Ewan McGregor & Deborah Chow reveal on set Lightsaber Stunts

The Disney+ and Lucasfilm original limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi begins 10 years after the events of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and takes a journey with the warrior hero from the prequels, on his path to becoming the Jedi Master from the original trilogy. Having seen his best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), turn to the dark side and become the evil Darth Vader affected Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) both psychologically and spiritually, and this now broken man in hiding must find his faith again.

During this press conference for the six-episode series, co-stars McGregor and Moses Ingram (who plays dark side inquisitor Reva), along with director Deborah Chow (The Mandalorian), talked about why they were so excited to do this project, how the affection for the prequels has grown since they were released, what makes this Obi-Wan different, getting back on set with Christensen, the challenges of lightsaber and stunt training, playing music on set, shooting with the newest technology, and their own personal favorite installment of the Star Wars franchise.

Ewan McGregor famously played the role of Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, which includes Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. As Obi-Wan Kenobi, McGregor used a blue lightsaber as his primary weapon throughout the films. To learn more about lightsabers and discover a wide range of models and accessories, please visit https://www.das-lichtschwert.de/, the website of fans and enthusiasts of this fantastic universe.

Question: Ewan, you’ve talked for years about wanting to return to this galaxy. What was it about this show and this story, specifically, that really excited you?

EWAN McGREGOR: It was a very long, slow process of coming back to playing him. It was born of two things. I was just asked a lot. At the end of every interview I ever did, for years, I was asked two things; would I do the sequel to Trainspotting, and would I ever play Obi-Wan Kenobi again. It was always the last two questions as the publicist is poking her head around the door saying, “That’s the last question.” And so, I just started answering it honestly, and I became more aware of the fondness that the generation that we made the prequels for have for those films. When we made them, we didn’t hear that. We didn’t get that response, really. So, gradually, I started realizing that people really liked them and that they meant a lot to that generation. That warmed my feelings about them, or my experience of being in the Star Wars world.

And then, 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 again. It looked like I was touting for work at Disney’s door like, “Could you cast me? “ So, they got me in and asked me if I meant it and I said, “Yeah, I would love to play him again. I think there’s got to be a good story between Episode III and Episode IV.” That’s definitely what we 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

Deborah, you’re no stranger to the Star Wars universe, having worked on The Mandalorian. What was it about Obi-Wan Kenobi, this character, and this story that really excited you?

DEBORAH CHOW: I was really excited at the idea of getting to do a limited series because you get to tell a bigger story, but you also have the time to really get into the character. First and foremost, I was the most excited about doing a character-driven story and really having the opportunity to get more depth and have more time to really get to know the character.

What were you most excited to explore in Obi-Wan’s story?

CHOW: I think I was the most excited about getting the opportunity to do a different character story. Obviously, it’s a different tone, but it’s similar to something like Joker or Logan, where you take one character out of a big franchise, and then you really have the time and you go a lot deeper with the character. That, to me, seemed really exciting to get to do in Star Wars.

Moses, you’re new to this galaxy. What was it that most excited you about joining this story?

MOSES INGRAM: It came to me just like everything else does, but I didn’t know that it would be Star Wars. When I read the script, that was the thing that attracted me the most, even though it was dummy sides. Realizing that it was edgy and fun and cool, I just couldn’t say no. I mean, it’s Star Wars.

What was your reaction when you found out that it was Star Wars?

INGRAM: I was surprised. From what I knew of Star Wars, I didn’t realize it was that dangerous. It felt dangerous, what I was reading, and I was like, “Oh, I like this. I’m into this. Yeah.” So, I was really excited.

Moses, what can you tell us about Reva? She’s this mysterious dark side character, and she’s an inquisitor. What was it about her that most excited you?

INGRAM: She’s really smart and she plays the offense. She’s always 10 steps ahead. She is a subordinate of Darth Vader and she’s going to do everything she can to get the job done, to the best of her ability. And I was most intrigued by just her fervor for what she does.

What was it like to join the dark side?

INGRAM: It was really fun. It’s fun to be bad. Also, the weaponry and the stunt work, once you get to a point where your body is confident doing the moves, plays into it, as well as the costumes. Suttirat [Anne Larlarbe], our costume designer, did such an amazing job with building something that, when you step into it, lends itself to a feeling. I was really happy to be there.

Ewan, the affection and fondness for the prequels has really grown, over the years. What’s that been like for you? How was it to revisit those films while making this story?

