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Film

The story of Ewan McGregor's incredible familial connection to 'Star Wars'

Ewan McGregor is synonymous with the Star Wars franchise. Whilst the veteran Scottish actor has portrayed many iconic roles in his career, including the good-hearted heroin addict Mark Renton in Trainspotting, the poet Christian in Moulin Rouge! and more recently the supervillain Black Mask in Birds of Prey, I doubt that anyone would deny that McGregor’s most important role comes in Star Wars. It’s his performance as Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy that he is mainly known for. 

When joining on as Obi-Wan, McGregor, who was coming off the back of a pair of celebrated Danny Boyle films, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, had big boots to fill, those of the late great Sir Alec Guinness. Not only was this because he was relatively unknown outside of the UK, but also because Guinness was Obi-Wan to McGregor’s generation, so portraying the younger version of the white-haired Jedi Master was not going to be easy. 

At that time, it was also a question of pedigree, as the late Alec Guinness was one of the finest actors the world has ever seen. From Oliver Twist to The Ladykillers and The Lavender Hill Mob, he invariably gave stellar performances.

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Guinness was a giant of stage and cinema, of the generation of actors that gave us Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles, and for the young Ewan McGregor to step up and portray Obi-Wan in his formative years, set decades prior to when he delivered the line, “These are not the droids you’re looking for”, it was the biggest challenge of his career.

And deal with the challenge resoundingly he did. He first portrayed the Padawan Obi-Wan to Master Qui-Gon Jinn in 1999’s The Phantom Menace, before reprising his role as the now mulleted and more worldly Jedi Knight in 2002’s Attack of the Clones, who was also now a lot more sarcastic than we could ever have imagined, even after the shenanigans in Episode I.

Undoubtedly though, McGregor’s best performance as Obi-Wan came in 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, where he became one with the role, delivering an adroit performance that managed to straddle both the dramatic and comedic sides of the character without it feeling overcooked.

When Disney announced its new series Obi-Wan Kenobi, there was no surprise that fans could not contain themselves. Adding to the fact that Hayden Christensen was reprising his role as Darth Vader, this meant that the new series was to be one of the most hotly anticipated of the year.

Now that McGregor and Christensen are out on the promotional run for the show, they recently checked into BBC Radio 1 HQ and sat down with film critic Ali Plumb to discuss it. During the conversation, McGregor alerted fans to a fact that often gets overlooked, that his connection to Star Wars started many years before he first put on the costume of Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

Looking back on how he got cast as the role, McGregor admitted that he “wasn’t sure about it” as he had been doing the Danny Boyle films and that he “was very proud to be a part of this new British, sort of wave, in a small way, and so this didn’t feel at all like what I was about, and I was a bit scared of it, I suppose, because of the size of it, the scale of it.”

McGregor then made the big reveal: “But the closer I got to it, the more I just wanted to do it. The films, the original three, had meant so much to me. My uncle was in all three of them, Denis Lawson, he played Wedge Antilles, so I had a sort of connection to them, I loved them, like we all did, you know? So, as I got closer to it, I just wanted to do it. Then I ended up doing a screen test with George, and I think by that point, there were three of us in the running, and he ended up choosing me, luckily.”

Appearing on Sunday Today with Willie Geist back in 2020, McGregor shed more light on his familial connection to Star Wars, and it turns out that even though Denis Lawson played one of the most iconic characters in the original trilogy, it’s something that he doesn’t look back on too fondly. 

“When my parents took me to see Star Wars for the first time in a cinema, to see my uncle on the screen but also it was Star Wars, it blew my mind,” he said. “He was always really dismissive of it because he did a couple of weeks work, sitting in a cardboard spaceship… and yet he had this massive following. It sort of annoyed him.”

What’s even more surprising is that when McGregor was approached for the part of Obi-Wan for the prequel trilogy, Lawson allegedly warned him against auditioning for the role. “He was one of the people who said, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it,” McGregor remembered. “And then the nearer I got to it, the more I wanted to do it.”

We can be thankful that Ewan McGregor ignored his uncle’s objections.

Watch McGregor discuss the connection below. 

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