Canadian director Deborah Chow is well aware of weight of expectation that comes with telling a Star Wars story. After all, she helmed a few episodes of The Mandalorian and the new Obi-Wan Kenobi series.
The Toronto native knows how iconic that universe’s characters are, but she didn’t let the pressure get to her when directing Obi-Wan. In fact, she relished the opportunity to tell a new story wedged in between two trilogies.
“We’ve got canon all around us that we know we need to respect, so it was just trying to find a way to tell a story that truly needed to be told, but that fit within the parameters,” she tells Complex Canada.
Allaying her fears may also have been fellow Canadian Hayden Christensen, who reprises his role as Darth Vader in the Disney+ series after 17 years. Chow says they had an instant bond because of their roots.
Obi-Wan Kenobi follows the titular Jedi Master as he contends with the consequences of his greatest defeat: the downfall and corruption of his one-time friend and apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who turned to the Dark Side as evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.
We caught up with Chow to discuss the legacy of the series, the Canadian connection, and the potential future of the Obi-Wan series.
I read that your experience on The Mandalorian set the stage for Obi-Wan. How so?
For me, like honestly, I don’t think I could have done this show if I hadn’t done The Mandalorian first. Just coming into the Star Wars world and learning everything about it and also having great mentors like David John. Also, the technology, because we use a lot of the same technology that we did on Mandalorian in the series.
How do you tell a character-based story across six episodes when there’s so much history and a massive fan base?
Yeah, that’s why there was so much development on this show. It’s a challenging story to tell, like we’re in between two trilogies. We have some of the most iconic characters that exist, so that was the thing for us, which was really making sure that we respected the canon but at the same time trying to tell a new story that was at a different point in their lives.
When you did your deep dive into research, was there anything you didn’t know about the universe and wanted to add to this story?
I think I focused a lot on the prequels this time around. Like I’ve done sort of a lot of research for Mandalorian but because this one was so connected to the prequels, I rewatched them many times. And I think, you know, one of the biggest things as I was getting ready and doing a lot of research for the show was just really having this huge appreciation for the storytelling of the prequels and how complex it was and how rich it was and how much it gave to the galaxy—that if we hadn’t had the prequels that we wouldn’t have the Star Wars universe.
“I loved the idea of getting to bring a young woman into the Dark Side, because there hadn’t been that many women in live action yet.”
What were you most excited about fans of McGregor’s Obi-Wan experiencing with the new show?
I think that aspect of getting to go a little deeper with the characters and to get into them in a limited series format, to have more time with them was quite exciting and, you know, just getting to bring these two characters back together. I never thought I would see it, so it’s very exciting.
I love that there’s a young, Dark Side female in this. Was that something you championed from the get-go?
I definitely felt that, you know, especially because of the legacy aspect of this. And we had so many characters where you already knew what happened before and after to them, which is always challenging, that we needed some new elements and we needed some different elements. So I loved the idea of getting to bring a young woman into the Dark Side, because there hadn’t been that many women in live action yet. So I was really excited to get to do the character rebound.
“I think you just have an instant bond, especially when you are living in a different country.”
When it came to the entire series and putting it together, what would you say was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge by far was always the story, just because of the nature of how challenging it is with being between two trilogies. So that was the most challenging thing because we’ve got canon all around us that we know we need to respect, so it was just trying to find a way to tell a story that truly needed to be told, but that fit within the parameters.
All your actors had the best things to say about you, but what they all echoed was the healthy leadership you cultivated on set. How much thought goes into your leadership style?
I’ve worked on a lot of sets and I’ve been in lower positions to where you feel it and I always feel like it is top-down. And I think what the actors are trying to do, it’s hard enough and filmmaking in general is hard enough that if you can create an environment that feels calm and it feels comfortable, you bring out the best in people. So that’s what I always try to do.
I also think it’s because you and Hayden are fellow Canadians!
[Laughs.] Yes, definitely. But I do like calm.
You know, you and Hayden have the Toronto club going for you. Did you talk about growing up in this city?
We definitely did. You know, I met Hayden for the first time, just outside of Toronto. So it was really nice getting to meet him on our home turf. And I think you just have an instant bond, especially when you are living in a different country. I think you really feel how Canadian you are, you know, having lived in the U.S. for a long time. So I think it was something that was really nice for us and we just understood each other in a way.
There was special screening in Toronto, where you grew up, for your fans. How much does that mean to you?
It’s pretty amazing. I think for both Hayden and I, we get to come home and then we can actually have our family and friends come to the screening. So it’s a really nice way to end and it’s really nice, and it feels like Canada has done such a nice job of supporting us, so we’re so grateful.
And what’s next for you? Do you have a storyline in mind for the future?
For me, what’s next is vacation. I’ve been working on this for three years, so I’m very excited to have some time off. I don’t know where it’ll go in the future. I mean, it was conceived to be just sort of the one story but you never know where it’ll go in the future.