For 45 years on the big screen, audiences have been thrilled by the exploits of the Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, first as a sage senior in the original Star Wars trilogy introducing Luke Skywalker to the power of the Force and guiding Luke as he takes his "first steps into a larger world" — even after his death at the hands of Darth Vader. Then, in the prequel trilogy, Obi-Wan matures from skilled padawan, to confident Jedi, to powerful Master, but fails to keep the Galactic Republic from falling and prevent his first pupil. Luke's father Anakin, from embracing the Dark Side.
And yet, even with all that time passed and story ground covered, there remained an unexplored chapter in Obi-Wan's personal saga: the roughly two-decade period during his self-imposed exile on Tatooine, where from afar he monitored Luke's maturation and made sure the boy went unnoticed and undiscovered by the Empire.
It's a period so brimming with possibilities that both Lucasfilm and Ewan McGregor, who took on the role in the prequel trilogy, were long rumored to be reviving the errant knight for a new adventure set in the era between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. The moment has finally arrived, in the form of the new Disney+ television series Obi-Wan Kenobi, which aims to fill the remaining gaps in the Jedi's evolution.
"For 10 years, Obi-Wan has been in hiding," explains McGregor, who personally picked up a lightsaber again 17 years after he last wore Jedi robes. "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's stepped away from their religion."
"The only responsibility to his past life is looking over Luke Skywalker who he's delivered, we see at the end of Episode III, to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru," McGregor elaborates. "That's his only link to his past. ... To take a character that we know and love from Alec Guinness' creation of the character in the '70s — this wise, sage-like, spiritual man — and then the work that I did in Episodes I to III...to this more broken place was really interesting to do."
The new show spotlights a bleak era in the Star Wars timeline, with the Galaxy under the oppressive rule of Emperor Palpatine and his primary enforcer, Kenobi's fallen friend Anakin (Hayden Christensen), now bearing the armor and new non de plume of Darth Vader — a time previously glimpsed in the films Rogue One and Solo and the animated series Star Wars Rebels.
"We're starting in a pretty dark time period," says director Deborah Chow, a veteran of the Star Wars universe after helming episodes of The Mandalorian, as well as other ambitious series such as Mr. Robot, Marvel's Jessica Jones, and Better Call Saul.
"It actually gives us a very interesting starting place for the series," she says, noting the contrast the setting makes to both the younger and older Kenobis audiences have known, who were full of warmth, wit, and wisdom. "It was interesting for us to try to keep the balance of the darkness, but also still maintaining the hope coming from the character."
Chow was eager to utilize the six-episode format of the streaming series to craft a more intimate portrait of the familiar Jedi Master.
"I was really drawn to the idea of taking this huge, iconic character and then really getting to focus and go deeper," she tells Metacritic, viewing the era between the trilogies as an ideal setting for Kenobi's "second act, which is often a hard act to tell any story, so there's a responsibility to making sure that all feels correct for the canon, and it connects on both sides."
"At the same time, it's also incredibly exciting because they're not the exact same people that they were in the prequels or in A New Hope," Chow adds. "We're telling a different chapter in their lives, and we're at a different point in the timeline, so it was tremendously interesting to get to tell a different story, and a new story."
Chow also wanted to be faithful to the visual styles of both prequels while also carving out a new space.
"What I was really trying to do is that it should feel like we're in the same world," she says. "I very much wanted it to feel like Tatooine and these recognizable planets, but at the same time, we're telling this story with a slightly different lens, where we're telling a more character-driven and a more emotionally based story. We're really telling one story at a different period."
To that end, much as Lucas cherrypicked styles and imageries from a plethora of cinematic and pop cultural artifacts for his films, Chow too varied her touchstones. "If Mandalorian had been more classic Western references, I was looking at things that were a little bit more atmospheric, a little bit more poetic Westerns, like The Assassination of Jesse James or The Proposition, as references," she explains of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
In reconnecting with the character, McGregor once again turned his sights on Guinness, the Academy Award-nominated actor who originated the role at age 63 and added a patina of respectability to Lucas' then-groundbreaking, untested and scrappy space fantasy.
"Just being closer to Alec Guinness in age was interesting," muses McGregor. "My Obi-Wan now is just a bit closer to his. I went back and did some homework with Alec Guinness, and what I'd done before in the original films."
"It all comes from Alec Guinness. ... He had a twinkle, I think, in his eyes," the actor continues. "I always try and think of him and…hear him saying the lines. And that's why I think the writing was so, so good in this: because right from the word go, all of his dialogue felt to me like it could have been Alec Guinness saying it. Then I knew we were on the right path."
Playing the Inquisitor Reva, Obi-Wan Kenobi's initial antagonist and a Force-wielder who is relentless in the pursuit of the Empire's aims, Moses Ingram has nothing but admiration for her nefarious screen alter ego.
"She's just serious about her job," says Ingram. "We call her a villain, but she doesn't believe she's bad at all. She's just doing what she believes is right."
Ingram says she eagerly did her homework on the Inquisitors, which were introduced into canon in Star Wars Rebels, as well as studying up on the state of the Star Wars universe as the prequels left it.
"For me, it was really pertinent to know everything about where we were in the timeline," she says.
But it was Reva's black armored uniform that first helped Ingram unlock her inner Dark Side, thanks to costume designer Suttirat Anne Larlarb.
"She built something that, when you step into it, just makes you stand a certain way," says Ingram. "It's impossible — like, literally impossible — to slouch in that costume. It's just holding you up so beautifully."
Layer in hours of combat training to prep her to toe-to-toe with one of the last remaining Jedi, and Ingram had everything she needed to embody the character: "You get so confident in your movements. It changes the way you walk into a space. It's like I can beat anybody."
"It was really fun to be bad!" she adds with a gleam in her eye.
But Reva isn't the ultimate Big Bad Obi-Wan must contend with: Christensen, who played Kenobi's friend and padawan Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, reprises his role, now as the fearsome Sith Lord Darth Vader, who has some unfinished business with his former master that will come to a head even before their final lightsaber duel in A New Hope.
"It's pretty intense getting to direct Darth Vader," admits Chow. "There's very few characters in cinematic history that are as iconic as him. So, I think you feel that responsibility, but it's also so exciting to get to do it."
"When we were acting together, it was really like some sort of time warp," says McGregor. "Really like looking across at him on set was like the last 17 years didn't happen at all."
McGregor says the newest chapter in Obi-Wan Kenobi's adventures in series form has a similar sense of sweep and scope as one of the trilogies, largely due to the fact that Chow helmed every episode.
"It's her singular vision throughout, and it did feel like we were just making one movie," he explains. "The Mandalorian feels more episodic, if you like, because it suits that storytelling. … But ours is like a movie that just happens to be split up into these episodes. That's how I feel about it."