Obi-Wan Kenobi begins 10 years after the dramatic events of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” where Obi-Wan Kenobi faced his greatest defeat—the downfall and corruption of his best friend and Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the dark side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.
The Star Wars world overall is incredibly massive and rich with storylines and characters that seemingly come back to the core characters that started it all. With the new mini-series Obi-Wan Kenobi, we the audience get a deeper look into the titular character's emotional journey, re-introduced to familiar names and new and go on an epic journey to and from many worlds.
Head writer and executive producer Joby Harold shares how the core creative team made the important decision on where to start Obi-Wan's journey, his character arc and trajectory, world-building, and the ambitions for the show and creatively keeping his inner child alive during his filmmaking journey that eventually brought him to work within the Star Wars world.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: How did you get on board with this project? As well as your approach to world-building and character development within this very beloved IP?
Joby Harold: I got to meet the lovely people at Lucasfilm and got to talk all things Star Wars and just sort of geek out, because first and foremost, we're all fans and we just talked about those things. And through those conversations, we all realized we sort of shared a like mind. They asked me what I thought of this character, and I made it very clear I love the character a lot, and I thought there was a strong story to be told. And then we talked about the stories they'd been exploring, and where the common ground was; we found a way to sort of bring Obi-Wan's journey to life in this limited series. It's an extraordinary team over there, everybody loves this world so much, and this character so much, and Deborah Chow, the director, is so clear and articulate in her vision.
Speaking to the worlds part of the premise of Star Wars is that you're going to get to new worlds, you're going to get to new creatures when you turn a corner, you never quite know where you're going to find. And you want to keep that surprise alive; it would probably have been a different kind of show, if you just remained on Tatooine for six episodes or in his cave. So, taking him to new places was really exciting. Taking the audience to places that we maybe didn't realize we really had been wanting to go to like Alderaan was really, really fun. And it was very gratifying to be in celebration, and have that feeling that you hoped they would have of like, 'Yes, I get to spend some time on Alderaan! Fantastic.' So, from a world point of view, it felt like something that needed to be achieved.
From his character, it was just about, I think, just looking at it through as simple a lens as possible, and just thinking, ‘Where is he?’ Like, what would you be feeling if you've gone through or if you've had nothing to do but marinate on it for 10 years, just living in the rhythm of a cycle of a day to day with nothing but your thoughts? Where would that take you? And then being true to what they would do to a human being but also to a Jedi and then trying to find who he would be in that moment. And then how far away is he from that? That was the sort of the beginning of it, and then it just sort of grew out of that.
Sadie: Then then knowing where to begin in his timeline within the Star Wars timeline and how to arc his character. I'm curious, did you guys always know that specific starting point and where to begin that character work? I keep thinking about episode three, where we see him at crossroads emotionally and the reality of all of it.
Joby: Yeah, absolutely. At this moment in the timeline, I think was a moment that had already been decided on as an interesting time if Leia was going to be on board, because it puts a Luke at a very specific age where they are most interesting, dynamic wise, to possibly pair with Obi-Wan in his journey. So that was a part of it. Also, it's sort of the halfway point between the prequels and the original trilogy, which feels like the right point to explore a transition between the two. And it married up very well to Ewan's age as an actor; he's right where he should be or very close to where he should be for the age of that character. It was a lovely marriage of all these factors that kind of made it feel like the right moment and also within the timelines to explore the biggest story of Star Wars, because the legacy and the fallout from Revenge of the Sith is so profound. It had obviously been explored in various ways, but to put it in a fairly cinematic way, Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan Kenobi in the middle of that, and feel the tone of that felt like an interesting thing to explore.
Sadie: You've definitely surrounded yourself with some of the best writers who know a thing or two about world-building in your writer’s room. What was that collaboration like and that process of mapping everything out from story to characters?
Joby: It's a massive creative undertaking with a big creative team and a lot of minds with Deb and with Lucasfilm, and with the writers and all of us coming together and sharing a singular vision for what the show could be. And then constantly stress-testing everything and making sure that we're satisfying the fans out there, but also the fan in us - we have ambitions for the show, too. And then fundamentally, just trying to tell their story, and everybody bringing their skill sets to the table and doing that. So it was it was a big undertaking with a lot of very big brains and a massive effort.
Sadie: There’s one character that has stood out to me, and that’s Reva the Third Sister. Her character, her journey, and what her past may have been resonated similarly to Obi-Wan’s emotional crossroads.
Joby: Yeah, we've been exploring Obi-Wan for a while, and Reva was a character that we inherited as we came into looking at the story and bringing it to the screen. I always liked her conceptually, when I came on, because she felt to your point, like somebody who was also at a transition point in her life, and all these characters are, they're all being tested by the world around them. And through that lens she was really, really interesting. It's fundamentally Obi-Wan’s story, but what I liked about the character was that she could push Obi-Wan in a way that other characters couldn't; and that made her a valid and necessary part of the show. As the show continues, she is someone that could feel iconic in her own way, especially with the way she's been brought to life so beautifully by Moses.
Sadie: Tell us about your filmmaking journey, what sparked your interest?
Joby: Just really loving movies. [laughs] But it's the truth, I was brought up by a screen or a movie theater or both, and was always enamored by that medium. And then, got lucky enough to do it for a living - moved to America to do it for a living, in no small part because of a love of Star Wars. And the hope was always that as you work on, you get to get closer and closer to Star Wars, and then one day, I got close enough to be a part of it.
What's interesting is that that love of cinema started to translate to the love of the smaller screen because the opportunity to expand on character and tell these stories in a different way really started to open up and I love specifically that this is a limited series because it gives a beginning and a middle and an end, which is a cinematic conceit; but gives you more character. If this had been a ten-episode series, it would have felt like a harder thing to wrap your arms around, but I love the fact that it could feel like its own beginning, middle, and end story and cinematic in that way. And that spoke very much to the kid in me who just loved watching Star Wars movies.
Sadie: Yeah, with this mini-series, you got to make a bunch of min-Star Wars movies.
Joby: Yeah, and that's what I wanted to see. When I heard they were working on Obi-Wan stuff, that's what I was hoping they were doing. So, it was nice to realize that was true and be a part of it.
Sadie: Are there certain stories or themes that you're interested in exploring through your work?
Joby: I sort of run the gamut really, I love all versions and iterations of storytelling in film and now on television and feel very lucky enough to be a producer and a writer and have a production company. I was lucky enough to get to work within all genres, and there was a time when all I wanted to do was just direct psychological thrillers, like do some Polanski movies, and now, I get to do all these different kinds of things. And I've ended up being in a place that's been lucky enough to do a lot of franchise and IP stuff. And I really enjoy working in different universes and kind of carrying the ball each time, because I am fundamentally like I said, that kid who loves those big stories in those big worlds. And to just have sort of an inherent fascination, for me, because you go back to being a kid playing with the Transformer or playing with the Star Wars figure or reading the comic book, but if you're not keeping that child alive, it sounds cliche, if you're not speaking to that part of you every day, then you start to become sort of cynical and punching a clock and it stops being fun. I have known people and friends who have sort of gone to the dark side there. [laughs]
Obi-Wan Kenobi is exclusively streaming on Disney+.