McGREGOR: It means a lot, actually. One of the difficult things about being in the prequels was that, when they came out, they were not seemingly well-received. There was no social media. There was no direct avenue to the fans, at the time. And also, the fans were kids. When the first film came out, A New Hope, I was born in ‘71, so I think I was six or seven. I’ll never forget that feeling and my relationship with Star Wars, and all those original first three films. One of the crazy things about being in Star Wars now, at all, is that I was that little kid. And so, once those kids, who were my age when the prequels came out, grew up a bit and I was able to meet them, and I started hearing that people really liked them and couldn’t understand why I thought that they weren’t liked when they came out, it meant a lot to me. I’m sure it’s one of the reasons we’re all here now. Why I wanted to do this again was because of that. The Star Wars fans are amazingly passionate. They’re probably some of the strongest fans in the world, for anything. And so, to be able to give them something like this, and to make the Obi-Wan series, which it seems that there’s been a hunger for, for some long time, is really exciting.

This story takes place about 10 years after Revenge of the Sith. This is a different Obi-Wan than we’ve seen before. Ewan, what makes this version different from the screen adaptations we’ve seen before?

McGREGOR: Because of what happens at the end of Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi order are all but destroyed, and those who aren’t killed have gone into hiding, and they can’t communicate with one another. For 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. In a way, he’s lost his faith. It’s like somebody who’s stepped away from their religion, if you like. The only responsibility to his past life is looking over Luke Skywalker who, as we see at the end of Episode III, he’s delivered to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. That’s his only link to his past. So, it was interesting to take a character that we know and love, from Alec Guinness’ creation of the character in the seventies, of this wise, sage-like, spiritual man, and then add the work that I did in Episode I, II and III, from the student to the Jedi to somebody who’s sitting on the Jedi council, to then take that Obi-Wan to this more broken place. That was really interesting to do.

Was it a fun challenge for you to play different versions of this character, at different points in his life?

McGREGOR: Yeah, absolutely. And just being closer to Alec Guinness in age was interesting. Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan, when we find him as a solitary figure, he’s living in the desert alone. I suppose my Obi-Wan now is just a bit closer to his.

One of the exciting other things about this story is that you’re not the only person returning. We also have Hayden Christensen back, as both Anakin and Darth Vader. Deborah, what was it that most intrigued you about having these two characters together again?

CHOW: When we were developing the material, and we were really looking at the character of Obi-Wan and asking, what was important in his life? What are the relationships that were meaningful? Obviously, the history coming out of Revenge of the Sith is so strong and it’s so powerful that it really felt like, for us, there would be so much weight coming into this story that was connected to Anakin Vader. It just felt natural that it would be Hayden and that we would continue this relationship in the series.

Ewan, what was it like for you to be back with Hayden on set?

McGREGOR: It was great. We were so close when we made Episode II and III together. We made them in Australia, so we were both away from home and 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 had slightly lost touch. I hadn’t seen Hayden for years, so when I saw him again and was able to talk about this project with him, it was very, very exciting. It was great. Once 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. It was really peculiar.

Moses, how was it to jump into the lightsaber training and the stunt training you had to do?

INGRAM: It was cool. We trained every day for about four months before we ever even got to the set, with regular strength and cardio, and then three days a week of Jedi school on top of that which, at the beginning, was a little intimidating. When I came in for the lightsaber work, of course, they had already done it for years, so they were flipping it and wielding it, and I was like, “Oh God, I’m never gonna get it. I look terrible.” But if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

McGREGOR: It was fun. We started months before the shoot, together in the fight gym, and it was great. It was a nice way to get to know each other.

INGRAM: It actually was.

Ewan, did your old lightsaber training come back to you quite quickly? How did preparing for this series compare to when you were preparing for the prequels?

McGREGOR: We did a lot of lightsaber drills with Jojo and his team. It’s something that you have to work on. It’s not there, right away. There were two things I had to work on, which was [the lightsaber training] and his voice. Deb and I did a casting for two roles in this series that we wanted. We did screen tests with different actors for those roles, and that was the first thing I did as Obi-Wan again, since 2003. I arrived, and we had borrowed a bit of The Mandalorian stage on a Sunday, when they were off, and some of their crew, and I walked into the dressing room and there was an Obi-Wan-ish costume hanging up, that The Mandalorian’s wardrobe department had put together.

Putting that on was just really crazy, after all that time. And then, walking out onto the set was crazy because there were so many Star Wars fans in the crew, which was a new experience for me. There was a buzz about Obi-Wan walking back on stage. But then, when we came to do the actual scenes with these other actors, I was doing a vague English accent, and it wasn’t really Obi-Wan’s voice, at all. I was like, “Oh dear, that’s not very good.” 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. Playing him felt totally like he’d always been there, ready to come out any minute, but his voice needed a bit of work.

