“Everyone’s very, very aware of canon and the fan base and the importance of making sure everything lines up,” showrunner Joby Harold tells IndieWire.
Four episodes in, it couldn’t be clearer that Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” is all about its eponymous hero and Darth Vader. The former master and padawan (played by Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen) haven’t met for 10 years, but over the course of six episodes must untangle their history and figure out how to move on.
According to showrunner and head writer Joby Harold, that relationship was foundational to “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” a guiding force (ha) for Obi-Wan’s emotional state and the healing ahead of him.
“It’s very much to me what’s driving Obi-Wan at this time in his life,” Harold told IndieWire. “It’s that which haunts him and that which still in the back of his head is rattling around and won’t let go. How could you let go with what happened in ‘Revenge of the Sith?’ It’s a pretty dramatic thing to put on a character, so the notion of centering that as the big conflict within the show just made sense.”
“Deborah Chow, our director, always referred to it as sort of a love story,” he adds. “That break up is still fresh, and the past hasn’t been reconciled yet.”
Harold is as much a Star Wars fan as any viewer, so he was thrilled to bring these two iconic characters back in live action. He spoke to IndieWire about all things “Obi-Wan,” including the decision to include a young Skywalker and Moses Ingram’s performance as Reva. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
IndieWire: They’re such big names: Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi — and the last time they were in live action together was “Revenge of the Sith,” for a fantastic duel on screen. So I have to imagine there’s a lot of pressure going into this series.
Joby Harold: Absolutely, but a lot of excitement for me too just as a fan to get to see them come together, because they’re two such seismic characters in the Star Wars universe. Knowing that one day I would actually get to watch it as an audience member and a fan was part of the thrill of getting to be a very small part of the bigger machine and help getting it made.
So how do you keep things fresh? We’ve seen lightsaber battles. We’ve seen these characters, but how do you make it new this time around?
That’s very much trusting in Deborah Chow and everything that she brought to the show. It’s easy to try to find character through action on the page, but then you hand that off and have faith in the team and it’s such an extraordinary team. You then get to see the fruits of their labor and sit back and go “Okay, yeah.” That’s the part, as a fanboy, that I wanted to see.
To what extent do you actually script the action on the page?
To a pretty extensive extent. You sort of plant the flag in the ground and say, “Here’s what can happen, here’s ways in which character could be articulated,” so it’s not just action for action’s sake. Then the actors find it with Deb, and then it changes on the day through the blocking, and then you choreograph the whole thing, and they rehearse for a very long time, as you know, to get it right. So I would say it’s phase one, the writing part.
In Episode 4, the lightsaber sequence with Obi-Wan in the dark. Again we’ve seen so many lightsaber sequences, but that one felt new and fresh.
In the dark, when he’s rescuing Leia from the stormtroopers? That’s on the page. That’s me writing “in the dark,” because I feel like I haven’t seen it, in that iteration that I hadn’t seen it. It’s a pretty important moment, so it should have its own visual splendor. But again, Deborah takes that and runs with it and covers it the way she covers it. One part of a bigger machine.
This week we saw Obi-Wan start to get his powers back. It seems like a steady increase in him regaining his strength and also his confidence.
Absolutely right. It’s a six-chapter story. We’re getting to the point now where he’s starting to need to find that part of himself again, where he hasn’t had to explore it for so long. Hopefully character is pushing that decision and those choices in an interesting way, because of the pieces on the board and because of Leia. Getting to see it and slow it down so each part of that is important and each bit of it feels like a moment — each time he has to use the Force, each time he has to stand tall, each time he holds the lightsaber — hopefully it’s reinforcing character and his journey from the man we met at the beginning of the show, in his cave, to man that he will one day become.
Before the premiere, Deborah said that the prequels were a big inspiration, and there’s also all this connective tissue from other shows and movies. At what point did you feel like this is its own thing entirely?
You have to think of it as its own thing entirely, whilst also being aware of all the different places you can and can’t go. And then you just try and do the best you can, try and tell the best story you can within the limitations that exist around that. It’s tricky, and it’s complicated. You come into inheriting a bunch of limitations because of preexisting stuff and because of where we are canon-wise.
What were some of the top priorities from a narrative standpoint?
For me personally, it was getting to really give Ewan the opportunities to sit in this character again and get under the skin of the character so that the audience could really enjoy his performance. He’s such a gifted actor, and it’s such an iconic role and he’d done so much with it — but I felt like there was still room for him to do so much more. So it was very much [a consideration] as I was writing: “Where can we give him character moments to sit with him?” There’s a fantastic moment in the fourth episode which is all Deborah Chow, which is her finding that moment where he and Leia hold hands. It’s such a lovely moment, and it’s so sweet, and it’s easy for me to just write that — but to feel the soul of it is again, that’s the extent of this creative team and how great they are.
Truly! Where did the decision come from for young Leia to be such a big part of the show? I haven’t recovered from the Luke fake out in the trailer.
[laughs] Yeah, that is a serious fake out. They hid the football on that and rightly so, that made it quite a fun thing to watch. Leia was was always a part of the conversation, I believe right from the beginning. What would be important enough to have Obi-Wan leave Luke? I couldn’t think of anything beyond her. I think that conversation had begun a long time ago, and rightly so because she and Luke have equal importance within the bigger conversation. Why not bring that conversation right up front into this show and challenge Obi-Wan with that reality? She’s important. She’s as important, so that makes it quite dramatic and interesting as a call to action.
