed it, but in a brief fantasy sequence during 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you can hear McGregor’s voice giving Rey (Daisy Ridley) a bit of advice: “These are your first steps,” he can be heard whispering.
McGregor is an A-lister who you’ve certainly seen elsewhere.
Hailing from Scotland, McGregor has been a major presence in both film and on television for nearly 30 years. Perhaps his biggest early role was in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, and only a few years later he was casting as Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. In the early 2000s his star really exploded, as he starred in movies like Moulin Rouge!, Black Hawk Down, and Big Fish. Horror fans may remember him from the underrated and well-done Doctor Sleep, which is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name and is a follow-up of sorts to The Shining.
In the last half decade or so, he’s also found a home on TV. He played twins in Season 3 of Fargo (winning a Golden Globe) and last year played the famous designer Halston in the Netflix series Halston, winning an Emmy for his trouble.
Alec Guinness played Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars trilogy, most notably in A New Hope.
By the time Alec Guinness played the wise Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope (which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor), he had already had a very lengthy and accomplished career. The British star had three Oscar nominations under his belt, winning Best Actor for The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Guinness did not particularly like Star Wars; in letters to his friends, he referred to the script as “fairy-tale rubbish.” In later years, Guinness said that he’d pitched George Lucas with the idea of killing Obi-Wan off, arguing that it would make him a stronger character. However, he wasn’t telling the Star Wars creator everything he was thinking. “What I didn’t tell him was that I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines,” he said in an interview with Talk. “I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo.”
Guinness put it rather simply himself, in one of his three best-selling autobiographical journals, A Positively Final Appearance: “I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it’s mentioned.”
James Arnold Taylor provided the Obi-Wan Kenobi voice in the Star Wars animated series, including The Clone Wars.
There’s more than just live-action Star Wars too; huge chunks of the story have been depicted via animated series such as The Clone Wars and Rebels, and Obi-Wan was voiced by James Arnold Taylor in those installments.
While Taylor provided Kenobi’s voice in video games and one-off specials like The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (which is delightful and funny if you’ve never seen it), he’s mainly known for voicing Obi-Wan in 85 episodes of The Clone Wars, along with an episode of Rebels.
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