The story of Obi-Wan Kenobi is one of the best and most beloved in the entire Star Wars franchise.
Obi-Wan became the first Jedi to defeat a Sith in 1,000 years. He didn’t have to face the trials, and he trained the chosen one in Anakin Skywalker. Afterwards, he was able to understand his failure as he watched Anakin succumb to the dark side.
Obi-Wan’s dedication in ensuring Luke’s future as a Jedi—knowing that he could either redeem or defeat the monster that Anakin had become—is a shining example of a life spent trying to right wrongs.
It’s just one of the many things that make Obi-Wan one of the most complex and deepest characters in the entire Star Wars saga, and he’s a character who’s been portrayed by two incredible actors.
Originally given life on the big screen by Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan looked and felt like a weary older man. He was a character who knew his time as a combatant had passed, but he became instantly iconic for his aura of wisdom and knowledge of the Force.
With Ewan McGregor, Obi-Wan became the headstrong young padawan that Guinness’ incarnation had once spoken of. He depicted his eventual transformation into the wise master Jedi and the hermit who rescues Luke from the Sandpeople on Tatooine.
Between the two, who was the better Obi-Wan Kenobi: Alec Guinness or Ewan McGregor? Here we explore both character portrayals to arrive at an answer to that tough question.
The first thing many fans think about when they consider Obi-Wan Kenobi is what he became to Luke Skywalker, even in death.
With his initial introduction in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi-Wan is a dignified elder man who lives in the middle of the desert. He’s largely distrusted by Luke’s Uncle Owen, he’s seemingly able to ward off Sandpeople with his appearance alone.
But the more he starts to speak, the more we get the sense that there’s a depth of wisdom within him.
Alec Guinness oozes the profundity that Obi-Wan is famed for. His nuanced portrayal of the hermit Jedi carries a tangible sense of inner torture that made way to years of understanding—an aspect that gives Guinness’ Kenobi an almost Shakespearean feel.
Ewan McGregor had big shoes to fill with his younger portrayal of Obi-Wan, and of course he couldn’t start off with the wisdom that his elder version had. He starts as the gung-ho padawan to Qui-Gon Jinn.
Throughout McGregor’s decades playing Obi-Wan, he’s grown closer to Alec Guinness’ incarnation, becoming wiser and more assured with his life and purpose. Yet, even to this day, McGregor’s portrayal doesn’t match the effortless sense of knowledge that Guinness exuded.
Use of the Force, Compared
Between the two incarnations of Obi-Wan, the Force itself changed as the series evolved. It started off as an energy that some could willfully manipulate in small ways, but ended up as a magical power that went against George Lucas’ original intentions.
However, Obi-Wan’s use of the Force remained consistent throughout.
Although Guinness had more style when using the Force—especially when he played the mind trick on the Stormtrooper—it’s Ewan McGregor who took the use of the Force to a whole new level.
McGregor further developed Obi-Wan’s use of the Force throughout his time as the character, first by using it recklessly as a padawan, then by maturing and understanding its power in more subtle ways.
We can see where McGregor started and Guinness finished with Obi-Wan’s maturity in using the Force. For showing that journey so well, this one goes to Ewan McGregor.
Lightsaber Duels, Compared
The one thing fans want to see more than anything else in Star Wars is a great lightsaber duel. For all the use of the Force and character power plays, a well-crafted lightsaber duel feels like the very pinnacle of the action that Star Wars cinema can offer.
So, who did this best?
It’s a slightly unfair comparison, as Alec Guinness only fought once with his lightsaber and that first on-screen duel between Jedi and Sith wasn’t as wholly engaging as the ones that came afterwards.
Of course, that duel was punctuated by the best ending to any lightsaber duel, with a look that said much more than we first knew.
But based on pure fighting skill with a lightsaber, as well as the emotional resonance that comes with the context of all fights fought, Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi is untouchable.
First, he fought alongside Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon Jinn in Duel of the Fates, where McGregor’s Obi-Wan cut Darth Maul in half and avenged Qui-Gon’s fall moments earlier. Then, after several good fights between the films, he eventually fought Anakin on Mustafar.
The Mustafar fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is the best of them all for its emotional depth and skill displayed, which captivates us as we watch—all the way to Obi-Wan’s famed high-ground victory.
No matter who you compared against McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, he’s the one that’s coming out on top as far as lightsaber duels.
The “Hello There” Factor, Compared
While Alec Guinness was the first to utter Obi-Wan’s iconic catchphrase in “Hello there,” it’s Ewan McGregor who made it into a worldwide sensation that lives on to this day.
It’s so popular and so beloved that the Scottish actor hears the line everywhere he goes, and he even uses it himself in playful ways here and there, particularly in fan interactions.
So, this one deservedly goes to Ewan McGregor.
Longevity in Pop Culture, Compared
It’s hard to secure an enduring spot in pop culture; the ephemeral nature of its ever-shifting appetites makes it borderline impossible. Yet, Obi-Wan Kenobi as a character has somehow done it.
While Ewan McGregor pretty much has the “Hello there!” catchphrase copyrighted by this point, it’s the image of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi that lives longer in pop culture memory.
Ewan McGregor has a sense of ownership over the character that Alec Guinness doesn’t, mainly because McGregor developed the character of Obi-Wan over a longer period. Even so, Alec Guinness still wears the shoes that Ewan McGregor longs to fill as Obi-Wan Kenobi.
McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi might be the better version of the character, Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi is far more iconic.