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Saga Obi-Wan Kenobi: Ewan McGregor vs Alec Guinness

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by darth_mccartney, Mar 17, 2013.


Who's the better Obi Wan: McGregor vs Guinness

  1. Ewan McGregor (Episodes I - III)

    100 vote(s)
  2. Alec Guinness (Episodes IV - VI)

    60 vote(s)
  1. d_arblay

    d_arblay Jedi Master star 4

    May 26, 2005
    It's very hard to compare the two performances. One is not a recreation of the other. Both actors are playing opposite ends of the same character. The hermit, "crazy old man" Obi-Wan is neither the same in personality or function in the story as was the case during the PT. The PT Obi-Wan was a well-respected General, with many like-minded people around him, at a time of relative comfort. I liked what Ewan initially did with him as a supporting character in TPM and the evolution he showed us by the time we got to ROTS. He's a very subtly written character but the development and little nuances, if you look for them, are a delight. By ANH, Obi-Wan is much more weary, broken and cynical than ever before, and therefore, Guinness and McGregor's jobs were very different.

    Both deserve high praise, though I feel McGregor deserves extra credit, not just making the character his own and equally memorable in a different way, but for impersonating and hinting so brilliantly at the many aspects of the man who played it before. There are times during ROTS where I can almost feel the two versions morphing into each other - the gravity and emotion in such a simple line as "Padme, I must find him" is particularly wonderful and chillingly close to Alec Guinness. That's all down to McGregor and the dedication and time he took to getting it right. By comparison, given Guinness' ability (I've no doubt he's the greater actor of the two btw) he was near-enough phoning it in during ANH. That's how good the guy was. By his standards, he could phone stuff in and still get nominated for an Academy Award.
    kainee and darthfettus2015 like this.
  2. Darth_Nub

    Darth_Nub Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Apr 26, 2009
    Totally agree with all of this.

    No way. 'Phoning it in' was what Harrison Ford did in ROTJ. Minimum effort.
    Alec Guinness in SW/ANH, though, really created that character - he added the extra touch of class and dignity to the old desert hermit that GL came up with (much as Anthony Daniels effectively created the character of C-3PO - even after shooting, GL still intended to dub the lines with someone sounding like an American used car dealer).

    In a way, it was Alec Guinness who helped add that extra substance to the backstory of the Jedi Knights. All that was required for the role was someone to play an addled old Merlin/Gandalf-type of character, but it was Alec Guinness' performance that added the extra element which hinted at a grand history we could only imagine for more than two decades.

    Yes, he was an actor punching well below his weight, but he certainly wasn't just walking through the role with no effort, he was a consummate professional who contributed everything he could, and in doing so, added to what the writer had come up with, as all good actors do (or should do). Marlon Brando in The Godfather, or Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson in just about everything they've done.

    ESB & ROTJ, though, yes, he pretty much phoned it in. He's been quoted as saying that when he didn't feel like saying a line in ESB, he'd suggest that the little green thing should say it instead.
    kainee and darthfettus2015 like this.
  3. only one kenobi

    only one kenobi Jedi Master star 4

    Nov 18, 2012
    Euugh... I'm glad that he put that idea to bed. In terms of dubbing Darth Farmer out of existence, totally reasonable. But...C-3PO could have become Star Wars' original Jar-Jar, utterly jarring and off-putting.

    I agree with this. There are certain actors who's impact upon the films have far out-weighed the parts as written. Liam Neeson, I think, managed to do the same with Qui-Gon. In terms of Ewan McGregor, the challenge he had was that he was following Guinness. The best compliment I can offer is that in ROTS I don't see McGregor at all. I see Obi-Wan.

    kainee likes this.
  4. Carbon1985

    Carbon1985 Jedi Knight star 3

    Apr 23, 2013
    If you watch the SW OT documentaries, all of the actors said that Guinness was the most professional (and would scold the actor's if they clowned around too much) and I think that goes with his type of generation, where they take EVERY role seriously and would never think of phoning-in a performance. Guinness steals every scene he is in, and part of that is he is such a good actor and part of it is everyone else was nowhere as good.

    It's funny cause alot of my older brother's friends (who were in highschool in 1977) and are just SW'77 fans, do not like the sequels (and probably never saw the PT) simply because they think that the movies are not the same without Guinness.
  5. d_arblay

    d_arblay Jedi Master star 4

    May 26, 2005
    I have no doubt that Guinness was well prepared and professional in the role. All I'm saying though, is that given his high standards, he was "near-enough" phoning it in - i.e. he wasn't all that fussed about the character and it wasn't a part that tested a man of such high ability to any great extent. What he did was exactly what he needed to do - and such things were never really going to test him. I'm not saying he wasn't trying. Perhaps my words were not well chosen. But I think the point is valid. All that said, it's still a wonderful portrayal and does plenty to solidify Obi-Wan's position as my favourite character in the saga.
    kainee likes this.
  6. oxidious88

    oxidious88 Jedi Youngling

    Jul 3, 2013
    These characters, being the same person, were still completely different. They did an amazing job showing both ends of the spectrum. From Obi-Wan in his adolescence to being an old man accepting his fate. These were (acting wise) two completely different personalities. This is because of the age gap. Young Obi Wan was obviously more naive, outgoing, still believed that the empire would never rise to power. Old Obi Wan was more accepting of the hand he was dealt and focused on making sure Luke found his way.

