While we wait for the Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone movie, let’s celebrate his recent appearance on the small screen.
One of the highlights from season 3 of “Star Wars Rebels” was the “Twin Suns” episode. This self-contained story within the season focuses on Ezra’s journey to Tatooine to track down Ben Kenobi, the reclusive Jedi Master (in the time “Rebels” takes place, he’s no longer called Obi-Wan). But we soon learn Ezra has actually been lured to the desert planet by Darth Maul, who wants a final battle with Kenobi (yes, it turns out Maul did survive after being cut in half by Kenobi in “The Phantom Menace.” More on that here.).
The episode concludes with a thrilling (albeit, brief) final duel between Kenobi and Maul after the Sith Lord senses that Kenobi is doing more than just hiding from the Empire on Tatooine: he’s watching over someone (that being then-child Luke Skywalker).
But a big highlight is hearing that sweet Alec Guinness voice in the episode.
Guinness, the English actor who originated the character in “Star Wars: A New Hope,” died in 2000, but his legacy has continued on and now entertains new generations of “Star Wars” fans through video games and cartoon series. And the man who has done much of the Guinness voice matching for those performances is Stephen Stanton.
The veteran voice actor is no stranger to “Star Wars.” Along with voicing “Star Wars Rebels” character AP-5 and Admiral Raddus in “Rogue One,” he also voices another legendary character from the saga, Grand Moff Tarkin (voice matching the late Peter Cushing), on “Rebels” and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
But his Guinness as Kenobi voice work is what got him his start doing “Star Wars” gigs.
Having always toyed with the Guinness voice since seeing “Star Wars” as a kid, he got a shot to prove his talents in 2004 when he auditioned to voice Kenobi for the video game, “Star Wars: Battlefront II.” He got the job and has since been the go-to guy when Lucasfilm needs to feature Kenobi in one of its projects.
However, unlike the past, where he usually gets a call to brush off his Guinness voice and get to the recording booth, for “Twin Suns” the job came up a bit randomly.
Stanton and the rest of the “Star Wars Rebels” cast were finishing up a recording session in May of last year (it was for the “Double Agent Droid” episode, where his character AP-5 sings at the end) when he and one of the series’ creators Dave Filoni began talking about a recent “Star Wars” video game and Stanton happened to mentioned that he recorded Kenobi for that game.
“Dave said, ‘Oh, that’s right, you do Ben Kenobi,'” Stanton recalled to Business Insider. “He said, ‘Give me a little Ben Kenobi right now.’ So I was in the room with my castmates and my mind went blank, I could not think of a single line. And then I think it was Vanessa Marshall (who voices Hera Syndulla on the show) that said, ‘Do that ‘scum and villainy‘ line.'”
Stanton went into the recording booth and did it a few times and waited as Filoni and a few others on the other side of the glass talked. Because Stanton was in the booth, he couldn’t hear what they were saying.
The session ended and, as Stanton was walking out, Filoni grabbed him.
“He said, ‘Look, we’ve got this idea, it’s kind of an experiment right now, we’re thinking of doing an episode where we wrap up this confrontation Kenobi has with Darth Maul,'” Stanton said. “But it’s very temporary, we might have you come in and do a temp track.”
Time passed and Stanton got a call from Filoni to come in and do some lines as Kenobi for what would become the “Twin Suns” episode. Soon after, Stanton got word that the episode was a go, and he went back and did a day’s work recording all of the Kenobi dialogue for the episode alongside Taylor Grey, who voices Ezra on the show, and Sam Witwer as Darth Maul. Stanton also went in three other times to record rewrites that were done — in one case only two words in a sentence of Kenobi’s dialogue was changed. But Stanton said that’s how much attention went into bringing Kenobi back.
“They took a lot of care in the character and made sure they got exactly what they wanted,” Stanton said of how Lucasfilm worked.
And Stanton has his own meticulous process to pull off recreating the voices of legends — whether it be Guinness, Cushing, or the late film critic Roger Ebert, which he voiced in the 2014 documentary, “Life Itself.“
Stanton has compiled hours of audio and video reference files on people he voice matches. For Cushing, he even has a hard-to-find book-on-tape the actor did in the 1980s of his own autobiography. And to master Guinness, he likes to go back and watch the TV interviews he did to promote “A New Hope.”
This is partly to get the voice down, but Stanton uses the material to try to channel the person so he can understand how they might approach the scene he’s voicing.
“I take it very seriously,” Stanton said. “You’re not only honouring the person, you’re honouring their performance, their creation. It’s fun, but it can be stressful at times. You’re really trying to understand how they built that character in the first place and hopefully you can do a good job bringing it to life.”
The biggest satisfaction for Stanton doing the “Twin Suns” episode was seeing the glowing reaction by the fans. Being a “Star Wars” fan himself, he didn’t want to let them down.
“When you’re doing an original character it’s always exciting, but when you’re getting into those iconic characters where everybody already has an image in their mind, they have their own expectations about the character, you don’t want to disappoint them,” Stanton said. “I’m glad the fans accepted it. When you get the call from Lucasfilm and they say people here are asking if we put in outtakes from the original film for the Kenobi dialogue, it puts you at ease.”
Watch the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul from the “Twin Suns” episode below:
The complete third season of “Star Wars Rebels” is available on Blu-ray/DVD August 29.
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