Deborah Chow directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, now she’s helmed the entire Obi-Wan Kenobi series – here’s what she has to say on the experience.
Deborah Chow’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series sits slap bang in the middle of two Star Wars trilogies – set ten years after Revenge Of The Sith, and ten years before A New Hope. Directing an entire limited series in such a beloved franchise was a big undertaking for Chow, who previously helmed two episodes of The Mandalorian‘s first season, but it’s also a huge achievement. “It was really nice, given that we were telling one big story, to be able to really see it through from the beginning all the way to the end,” she says.
One of the most interesting parts of the upcoming show is getting to see a time period never explored in live action before. The years before the Empire’s demise have been the setting for animated series Star Wars: Rebels, and more recently The Bad Batch, and Chow goes into great detail explaining this period. “It’s quite a dark time period. The Empire is in ascendance, we’re post Order 66, there’s the Inquisitors and they’re hunting Jedi. So everyone is in hiding, or has been killed.”
As you might imagine, this leaves Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan in a bit of a predicament. He may be returning to the role, but this will be a rather melancholy version of the character. “Coming out of Revenge Of The Sith, for Kenobi, he’s carrying such a weight,” Chow explains. “He thinks he killed Anakin. He’s seen so many people he loved that were killed or lost during Order 66, so it’s an interesting starting place for the character.”
It’s not just McGregor returning, but also Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker (or as he is now, Darth Vader). 17 years on from the release of the last prequel film, Chow articulately expresses how emotional their return is. “Given how iconic these characters are, not only did they play these roles during the prequel period, but they’ve also had to live with these characters and the public perception for their entire lives.” She expresses that the narrative of the show is closely tied to the prequel trilogy, so it was important, and very special, to have the actors back.
Speaking of public perception, the prequel trilogy wasn’t exactly embraced by fans on its initial release. However, after almost two decades they’re getting a bit of a revaluation, especially from people who saw them as children. “There are so many people in the audience who were children or younger when the prequels came out. These are their movies, and there’s so much prequel love coming out of a generation that’s grown up with the prequels. So Hayden and Ewan are their characters.
It’s been really exciting to see how many people actually really cared about the prequels and love them, and are bringing that love to the show.”
When I ask who her favourite character from the series is, her answer is the leading man himself. “I would definitely say Obi-Wan Kenobi. He is the title character, and for me Ewan just brings such a depth and a complexity to the role. There’s such a warmth and a humanity to him that it’s hard not to love his character.”
It’s also exciting to see more characters from the animated shows making their way to live action – in Obi-Wan Kenobi this is primarily the Grand Inquisitor. He’s played by Rupert Friend in the series, and was voiced by Jason Isaacs in Rebels. In terms of including the character, Chow says “It really made sense for our timeline. They were very active within this period, and they are a natural foil and antagonist to a Jedi who’s in hiding. It’s exciting to bring them in.”
Chow, who describes herself as a Star Wars fan, took inspiration from both Rogue One and her time on The Mandalorian when making the series. “I’m definitely looking to Rogue One quite a bit with this show. I really loved the atmospheric nature of that film, that it felt very atmospheric and it felt quite emotional. Those were two things I was really trying to do with this show so I was really looking at what they had done in terms of tone and mood.”
Of course, her experience working on The Mandalorian has been helpful in various ways, not least in getting to grips with making a Star Wars show. “I sort of had the moment to absorb Star Wars and to have the experience of working with people like [executive producers] Dave Filoni and John Favreau,” she says.
She also credits it with teaching her how to work with creatures and droids, and also working with a technology called StageCraft. Where previously crews would’ve used green or blue screen to render environments in post production, StageCraft renders those environments onto an LED screen. That way the cast can actually see the setting they’re acting in.
Chow loves using the technology, and comments on how much it’s evolved even in a short couple of years. “There are so many things we could do with Kenobi that we couldn’t in season one of The Mandalorian,” she says. “For something like Star Wars where it is such a bespoke, imagined universe, it really allows us to have that control without having to go to a million locations. And then the other major advantage is for the performance and the actors. It’s not a blue screen for them; they have the real world.”
For the director, it’s a surreal experience to work on Star Wars when the franchise has long been used as a reference for anyone writing a sci-fi script. “So many times we’d be on set and I’d be working on developing a script and you’d use Star Wars as a reference. So it was very strange when I first started it to be actually doing it with the things you’ve used as a reference for years. It is an honour to get to do this for real.”
As for the aim of the series, Chow wanted to tell a character driven story about Obi-Wan that also embraces the vastness of the galaxy. “We were trying to make a series that allowed us the opportunity to have a lot more depth with the character, to spend more time with him, to get to know him truly – not just as a Jedi but as a man.”
For fans of Obi-Wan, McGregor, and the prequels, Chow’s series aims to tick all the boxes and bridge the gap between trilogies. It’s a mammoth task, but it sounds as though the director has achieved something great.
Obi-Wan Kenobi debuts exclusively on Disney+ from 27th May.
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