    All in all they showed how the character changed and was affected by actions cause by himself or others throughout his life, all without even knowing each other's mindset for the character.
    kainee likes this.
  7. squir1y

    squir1y Jedi Master star 3

    Feb 1, 2003
    Well... when I viewed the original trilogy I thought Guinness did a great job with the role and Obi-Wan Kenobi was an interesting character, but took a backseat to the other characters. (Yes, I realize he was supposed to, but nonetheless he was an action figure that wasn't played with much).

    But as for Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan, he turned the character into my second favorite Star Wars character of all time after Han Solo. So yeah, I guess it was all about the material. But when I think of Obi-Wan Kenobi, I think of Ewan. When I think of Ben Kenobi, I think of Guinness.
    kainee likes this.
  8. CT-867-5309

    CT-867-5309 Force Ghost star 6

    Jan 5, 2011
    I've been back and forth on this for years. I think Guinness was more consistent, but Ewan had higher highs and lower lows. Then there's the characters themselves to consider. I like PT Obi-Wan better by a significant margin, which makes me want to choose Ewan.

    I think the characters themselves are relevant in the discussion, as you're not asking which actor you like better, but "who's the better Obi-Wan", which is the character. If one actor gets stuck with a lesser character, that's not really their fault, but it matters.

    PT era Obi-Wan is better than OT era Obi-Wan imo, and Ewan got to play PT era Obi-Wan. So Ewan it is.
    kainee likes this.
  9. Randwulf Crescentmoon

    Randwulf Crescentmoon Jedi Master star 4

    May 25, 2013
    Alec Guinness. He set the standard, and Ewan McGregor even modeled his performances in the PT after Guinness’ performances in the OT.

    To be honest though, both actors have done such a wonderful job in introducing us to the character, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Ewan’s performance took an already established role (one that fans understandably viewed as irreplaceable) and he made believers out of just about everybody that no one had to replace Alec Guinness, but someone could instead build upon the legacy which Guinness provided us. In the PT, Ewan presented Obi-Wan in a different light than we saw him in during the OT, giving him a more stern, stubborn demeanor in TPM. Then, gradually displaying the evolution into the Ben Kenobi we all knew from the OT. Ewan McGregor did a marvelous job at reenacting a masterpiece, and even lent us his own artist’s rendering, flawlessly recapturing the magic of the original.

    As for Guinness, what is there to say that hasn’t been said already? ‘Twas Guinness who gave Ben Kenobi credibility, and ‘twas Guinness who made me cheer for yet another Star Wars character throughout the saga. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to take out a 2nd mortgage on my home just to afford a Star Wars toy, and Guinness' Obi-Wan was no exception. Tremendous actor, and that’s an understatement.
    kainee and Darth Pwn like this.
  10. Isabella Skywalker

    Isabella Skywalker Jedi Youngling

    Aug 3, 2013
    I liked both. But I voted for Alec Guinness 'cause he's how ObiWan is really. A wise mentor.
  11. Stormtrooper Dave

    Stormtrooper Dave Jedi Youngling star 1

    Jul 23, 2013
    Ewan MacGregor's Obi-Wan was undoubtedly the best overall character in the prequels, and his own development from Qui-Gon Jinn's padawan to skilled, confident mentor of Anakin Skywalker through the course of the three films set the stage for what the older Obi-Wan's responsibility was in the original trilogy. So I'd say MacGregor's Obi-Wan is better, because he holds the prequels together when the other actors are sometimes bogged down with clunky dialogue.
    skyrimcat9416 and kainee like this.
  12. skyrimcat9416

    skyrimcat9416 Jedi Knight star 1

    Nov 1, 2013
    Both did a great job with the role.

    But I got give to Ewan McGroger. Why? Well for one, I grew up with portrayal of Obi-Wan.

    Plus, Ewan completely fleshed out the character and he had a much bigger role in the films than Alec did. We see Ewan's Obi-Wan go from three stages: a young Padawan, to a Jedi Knight, to a Jedi Master. I loved seeing him developing his relationship with Anakin as well.

    I also loved how youthful Ewan's Obi-Wan was and liked his sense of humor.

