‘Obi-Wan’ Writer Joby Harold on That Leia Surprise and Filling Gaps in the Character’s Story: ‘Certainly It Was a Risk’

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“Star Wars” fans were greeted with a special surprise when they tuned in to the first episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” last week on Disney+. This was not necessarily the “man on the run” story that had been teased in the marketing, and instead had a second main character that was unveiled alongside Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan: Young Leia.

Indeed, the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and Padme is 10 years old in the timeline of “Obi-Wan” and is in need of rescuing by the Jedi now going by “Ben” (McGregor). Writer Joby Harold told TheWrap that he delighted in keeping this a surprise, but confessed to feeling some anxiety that this present was about to be unwrapped, not knowing how fans might react.

“Credit to the way the show had been marketed and teased, which was something that I tried to build in, that it could exist as seemingly this kind of ‘Man on the Run being hunted’ situation, which I felt like there was enough meat on the bone for it to be that show in the audience’s imagination,” Harold said. “The Leia of it all and sort of hiding the football there, which is quite delightful, was the great anxiety I had the night before the premiere, because there was no way of knowing if the audience would wrap their arms around that idea. So it was so lovely to see the degree to which it was embraced.”

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When asked about rumors that originally it was Luke with whom Obi-Wan was paired in the series, Harold confessed that was “never in a version” he had heard of. When he signed on as head writer of the Disney+ series, he was enthused about filling in gaps in Leia’s story that were only alluded to in Carrie Fisher’s iconic message in “A New Hope.”

“There’s so many pieces of that puzzle that sort of point to a different story that we hadn’t heard before between those two characters,” Harold said. “‘A New Hope’ is built on that relationship at the beginning, in a way that had never truly sort of been understood. The idea that we could complete something that the audience maybe hadn’t even realized needed to be completed in order for the most famous message of all time to really take hold felt like a really interesting opportunity. As did the fact that, you know, Leia named her so Ben. There’s pieces of the puzzle in there that kind of makes it inevitable, if we’re contributing the sort of ‘Episode III and a Half’ to bigger canon, that hopefully makes it seem now in retrospect like, ‘Oh, yeah, and of course, that’s what this should be about.’ But certainly, it was a risk.”

Capturing the spirit of Carrie Fisher was no small order, especially in a younger actor.

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Disney+/Lucasfilm

“The most amazing thing about what Carrie Fisher did with that character is she made her so indelible with her spirit,” Harold added. “And on and off the screen, she was such a force to be reckoned with, as an actor and that character… The idea that you could capture that spirit, in a younger actor, if you could find the right actor — which we were so lucky to do — and hold on to that spirit. Try not to make it sort of fall into the traps of just being a precocious and funny kid, and instead hopefully build or find the building blocks that eventually lead to the character that we know. And where does that spirit come from? How is it forged? What’s the gauntlet that she had to run?”

Vivien Lyra Blair fills the role of Young Leia, embodying the spirit of Carrie Fisher while revealing to audiences an iteration of this iconic princess we’ve never seen before.

In the early days of writing, Harold turned to classic two-hander films for inspiration on how to handle the Obi-Wan/Leia dynamic.

“It was just finding that fine line of how far is too far,” Harold said. “But I had a bunch of fun comps at the beginning like ‘Paper Moon’ and ‘Midnight Run’, all these great two-handers, and could just sort of imagine where she could fit within that sort of paradigm. But it eventually comes down to the actor, and to Deborah [Chow] and the great work that they were doing on the day. But yeah, hopefully, she’s a worthy contribution today to that character.”

Based on initial fan reactions, the “Obi-Wan” team nailed it.

New episodes of “Obi-Wan Kenobi” debut Wednesdays on Disney+.

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