Ewan McGregor never expected to play the Jedi Master again: 'I didn't want Star Wars prequels to define my career'

Ewan McGregor
The six-part series is set 10 years after the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (Image credit: Disney+)

It's been more than two decades since Ewan McGregor first played Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace, but he's stepping back into the Star Wars universe as the Jedi Master in Disney's newest spin-off, Obi-Wan

Set in a galaxy far, far away (of course), the much-anticipated six-part series takes place during the years after his one-time best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, turned to the dark side and became the evil Sith Lord, Darth Vader

Now, the Jedi are being hunted across the galaxy by the Empire and Obi-Wan finds himself in hiding on the desert planet of Tatooine. He keeps a watchful eye over the young Luke Skywalker, in the hope that one day he will be able to use the force to defeat his father Darth Vader. Here McGregor tells us more about the show... well, tells as much as he's allowed to tell.

Ewan McGregor on playing a young Obi-wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy...

"I remember in the run-up to being cast as Obi-wan Kenobi back in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time wondering whether I should take the part and what it would mean for my career because I was doing grungy films like Trainspotting at the time. In the end, I did it because I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. My uncle Dennis Lawson played a pilot called Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy and my brother and I knew every line, so I wanted to be a part of that world. However when our prequels came out they weren’t very well-received, so I threw myself back into my other work. I was proud of the Star Wars prequels, but I didn’t want them to define my career."

Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-wan Kenobi finds himself on the desert planet of Tatooine (Image credit: Disney+)

What made you decide the time was right to play Obi-Wan again?

"I remember going back to make the Trainspotting sequel and that was an amazing experience, so I began to see how interesting it could be to return to a character 20 years later. I was also more aware of people who liked the prequel trilogy we made 20 years ago. The generation of Star Wars fans who were kids at the time they came out really loved them, so I’m their Obi-Wan, just like Alec Guinness was mine. People were always asking me if I would play him again in interviews and I just started saying yes!"

How long did it take you to get back into the mindset of Obi-Wan?

"I started by watching all of the films again in order. Then I watched the spin-off movies and by that time I’d had lots of chats with our brilliant director Deborah Chow (The Mandalorian). I was also a producer on this show, so I’ve been involved with shaping the script, so I was slowly being drawn back into that world. Then it was all about doing screen tests with some other young actors, so I went to Manhattan Beach studios in California, where they were filming The Mandalorian. The crew went to grab some vague Obi-Wan-style costume from the extras department. Everyone on set was a massive Star Wars fan, so it was interesting to see people’s reactions when I walked out wearing those robes 18 years after I last played him. Seeing people’s reactions was quite a funny moment and it helped me find his voice again, although I still have to imagine Alec Guinness saying the lines!"

How did you find all the lightsaber battles?

"I did a lot of training! I worked with my friend Tony Horton, who’s a great trainer, for three months solidly and then we started practising the fight sequences a couple of months before we started shooting. Filming the lightsaber battles is a little bit like a boxing match. There’s no bell, but when someone yells “cut!” you head back to your corner and catch your breath. Any kind of fighting on-screen takes an extraordinary amount of energy, so you have to be in good shape!"

What can you tell us about the shoot, which used StageCraft technology, a virtual set that uses a video wall to recreate a range of backdrops within the studio?

"StageCraft is a real game-changer because it puts you in the environment and the possibilities are endless. From a city center to a desert, suddenly you’re there. They also do amazing interiors, so the inside of a spacecraft that might take millions to build can be designed on a laptop. Directors love "the golden hour", which happens when the sun is rising and in the past I’ve made loads of movies where we all had to get up at four in the morning to catch it. But now you can have "golden hour" at the click of a keyboard."

Obi-Wan Kenobi arrives on Disney Plus on Friday 27th May

Sean Marland
Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV, TV & Satellite Week and whattowatch.com

Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.