The Famous Actor Who Turned Down The Role Of Obi-Wan Kenobi (And Vader)
Have You Heard?
Throughout the years, the late Sir Alec Guiness, Ewan McGregor, and James Arnold Taylor have all put their stamp on the character of the illustrious Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sir Alec Guinesss portrayed the character in the original trilogy, which consists of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Later, when George Lucas created the prequel trilogy, Ewan McGregor took over the role of the younger Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. He also did brief voiceover work for a scene in The Rise of Skywalker. Additionally, McGregor is set to reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the upcoming live-action Disney+ series Obi-Wan Kenobi, set for release in 2022. James Arnold Taylor voiced Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars animated series, as well as a couple of brief appearances in Star Wars Rebels.
What might not be widely known to many Star Wars fans (myself included) is that Sir Alec Guiness was not the only person to considered for the role of the Jedi Knight-in-exile Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope. The other leading contender for the role at the time was Japanese cinematic legend Toshiro Mifune. Mifune had made a name for himself as an actor, having starred in several films by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kirosawa. Some of his repertoire included classics like Rashomon, Yojimbo, and The Seven Samurai. George Lucas' wish to cast Mifune in a role was not entirely coincidental, as Mifune was one of Kirosawa's favorite actors. In addition, Mifune starred in Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. The 1958 classic was one of Lucas' primary inspirations for A New Hope. In addition, he based many of Obi-Wan Kenobi's characteristics, personality, and fighting style (and that of Jedi in general) on Japanese samurai warriors.
During Tokyo Con 2015, Mifune's daughter, Mika Mifune, revealed that her father had turned down the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi due to concerns about the film appearing "cheap." The quality of special effects at the time was not as refined as it is today, and he was worried that the film would inadvertently tarnish the image of the honorable samurai warriors, an important part of historical Japanese culture. There was even some discussion of having Mifune don the Darth Vader armor instead, as the mask would hide his face. This idea was also subsequently rejected. In the end, the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi went to Sir Alec Guiness, and the role of Darth Vader went to David Prowse and James Earl Jones (vocal) for A New Hope, and the rest of the original trilogy.
Upon learning such revelations, it is very tempting to try to imagine an alternate reality where Toshiro Mifune had taken either role instead of Guiness or Prowse and how his portrayal of either might have changed how we perceived those characters. I am also extremely curious about whether or not Mifune, who passed away in 1997, ever saw A New Hope or any films in the original trilogy, and if he ever felt differently about his rejection of these roles. Unfortunately, there is no information about whether Mifune ever saw the films or whether or not he might have felt vindicated (or otherwise) by his previous concerns about how A New Hope ultimately turned out. Interestingly, despite many agreeing on his stellar portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope, the late Sir Alec Guiness was critical of his own involvement in the Star Wars franchise, albeit for different reasons. He consequently sought a drastically reduced role for himself in the later films in the original trilogy.
Whatever Mifune's reasons for rejecting the role may have been, his performance in Kurosawa's films inspired one of the most iconic and enduring franchises. Furthermore, it is important to note that not only was Lucas incorporating the samurai warrior culture into his vision of the Jedi and the Star Wars universe, he was also working to bring diversity to the cast of A New Hope.
Written By Mara Butler
Source: Hollywood Reporter
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