Did you give any tips to Moses, since you’d worked with a lightsaber before?

MCGREGOR: No, we were under the great Jojo, our fight coordinator, who is really an amazing, thoughtful man. He’d taken the fights that we did in the original three films and he studied them with his stunt crew and developed them. It’s very thoughtful. It’s not just random. He’s a thinking fight arranger, which was cool to work on. Our fight styles are very different in the piece, as they should be. I was over on one side doing my choreography, and Moses was on the other side doing hers, and we’d try not to clash into each other, as we passed each other. It was fun, though.


Did you guys find yourself making the lightsaber noises while you were rehearsing and fighting?

McGREGOR: It’s impossible not to. And if you’re not making them, you’re doing it in your head.

CHOW: We did play a lot of music when we did the action scenes, so the rest of us didn’t know if you guys were doing them.

What kind of music would you play?

CHOW: John Williams.

INGRAM: It was sick because we’d be stepping off the ship, or doing something else, and the music would swell, and you’d feel like you were 10 feet tall. It was very, very cool.

CHOW: Yeah, that was the big reason we did it. The music obviously brings the emotional component, and what John Williams has done has been so inextricably tied to Star Wars. It is Star Wars. So, we’d put it on and, all of a sudden, I’d see Moses get two inches taller. Everybody responds to it.

Deborah, you guys used stagecraft, the volume technology that’s been used on The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. What was it like to use that technology to bring Tatooine to life, as well as some of the other locations that you guys got to visit?

CHOW: I started using that technology, stagecraft, on The Mandalorian, so I was actually incredibly excited to be able to use it on Kenobi as well. The tech has advanced so much. Every passing year, there are advances. So, by the time we came to do Kenobi, there were already things that we could do, that we couldn’t do in first season of The Mandalorian. It was also really exciting to be able to design and to develop material knowing that I was going to shoot stagecraft. A lot of times, I’d be looking at the scene, even as we were writing it, thinking about, how is this gonna translate into the volume, and how can we take advantage of the tech, as best as possible?

Moses, was there anything that surprised you about joining this galaxy, or anything that you weren’t expecting?

INGRAM: I think this whole experience has far exceeded my expectations of what it might have been. I enjoyed just going to work, every day. I feel like we had such a great working atmosphere and there were so many lifelong Star Wars fans who were living their dreams by working on this series. It’s really nice to be a fly on the wall for other people’s experiences of it, as well. It’s by far exceeded my expectations, in the most beautiful way.

The Inquisitors became popular in Star Wars Rebels, and now they’re making the jump to live-action. How was it to create the essence of Inquisitor Reva?

INGRAM: The costume was already made, but her hair was different, in the initial envisioning of the character. It was just something that my hair didn’t do naturally, and Deb was so great about hearing me out on that. That’s how we ended up with the braids. It was really important for me to do what my hair does. The hair was a big deal. Growing up and watching certain things with my brothers, I would hear, “You’re not strong enough. It’s for boys.” So, what I think is cool about this is, you can fight like a girl and still be badass.

This series is set inside a specific Star Wars timeline. Deborah, can you talk about the challenge of telling a story between those confines, and how fun was it to get to fill in the blanks, at the same time?

CHOW: I would say that was definitely one of the biggest challenges with this series. Obviously, we have these huge legacy, iconic characters, and we’re in between two trilogies. In large part, we’re telling the second act of a story, which is often challenging enough. The biggest thing we were looking to do was to respect the canon and respect what’s been done, but we also needed to have an original story and an original vision for it. I think that was the biggest challenge. At the same time, it was very exciting that we were bringing back two of these huge, iconic characters and telling a new story with them.

Was there a particular day on set, or a scene that you guys shot, that’s particular memorable for you guys?

McGREGOR: It’s impossible to pick them out really because they’re all so vivid. All of it. I’d never worked on the stagecraft set before, and it was such a game-changer for us. The experience of the first three films, and especially Episode II and III, there was so much blue screen and green screen, and that was just hard. It’s very hard to make something believable when there’s nothing there. And here we were, in this amazing set where, if you’re shooting in the desert, everywhere you look is the desert, and if you’re flying through space, then the stars are flying past you as you scout along, it’s so cool. So, I couldn’t pick one out, really. The fight scenes are always something extra, when you’re doing something like this, because they require such a lot of preparation and there’s a real nervousness about when you walk on set to do a fight that you’ve been learning and training for, for months. Your stomach gets really nervous because you wanna do it the best you can, and sometimes you’re shooting them two-three days in a row, and it requires an enormous amount of stamina, which is also why getting fit beforehand was really important, so we could maintain that.

