But that had been a selling point for him too. The character, later revealed to be named Din Djarin, is such a hard-line devotee to Mandalorian rules that he scrupulously keeps his helmet on in the presence of others. That means Pascal can sometimes play the role as a voice actor while a stand-in wears the armor, which frees him to accept other projects. “Maybe I’m a little bit of a commitment-phobe,” he says, “because the coolness of it really excites me, and the life span of it really intimidates me.”
Star wars actors tend to become Starwars actors for life. In the late ’90s, this led McGregor to agonize over playing the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel movies. “I really questioned it a lot,” he says. “I felt like I was part of this new wave of British cinema, really, and that Starwars wasn’t me, that’s not what I stood for. I was this sort of urban, grungy, independent film actor.” The late Sir Alec Guinness notoriously looked down on the space saga when he played the wise old man in the original films. McGregor says he did too, especially after his first installation, 1999’s the phantom menace, suffered punishing reviews: “It was hard because it was such a huge decision to do them, such a big event. It was quite difficult for all of us to deal with that, also knowing you’ve got a couple more to do.”
McGregor was relieved to put the franchise behind him. But in 2017, he was invited to the El Capitan Theater in Hollywood for a marathon screening of every Starwars Movie. “They asked me if I would want to introduce one, and I’ve never done anything like that, but suddenly, it just struck me that I really did want to,” McGregor recalls. Why had his feelings changed? “I don’t know,” he says, scratching a scruffy cheek. “I really do think it has to do with growing up.” He enjoyed seeing people in sleeping bags, pulling an all-nighter with his movies. Kids who’d grown up with the prequels weren’t as cynical as the critics. A few reviewers had even begun to reappraise them. People loved him as Obi-Wan, which made McGregor realize that he did too.
After the screening, McGregor started to get asked The Question nearly every time he gave an interview: Would he ever consider playing Obi-Wan Kenobi again? McGregor always answered in the affirmative, which is good politics but not a contractual obligation. The only time the question really mattered was when McGregor was asked by Lucasfilm’s then head of story Kiri Hart about four years ago. “She just said, ‘We just wanted to know if it’s true. You’ve said you’d do it again. We want to know if you mean it,’ ” McGregor recalls. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I mean it. I would be happy to do it again.’ ”
Lucasfilm intended to make Obi Wan Kenobi as a movie, to be directed by Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry. McGregor would be a producer this time, giving him more say over the story. “I just said, ‘I think that it should be a story about a broken man, a man who’s lost his faith,’ ” he says. “He always has a funny line to say or always seems to be calm and is a good warrior or soldier or whatever, but to see that man come apart, and see what gets him back together again—that’s where we started.”
When the Obi Wan film later evolved into an Obi Wan TV series as part of Lucasfilm’s new yearning for Disney+ content, Daldry departed and Deborah Chow, a director from The Mandalorian, came aboard with the goal to keep the series cinematic in scope. There remained one missing component. McGregor’s prequel costar, Hayden Christensen, had been Anakin Skywalker to his Obi-Wan, brothers-in-arms until their brutal battle on a lava flow in Revenge of the Sith. Still, in the early iterations of the Obi-Wan-in-exile story, Vader wasn’t included.
It’s an ongoing conundrum at Lucasfilm: How much should they showcase legacy characters and how much should they keep them in reserve? Would introduce Vader to a story about Obi-Wan’s exile detract from their fateful meeting on the Death Star in 1977’s Starwars, when Vader strikes down his old friend? Or could a previously unknown encounter actually enhance that moment? “We have these what-if conversations 24/7,” says Michelle Rejwan, an executive producer of Obi Wan and one of the company’s lead development chiefs. “It’s fun to, in your head, peruse the Starwars toy store. ‘Oh, we could have this character, or feature that ship.’ But at the end of the day, we really need to keep it pure about why.”
In the fall of 2019, Chow sat in Christensen’s living room, asking him to return as the most fearsome tyrant in the galaxy. Logs crackled in the fireplace. A cup of herb, lemon, and ginger tea steamed in Chow’s cup. Vader, she told Christensen, would add a new dimension that could ultimately reframe the way fans look at their classic duel in the original movie.
At the time of the meeting, it had been 14 years since revenge of the sith, and the actor assumed his galactic glory days were done. He was happy to be wrong. “This is a character that has come to define my life in so many ways,” he says. “I was originally hired to play a very specific portion of this person’s life. Most of my work was with Anakin. And now I get to come back and explore the character of Darth Vader.”
Technically, you don’t need Christensen for Vader—all you need is the mask, a hulking figure in the suit, and, if you’re lucky, James Earl Jones’s imperious voice. But you do need Christensen to show the audience the hotheaded but compassionate man who was lost when Anakin Skywalker became Vader. “A lot of my conversations with Deborah were about wanting to convey this feeling of strength, but also coupled with imprisonment,” Christensen says. “There is this power other vulnerability, and I think that’s an interesting space to explore.”
When Chow became the showrunner, she championed a rematch between Vader and Kenobi as the Lucasfilm brain trust mulled whether to go that route. Meanwhile, soundstage had been booked in England and then canceled as the story underwent more internal scrutiny, sparking fears from fans that the show itself might go away too. In March 2020, shortly before lockdown began, the decision was finalized: Vader would return.