In Episode 4, we have the interrogation scene with her and Reva, which is harrowing, but it also calls to mind the scene where she’s being interrogated in “A New Hope.” What’s the connection between those two scenes and in general with the young Leia we see now and the adult Leia we’ll catch up with in “A New Hope”?
It’s very much to do with casting and trying to find somebody who captured the spirit of Carrie Fisher, and credit to Deb and casting for finding her. She’s so extraordinary and it’s so lovely to see her sit in those moments and echo everything that’s gonna come afterwards — hopefully not deliberately so too often. You want to try to not make it feel like you’re servicing a later moment. But those comparisons will exist because what Carrie Fisher did with the role was so iconic, and Leia had such a great life in all movies that followed. There are definitely going to be those moments where you’re covering similar territory.
Matt Kennedy / Lucasfilm Ltd.
Reva is such an extraordinary villain. How did you flesh her out and find that sweet spot?
Reva’s a character that had existed when I came onto the project, and she seemed so interesting because she was offering something different and a new perspective. Again, I worked with Deborah a lot on that and finding who she could be in part of Obi-Wan’s journey, where she could push him. What kind of an antagonist to push into places where he wouldn’t otherwise go? Deb had strong instincts there, so I just tried to help facilitate that character as she developed into what Moses did with her, which I think is quite extraordinary.
Was there anything you wanted to actively avoid with the series?
It going too quickly, and being too sort of whiz-bang-pew-pew-pew right from the beginning. Hopefully in the final reading [it] will feel like it has a patience to it, which is consistent with the journey that Obi-Wan is going on spiritually from beginning to end, in between prequels and the original trilogy. That was my hope, to make sure that happened.
And speaking of his spiritual journey, how does Obi-Wan’s relationship with Qui-Gon factor in? It sounds like he still hasn’t been able to reach him but what does he want from that connection?
In the beginning of the show, I just wanted to be able to see him reaching out. I just felt like if he was reaching out into the ether in those moments, it would help punctuate how alone he felt. That was really the priority, just to feel Obi-Wan’s isolation.
There’s been some buzz about a possible Season 2. Is there a dream you would have for that if you get to return to this character again?
I can’t really speak to that, so unfortunately I won’t beyond saying it’s been a real thrill to to work with this character, this universe, for this experience. It has been opportunity of a lifetime, and I’ve cherished it.
There has been some talk about things within the series so far that don’t fit totally into existing Star Wars canon.
There is a plan for all of that. It’s such a big creative team making these shows that everyone’s very, very aware of canon and the fan base and the importance of making sure everything lines up, so it’s definitely something that was on the front of our minds always.
The Disney+ Star Wars series love to take a character and put them accidentally in charge of a kid. That’s “The Mandalorian,” that is now what’s happening with Obi-Wan. It also goes back to “Clone Wars,” to Obi-Wan and Anakin’s relationship.
You can look at Obi-Wan and Luke and you can look at Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan and you can look at two-handers always. It’s always so interesting, and conceptually fascinating because you’re putting two forces together and that’s where the fun happens. That’s where the fun begins. The notion of exploring that here with two legacy characters, which has a different potency, was a part of things when I came on that always seemed very compelling to me.
We spoke a lot about Obi-Wan’s headspace, but what headspace Anakin in right now? Is he even Anakin anymore?
That’s a good question that I’m not going to answer. The degree of what’s going on under the helmet I leave rightfully to the viewer. That’s part of the mystery of that character is that you can’t see, so you lean into what you bring to it. But certainly at this stage of the timeline to me, nobody was the finished article. The people that we meet in “A New Hope” feel like they’ve come to fruition a little bit more. But at this stage, it still felt like there was some story to tell with these characters.
Tala has been such an excellent addition also — how was coming up with that character, working with her and distinguishing this resistance from other iterations?
Deb was very clear that we didn’t want this to feel like it was a resistance,; it’s not the resistance, it’s not the beginning of that, but it is hope. And Star Wars fundamentally, these are stories of hope and you have to be very careful and judicious to where you introduce that concept into the storytelling. We wanted to introduce it in a careful way, but these aren’t soldiers, they’re not freedom fighters, as much as they are people doing the best they can.
Tala is hopefully an opportunity for a great actor to take the ball and run with it. What Indira did was so interesting because she really tried to find the root of the backstory of that character, and… finding what compelled her was really important. She’s such a terrific actor, and hopefully what she contributes is not only to the wider galaxy, but is very specific to Obi-Wan’s story and where he needs to go spiritually and physically in order to become the man he needs to become. He needs a little help along the way. Finding the right actor to bring that to life is the key part of the puzzle — as it was with Leia. And it is with Ewan — as it is with everybody in the cast, there is a variety of really talented people.
Is there anything you can say about the final two episodes?
I think you can expect the fifth one to be called “Episode 5” and the sixth one to be “Episode 6.” Those are the two things I think I can say.
New episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” premiere Wednesdays on Disney+.