Where in the universe do you start when talking about Alec Guiness?
It’s difficult what to focus on, besides the obvious of course on this particular day, but in order to give the man the respect he deserves it’s important to put his work in the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original trilogy and then reprised again in Return of the Jedi, in to context against the rest of his career, and dare I say life.
What he was probably most accomplished as was as an actor of stage and was awarded by everyone you could possibly wish to be awarded by in your life time. In his movie work he won Academy awards and BAFTAs (including life time achievement awards with both). In his theatre work he won Evening Standard and Tony awards. He has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and in the UK was both awarded with a CBE and a knighthood. From 1951 until 1960 he was consistently ranked in the top 10 most popular stars at the British box office in the Motion Picture Herald. Usually in the top 5 or 6, and twice at number 1.
So you see, boiling his work down to just Obi-Wan would be an absolute miscarriage. I haven’t even touched on his work as a Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during the second world war, during which he did see active service.
It is certainly no understatement to say that by the time he passed away in 2000 at the age of 86 after a fight with both prostate and liver cancer, he had lived an incredibly full life and that he is absolute British entertainment royalty.
As he worked in both screen acting as well as theatre acting it limited the number of films and tv productions he took part in, being credited with 63 roles in total. These included (besides the Star Wars roles), parts in A Passage to India, Caesar & Cleopatra, Scrooge, Cromwell, Hotel Paradiso, Doctor Zhivago, H.M.S. Defiant, The Prisoner, To Paris with Love and The Bridge on the River Kwai, which outside the Star Wars fanbase is probably what he is most celebrated for.
As this article comes to you on Star Wars day, it is of course important to go in to a little more detail on the role which we all love him for so much… A role and film which he had a somewhat difficult relationship with.
On the one hand he said on numerous occasions that he had no complaints about the work in regards to the financial income and freedom which it gave him – after all it was an incredibly successful film which went on to earn big at the box office and beyond. Also whilst on set he was complimented by just about everyone for his professionalism and courtesy, but with his history before these films, I think that comes as now surprise.
However, he wasn’t really happy with the film and his character, seemingly not convinced by his work in the sci-fi niche. He in later years did not enjoy talking about his role in Star Wars and only took later Obi-Wan roles under the condition that he didn’t need to do publicity for a film which he described as fairy tale rubbish. It was actually his idea to have his character killed off (sorry – spoiler alert – but then if you haven’t seen this most iconic cinema moment, why are you here?). According to George Lucas to help make his character stronger and according to Guiness himself because “I just couldn’t go on speaking those bloody awful, banal lines. I’d had enough of the mumbo jumbo.”
Star Wars was a trail blazing film in so many ways and for a traditional stage actor more used to war films, it is no surprise that in some cases perhaps Star Wars was a little much. He said himself that it was a very loud film and that there was a lot to process, but on the same coin stating that it was very impressive and accomplished.
All we know for sure, from George Lucas himself is that Alec Guiness helped to drive the production and made lots of very good changes to the character, and we know from our own hearts watching this film, that it just wouldn’t be the same today if it hadn’t been for his involvement… So we thank you Sir for putting up with that mumbo jumbo as long as you did!