There are many fans who agree that one of the best performances (if not the best) by an actor in the entire Star Wars universe comes from Ewan McGregor as a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy. That being said, there is no question as to why his return to the role on his own new, self-titled miniseries has received decent critical acclaim and has broken records in viewership on Disney+ since its two-episode premiere on Friday, May 27, 2022.
While the legendary Jedi Master may be his best-known role by a good parsec, the Scottish actor’s celebrated career is full of countless other brilliant performances as inventive characters from both the big and small screen. However, for our following list of picks for Ewan McGregor's best movies and TV shows - along with where to watch them on streaming, as a digital rental or purchase, or on physical media - his new Star Wars spin-off series is where we shall begin.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)
A decade after the rise of Imperial rule in the galaxy, a surviving Jedi Master (Ewan McGregor) is forced to come out of hiding when he's tasked with a dangerous mission that brings him face-to-face with his former apprentice-turned-enemy (Hayden Christensen).
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: While the actor would admit on The Tonight Show that he had trouble relearning the character’s signature accent (essentially an impression of Alec Guinness), you could argue that McGregor has never been better than in the title role of Obi-Wan Kenobi - a six-part miniseries taking place between the prequels and the original trilogy that is easily one of the best Star Wars TV shows on Disney+ yet.
The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005)
Years before the rise of Imperial rule in the galaxy, a Jedi-in-training (Ewan McGregor) and his master (Liam Neeson) meet a young boy who later becomes his apprentice, before the eventual Jedi Master comes to the horrifying realization that the once promising young warrior is really destined to lead the galaxy into darkness.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: Despite the backlash from fans that this trilogy is infamous for, there are actually many reasons why writer and director George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels (namely The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) are worth revisiting - one of them being the captivating performance from McGregor, assuming the role of a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
Years after he and his mother escaped a grisly fate at the hands of his father at a haunted hotel, a telepath (Ewan McGregor) is forced to face his worst fears when a young girl of greater power than he (Kyleigh Curran) becomes the target of a sadistic woman of similar ability (Rebecca Ferguson) and her hungry crew of immortals.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: A more recent example of McGregor doing a phenomenal job succeeding an iconic role is when he played the gifted Danny Torrance in Doctor Sleep - one of the best films by director Mike Flanagan, whose chilling take on Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining actually helped the author reconcile his personal issues with the classic 1980 adaptation by Stanley Kubrick.
Shallow Grave (1994)
After suddenly finding their new flatmate dead in his bedroom, three friends (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Ecceleston, and Kerry Fox) soon discover that he possessed a great sum of money and choose to keep it, only to fall prey to original owners of the loot.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: One of McGregor’s first thrillers, his very first time working with director Danny Boyle (also the filmmaker’s debut), and the film credited with first putting him on the map is Shallow Grave - a creepy, clever, sexy, and vastly underrated crime drama.
A young man (Ewan McGregor) struggles to let go of his addiction to heroin, despite the influences of his close friends who are even more deeply immersed in the drug scene in modern day Scotland.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: McGregor’s second collaboration with director Danny Boyle, second collaboration with Shallow Grave writer John Hodge, and a film that boasts one of his most acclaimed and iconic performances was Trainspotting - a surreal, sometimes horrifying, and dazzling dark comedy based on the novel by Irvine Welsh that would spawn a sequel in 2017.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
A young, ambitious poet from England (Ewan McGregor) falls in love with a lavish night club’s star performer (Nicole Kidman), only for complications involving her secondary profession as a sex worker to threaten their romance, in late 19th century Paris.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: McGregor proves that he can sing, too, as the male romantic lead of the Moulin Rouge! cast in co-writer and director Baz Luhrmann’s visually inventive musical featuring unique covers of contemporary radio hits.
Big Fish (2003)
As his father (Albert Finney) nears the end of his life, a journalist (Billy Crudup) realizes he doesn't know the man as well as he believes he should and struggles to distinguish what is fact from what is fantasy in the strange tales from his youth.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: In yet another visually stunning fantasy classic from the early 2000s, Ewan McGregor leads the Big Fish cast as the younger version of Finney’s character, in this romantic adventure from director Tim Burton that's based on the imaginative novel by Daniel Wallace.
The Island (2005)
After his friend (Scarlett Johansson) is chosen as the next person in their sterile underground community to go to the last place on Earth said to be free of contamination, a man (Ewan McGregor) begins to question what this place really is, leading him to discover a horrifying truth.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: In yet another romantic adventure from the mid-2000s, both McGregor and Johansson play dual roles (the main heroes and the rich ailing the people they learn they were cloned from) in The Island - a fun and surprisingly thought-provoking sci-fi thriller and one of the best Michael Bay movies, as far as I am concerned.
Fargo Season 3 (2017)
In hopes of buying an engagement ring for his girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a man (Ewan McGregor) tries to rob his wealthy older brother (also played by McGregor), which not only proves unsuccessful, but causes the couple to become wrapped up in a disastrous murder case.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: McGregor also gives an Emmy-nominated performance as two different characters on the third season of the acclaimed FX original crime drama, Fargo - creator Noah Hawley’s seasonal anthology loosely inspired by Joel and Ethan Coen’s Academy Award-winning classic from 1996 - during which he met his future Birds of Prey co-star and real-life wife, Winstead.
After learning that his father (Christopher Plummer) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, a graphic designer (Ewan McGregor) also discovers that the dying man has chosen to finally reveal the truth about his sexuality.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: McGregor gives one of his finest and most soulful performances opposite the late Plummer (in the veteran actor’s first Oscar-winning role) in Beginners - a warm and inspiring dramedy from writer and director Mike Mills.
The Impossible (2012)
A man (Ewan McGregor) and his youngest sons (Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin) struggle to find his wife (Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts) and their eldest son (Tom Holland) after they become separated in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster while vacationing in Thailand.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: Despite never actually securing a nomination, McGregor did receive some Oscar buzz for his hearbreakingly authentic performance in The Impossible - director J.A. Bayona’s retelling of one family’s terrifying true account of the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004.
An Iowa native (Ewan McGregor) gives himself a single-word professional title and goes on to revolutionize the fashion industry with his minimalist clothing designs.
Why it’s one of Ewan McGregor’s best: McGregor was, however, rewarded with an Emmy for his lead performance in the title role of Halston - a five-part, Netflix original miniseries based on the life of one of the fashion industry’s most legendary figures that the actor also executive produced.
As for one more thing about Star Wars: did you know that Ewan McGregor’s connection to the franchise goes beyond his own role in the movies. His uncle, Dennis Lawson, played Wedge Antilles in the original trilogy, which is how young Ewan became interested in this galaxy far, far away in the first place. Looks like talent (and great franchise potential) does run in the family.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.