Moses, you called the script dangerous and edgy. In what ways is Reva bringing that to the story?

INGRAM: I don’t even know if it’s just Reva, or the thing, as a whole. It’s hard because you can’t say exactly what’s happening, but the cat-and-mouse of it all and so many moving parts in it and the places that we are and the people that are involved, I really wish I could say more to you about what was happening, but it just felt very muddy, in a way that I really enjoyed.

Deborah, how did you figure out the right tone for this story? What were some of your goal posts or things that you were thinking about?

CHOW: We’re starting in a pretty dark time period, and that was quite interesting, not only to start with Obi-Wan’s character in a dark place, but also starting in a period in the timeline that’s quite dark. That actually gave us a very interesting starting place for the series. With the character of Kenobi, for me, he’s always felt like there’s so much warmth, so much compassion, and humor, and that he’s a character of light and hope. It was interesting for us to try to keep the balance of the darkness, but also still maintaining the hope coming from the character.

Obi-Wan makes quite a few quips.

McGREGOR: That all comes from Alec Guinness. Alec Guinness had this wit behind his eyes, all the time. He had a twinkle in his eyes, and that’s in the writing. I always try to think of him and try to hear him saying the lines. The writing was 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. I knew we were on the right path, at least with him, because he has got that wit to him.

Ewan, how does working on a Star Wars TV show compare to making a Star Wars film?

McGREGOR: The technology is so different from when we made the original movies that it felt like a different experience, but I don’t think that was because it’s a TV show. The beauty of it being a series is that we’ve got longer to tell the story, but because Deb directed them all and it’s her singular vision throughout, it did feel like we were just making one movie. The episodic nature of our series falls really cleverly in the storyline, but it is one driving narrative. I think The Mandalorian feels more episodic, if you like, because it suits that storytelling and it has a driving storyline through each season. Ours is like a movie that just happens to be split up into these episodes. That’s how I feel about it.

The prequels were some of the first films to really rely heavily on blue screen and green screen. Did it take some getting used to working with that new technology then?

McGREGOR: I don’t know if Episode II was the first movie that was shot on digital, but it was my first experience of shooting on digital cameras, and now it’s so rare to shoot on film, sadly. Those cameras are like dinosaurs. They were cutting-edge technology, but compared to what we shoot on now, they had huge umbilical cords coming out the back of the cameras. They couldn’t change the lenses, or they could change the lenses, but it would take half an hour, so everything was just shot on a zoom lens. There are two digital cameras on two techno cranes, and they just move the cranes and zoom in and out. That was the new setup. The umbilicals led to this big tent in the corner of the stage that literally hummed. It was so noisy. And in post-production, they realized that the noise they made was exactly in the frequency of the human voice, so we had to ADR every single line of Episode II. None of the original dialogue made it through because the cameras were so new and none of the bugs had been worked out yet. Compared to what we’re doing now, it’s really night and day. George [Lucas] was pioneering that technology. He was pioneering sound and image, and he was pioneering the cameras and the visual effects. He wanted to utilize it, as much as he could, but for us, it meant that, more and more, we were on a blue screen or a green screen, and that’s challenging for the actors.

CHOW: But one thing that was cool with the technology is that a lot of the stuff they did in the prequels, and that George was doing by pushing digital so early, is so much of the groundwork for how we got to stagecraft. A lot of the tools he started developing is how we ended up on stagecraft, so it’s really interesting.

For each of you, what is your personal favorite Star Wars movie or series?

McGREGOR: My favorite is A New Hope, just because it’s the one that changed my life, in many ways, as a kid watching that movie. When I hear the words Star Wars, I always think of C3PO and R2D2 going through the desert, through the sand. That’s the first image. So, mine would be A New Hope.

INGRAM: I’m going to cheat and say Obi-Wan Kenobi because it’s attached now to so many moments and memories in my life, similar to A New Hope for [Ewan]. I feel like that would be my perfect answer.

CHOW: It’s hard not to say Obi-Wan. I don’t know. I’ve had to go back over so many of them, between the two shows, so I have such an appreciation, in different ways, for all of them. One of the ones that I think is really interesting, visually, is Rogue One. I was really looking a lot at the atmospheric sense in that, in a lot of the visuals, which was pretty awesome.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is available to stream at Disney+, starting on May 27th.

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