Director Deborah Chow is one of a handful of female directors to make their mark within the Star Wars universe. With a resume that includes major television entries in the sci-fi and fantasy genres (including Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Fear the Walking Dead, American Gods, and more), Chow first cut her Galactic teeth on The Mandalorian where Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy praised her character focus amidst the space opera action. That very high praise led to the opportunity to helm a full story key to the Star Wars mythology, Disney+’s limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Fresh from The Mandalorian, Chow leveraged that character-focused directorial style to further hone the story in critical ways.
“At the starting point at least, the biggest thing for me was that it should be character driven, especially given Ewan [McGregor] and the nature of his character. Given the story coming out of Order 66, it just felt that the issues we were grappling with were pretty weighty, so I really wanted to focus it so that it was character driven,” Chow recalled. “The other part that was quite important to me when I first came onto it was Vader’s role. I felt it should be more pivotal because I just felt you couldn’t put him in lightly. So, if we were going to do him, then we really had to do him. So that was something else that I definitely pushed for in terms of direction.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi tells the story middle story of McGregor’s Obi-Wan as he lives in seclusion on Tatooine. Full of doubt and regret ten years following the events of Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith, Obi-Wan no longer holds his deep connection to the Force. When the Galactic Empire kidnap Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair), he’s pulled back into action on a course that leads him to multiple encounters with Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen).
McGregor hadn’t played since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, but Chow found he, as well as Christensen, immediately and effortlessly stepped into the role. Having an actor so already in tune with the character allowed her as a director to focus on the logistics of the story.
“For me, [McGregor] was a real creative partner on the show. I actually found that, with quite a lot of the legacy characters particularly Ewan and Hayden, is that they’re coming in bringing this history and this knowledge of having played the character at a younger age, obviously, so honestly they know it better than anybody else is going to know it. So, I just really tried to trust their instincts and to really sort of be there to give them what they needed to support that character,” Chow remarked. “With Ewan, I remember the first time he walked out, and we were doing like a hair and makeup test and doing some reads. He just walked out, and it was Obi-Wan. He just slips back into it so seamlessly. He always says the characters are in there, and they’re just waiting to come out again. But for me, I really think Ewan McGregor and that character hold something sort of very special.”
With McGregor and Christensen sliding into their old robes with relative ease, Chow realized other characters needed additional attention to get right. One such character was the younger version of the quintessential space heroine Princess Leia, first embodied by the late, great Carrie Fisher. Initial drafts of the script focused more on young Luke Skywalker, but the project shifted to Leia. With Fisher’s passing back in 2016, elevating young Leia’s role in Obi-Wan allowed the team to honor Fisher and recognize her critical contributions to the Star Wars universe.
When casting the role, Chow and team wanted to avoid a mimic of Fisher’s performance or of her persona. The young actress needed to hold her own and embody honor the spirit of Fisher without appearing too precocious or being stifled by Fisher’s legacy.
“We were really trying to find a balance of having that wit and intelligence but also having the humanity. That she could be scared at times given her age. So working with [Vivien Blair], the biggest thing I did with her at the beginning was to ask her not to watch any Star Wars at all. She didn’t listen to me, but I just asked her family and her to stay as far away from Princess Leia as possible. Don’t let it get in her head. I approached it with her to take it emotionally, asking how does this person feel. I tried as much as possible to just take the Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia out of it.”
Another massive challenge Chow nailed was to capture Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s new opportunities for Obi-Wan and Darth Vader to engage in more iconic lightsaber duels. For most Star Wars fans, lightsabers and lightsaber duels live at the beating heart of any canon entry, so Chow needed to ensure that any Kenobi / Vader rematch could visually and organically live up to the iconic moments that came before them.
Capturing the duels on screen required extensive pre-planning, training, and stunt choreography. It also helped to have two actors in McGregor and Christensen that did their own stunts, ensuring an extra layer of gravitas in the finished product.
“It’s an interesting fight because you can’t have anybody really, truly win it. It’s not a normal fight that you can sort of play through, and it was going to such a different place. So there was just basically a lot of preparation,” Chow shared. “We were incredibly fortunate to have actors who did it all. Ewan and Hayden did almost everything, and it makes such a difference. We’re not speeding them up. We’re not doing anything. That is them doing it. That was a huge, huge help for us.”
While there has been no word whether or not McGregor will step back into Obi-Wan’s robes, Chow remains incredibly proud and grateful for the opportunity to have guided such a challenging exercise in Star Wars lore. Given that the story explores middle ground territory in these characters’ lives, Chow and team needed to craft a story that not only provided surprises along the way but also felt appropriately sandwiched between two extraordinarily popular halves.
Through the progression of the limited series, Chow revealed that an unexpected theme — the legacy of trauma — impacted all of the series’s characters from Obi-Wan to Moses Ingram’s key character Reva Sevander.
“One of the big surprises as we were going through that process of developing the series is that the story ended up becoming so shaped by Order 66. Really, every character whether it was Reva, Obi-Wan, Vader / Anakin, they all ended up being impacted by the aftermath of how it affected everybody’s life. That was very helpful to me to figure out because it helped glue the whole thing together.”