The Obi-Wan Kenobi series features something we have been hoping for since practically the moment the series was announced: a prequel-era flashback with the Jedi Master and his Padawan Anakin Skywalker, played once again by Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen. While many Star Wars fans flew online to share their excitement, some criticized the apparent lack of CGI de-aging on the two actors. It’s true, both McGregor and Christensen look very much like their current selves in the scene. We’ll likely know more about the process when Lucasfilm releases its customary behind the scenes documentary focused on the show, but it does seem some CGI has been used, but not nearly enough to knock decades off of their appearance – and that’s a good thing.
For starters, everyone wanted to see McGregor and Christensen specifically back as Obi-Wan and Anakin. Considering the flashback is pre-Attack of the Clones, that would put Anakin somewhere in his late teens, and Obi-Wan in his mid-30s – clearly, heavy CGI would be necessary to properly de-age both of them. By using such a light touch, the show has allowed us to see both McGregor and Christensen as they actually are, rather than the ultra-smooth, uncanny valley versions of themselves. That goes doubly so for Christensen, who has, so far in the series, either been hidden behind that imposing Darth Vader helmet or buried under the makeup that creates Anakin’s burn scars. Concealing Christensen once more – and in what’s likely to be his only lengthy flashback scene – would mean we essentially don’t get to really see him as Anakin Skywalker again.
There’s also no need to try and perfectly recreate the past. We all know that both actors are older than the last time we saw them in the franchise, and there’s absolutely no story-related reason to pretend otherwise. From the moment we saw that Padwan braid, it was obvious who we were looking at and from where in the Star Wars timeline. Luckily, the show trusts its audience enough to understand that.
After all, Lucasfilm is no stranger to the kind of VFX wizardry capable of turning back the clock. Just look at the version of Luke Skywalker present in the Disney Plus shows: with the help of deep fakes and a digitally synthesized voice, he looks and sounds as if he’s strolled right off the set of Return of the Jedi. The technology is undeniably impressive, but it carries with it a whole host of issues. As Jon Favreau himself points out in the documentary about The Mandalorian season 2 finale, deep fakes raise problems of determining authenticity – and then there are the moral problems to consider. Take the digital reconstruction of Tarkin in Rogue One, for example. Peter Cushing died in 1994: can brining him back to the screen decades later really be ethical? Of course, erasing some wrinkles in Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t quite on the same level – but it’s easy to argue that normalizing this technology might not be a good thing.
There’s also no guarantee that de-aging will be effective. As excellent as young Luke looked in The Book of Boba Fett, it’s undeniable that not every similar effort is up to scratch – take Catherine Keener in The Adam Project, which drew strong reactions online. Even The Mandalorian season 2 finale didn’t quite get Luke right (though, The Book of Boba Fett did better). Almost the entirety of Obi-Wan Kenobi episode 5 revolves around the flashback. The training session mirrors the cat and mouse game played between Vader and Obi-Wan in the present, and through a glimpse at the past, we understand why the Sith Lord fails to capture the Jedi in the present. Then there’s the poignancy of seeing a much happier time between Obi-Wan and his former Padawan. For a scene with as much thematic and emotional resonance as this one, it’s just not worth the risk.
Ultimately, if you can suspend your disbelief enough to embrace the Force, lightsabers, and a galaxy of fantastical creatures, then you can probably extend that to accepting that actors in their 40s and 50s don’t look like they’re 19 and 35 anymore. It’s refreshing that Obi-Wan Kenobi trusts us to do just that – and doesn’t let anything else get in the way of a scene we’ve all been waiting for.
Catch up on Star Wars on Disney Plus, and see our Obi-Wan Kenobi release schedule to find out exactly when the final episode drops in your time zone. For everything else coming soon from the galaxy far, far away, here’s our guide to the upcoming Star Wars movies and TV shows.