    As someone said in this thread earlier, Alec started the role, but Ewan finished it.
    Darth Dominikkus likes this.
  13. Cushing's Admirer

    Cushing's Admirer Force Ghost star 7

    Jun 8, 2006
    I think they both did fine jobs. They simply are at very different places in life. Alec's Old Ben gets a lot of undeserved flack.
  14. MOC Vober Dand

    MOC Vober Dand Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jan 6, 2004
    They were both great. Poor old Alec / Ben had the tougher job in the sense that the story kept changing which didn't always reflect on the character that well.
  15. CommanderDrenn

    CommanderDrenn Jedi Knight star 4

    Oct 19, 2013
    Both played their respective roles very well, in my opinion. It's hard for me to compare, as one is playing a head-strong padawan and wise knight, and one is playing a geriatric old wizard. I really have no preference, as both are excellent actors.
    skyrimcat9416 likes this.
  16. Bob Octa

    Bob Octa Jedi Knight star 2

    May 6, 2013
    I'm in my thirties, so I grew up with the OT. But to echo what some others have said, it's Ewan's Obi-Wan that made me a fan of the character. Before, I had liked the OT Ben Kenobi a lot, but he was just one of many characters. After the prequels, he's my favorite SW character after Luke.
    skyrimcat9416 likes this.
  17. Moviefan2k4

    Moviefan2k4 Jedi Master star 4

    Dec 29, 2009
    In terms of "better" its not really a fair comparison, because Alec Guiness was in the equivalent of one whole film in the OT. Ewan McGregor had much more time to develop his version of the character, which is why I like the younger Obi-Wan more as a whole.
  18. fuzzbox77

    fuzzbox77 Jedi Knight star 1

    Mar 31, 2008
    No comparison at all. Since Guinness established the character for all the traits we had been accustomed to - focus of the scene and dialogue, little nuances of sarcasm (e.g: Cantina conversation with Han, the laughable look he gives when Ford says "She may not look like much but she's got it where it counts, kid!" and even onto the eyes engulfed during the lightsaber duel with Vader. Even if Guinness didn't want to be involved with TESB/ROTJ, his performance didn't detract until ROTJ - but even his smile as he looks on with a puppet and Sebastian Shaw (I won't use Christensen as he looks out of place) - it rounds of a character.

    McGregor on the other hand tries to add his own persona to that established character, but the editing process and even his delivery of multiple lines detract from the character he is meaning to play. He gives it more of an edge by ROTS, some ropey delivery during a number of scenes - but tries to emulate the Kenobi that was established prior to the prequels without the ability to fully grasp the nuances of Guinness.

    We can all say they are two different echoes of a character - but my bet is on Guinness. Without Guinness we would never have had McGregor's tainted well spoken and out of place vocalisation in TPM, his faltered fake laugh in the elevator scene in AOTC or camp delivery during his holding cell in AOTC. We can all say that Guinness looked like he wasn't trying in that film or this that and the other - but would you think that without knowing those stories that may taint your view???

    All for the already established Kenobi - Sir Alec.
    Sarge likes this.
  19. MOC Vober Dand

    MOC Vober Dand Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jan 6, 2004
    Would it be fair to say that the fact that these two guys both did a great job would be one of the few things that the vast majority of SW fans agree on?
    Cushing's Admirer likes this.
  20. Erkan12

    Erkan12 Jedi Knight star 4

    Nov 27, 2013
  21. Pearlsaber

    Pearlsaber Jedi Master star 4

    Jan 29, 2013
    I think Ewan had the best performance. But, this could be partially to the fact that Guinness had very little screen time after Ep. IV.
  22. Bullhead CIty

    Bullhead CIty Jedi Knight star 3

    Dec 1, 2012
    I voted for Alec. He established the role, and Ewan does a great job emulating and mimicking Alec's approach to the role.

    Don't get me wrong. I'd still love to go on a weekend bender with Ewan. I think he's a great guy and actor.

    In addition, Alec's words seem to carry more weight than Ewan's do. Maybe that's because I'm Ewan's age, and his words seem from a peer? Whereas Alec is viewed as an elder to me.
  23. DRush76

    DRush76 Jedi Master star 4

    Jan 25, 2008
    I changed my mind. McGregor was the better Obi-Wan.
  24. Polydroxol

    Polydroxol Jedi Knight star 2

    Jan 27, 2014
    McGregor is younger, better- looking, and gets to do a lot of eye-catching action scenes. Guinness is an old man who's whole role is based on the strength of his acting and dialouge alone. The fact that we are even comparing them in an action film series... Guinness by a Super Star Destroyer.
  25. PiettsHat

    PiettsHat Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Jan 1, 2011

    To be honest, although I'm sure some people voted for McGregor based on the reasons you listed, I would imagine that many (perhaps even most) have quite different reasons. The OP's question isn't "who is the better Obi-Wan," but which version of the character is your favorite. I prefer McGregor's Obi-Wan not because I think he's a better actor than Guinness, but because I think his character is better realized. The problem has more to do with the writing. For Guinness, the biggest issue I have is his "certain point of view" explanation for his deception of Luke. I just don't believe it and, for me, it really prevents me from elevating Obi-Wan as my favorite character. I think it needed to be addressed more within the context of the story and for there to be greater fallout/consequences for the lie.