It’s not every day a director works on a series with a built-in legion of multigenerational fans ready to binge each episode and dissect every scene. Deborah Chow, who helmed all six episodes of Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” experienced exactly that.
The limited series, which Chow also executive produced, centers on the titular Jedi (Ewan McGregor) and former mentor to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) and is set between the two “Star Wars” trilogies. Having directed two episodes of “The Mandalorian,” Chow was well equipped to immerse herself in Obi-Wan’s world (or worlds, as the show features frequent planet-hopping.) The series follows Obi-Wan as he is forced out of Jedi retirement to rescue a 10-year-old Princess Leia (Vivian Lyra Blair) from Imperial forces.
In an interview with Variety, Chow details the making of the series, working alongside original cast members and newcomers and the unparalleled experience of contributing to such a long-lasting and beloved franchise.
What’s your personal connection to “Star Wars,” and what has your relationship with the franchise looked like over time?
I feel like it’s always been part of my life. I feel like for most of us, it’s always been there. I can’t remember honestly, the first instance — I know so many people have that story. I don’t have that quintessential story. But I was always a big genre person. I was a goth kid growing up, and I just loved fantasy and sci-fi. So “Star Wars” was always like the mothership of everything.
Many of the original actors from the films returned for this show. What was it like working with them?
Amazing. I’ve never had any experience like this, where you have a cast that has played these roles almost 20 years before and had this relationship and then had lived with these characters in their lives for so many years. It was so interesting working on something like this, where you have people coming back to a role after years and also playing the character at a different point in their lives. I was very fortunate to inherit this incredible cast.
Was it easy for them to slip back into their old characters? To me, it looked like it was easy. I remember the first day, we were just doing a hair and makeup test. And [Ewan McGregor] just walked out and I was like, “Oh, my God, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi,” right away. It felt very seamless. Where we did a little bit more work was particularly with someone like Hayden, trying to figure out, “Where is this character now?” Because it’s complex. We’re in between two trilogies. So that was kind of the fun part of it.
A 10-year-old Princess Leia is a prominent part of this show, and we get to see her precocious, young and rebellious side. What was the experience with Vivian
Not only is it hard for younger actors — they’re just coming into the craft — but also to take on such an iconic role? Not just Princess Leia, but also Carrie Fisher. She did a very incredible job, just even embodying it. But the biggest thing that I worked on with her was trying to get her out of her head — to not think about Carrie Fisher, and to not think about the “Star Wars” of it all, and just try to react emotionally to the scenes and to be present in the scenes as the character. And I think she did an amazing job of that, honestly.
We get to see this new side to Leia and Obi-Wan’s relationship that viewers didn’t know about before. What was that like
There were many, many, many discussions in terms of the canon as to how to make that work, because obviously we were walking a fine line with it. We just started at the starting point of “Where is this character?” For Obi-Wan, he’d been tasked with this duty — he was obviously on Tatooine watching over the boy, so for him to go on another journey, [Leia] really was, to our minds, the only thing that would possibly take him away from sitting on that rock watching over Luke. It’s also lovely to take this warrior character, and then have a counterpart that brings out different aspects of him emotionally.
How did you honor the original story that people love while also bringing in new elements and making it your own?
That was definitely the trickiest aspect of this entire project. We did have these big legacy characters, and we were telling a story that’s in the middle of two trilogies. So we were trying to be very respectful to make sure that we didn’t break the canon, and to respect the legacy of it, while also having a new story to tell and having a new vision for it. That was the line that we were trying to walk throughout the whole show of trying to merge those two aspects.
There’s so much “Star Wars” lore out there, from books to movies to comics. How did you decide which characters and places to include in the show?
We didn’t want to do anything just for the sake of fan service. We just, as much as possible, tried to focus on the character of Obi-Wan and go, “What’s important to him in his life? Who are the people that are meaningful to him? What is this journey? And what’s the most honest journey of that?” Obviously, that takes us to people like Liam Neeson. But really, for us, we were trying not to just put Qui-Gon in for the sake of Qui-Gon, but really because it means something to the character of Obi-Wan.
How did you go about creating that epic final battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader?
I had a great stunt coordinator, [Jonathan] Jojo Eusebio. We started breaking it down and designing it very early on. And we did a lot of rehearsals, and they did a lot of testing to get there. It was a very personal fight and so it was a very character-based fight … It was also an unusual fight where nobody can win, and nobody can die, and we’re going to a totally different place with [Darth Vader’s] cracked mask. The biggest thing is we really wanted it to feel like it was coming out of these two characters and this relationship that they’ve had for so long.
Do you see Obi-Wan’s story as complete now?
I mean, you’ve still got 10 years. So, there’s definitely, I’m sure, more stories to be told. For this one, we really did conceive it as a limited [series]. It really was meant to be beginning, middle and end. But you never say never … For me, just getting to spend more time with the character and Ewan as that character would be the greatest joy of it.
Is there a favorite aspect of directing the show that you look back on?
I’ve never worked on anything where everybody cared so deeply about the material. This particular script, it’s something that meant something to them in their lives. They’d all grown up with these characters as well. That’s one of the most amazing things about “Star Wars” is that when you go to work on it, there’s just a love and a care for it that you just you can’t replicate with anything else.
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