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“Well, hello there.” James Arnold Taylor introduces himself – in-character of course – with the iconic Obi-Wan Kenobi line.
James and his co-star Matthew Wood are back in the studio together, reprising their roles as arch-nemeses Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous in Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II.
Leading up to their characters’ clashes in game, we had the opportunity to ask them both a few questions about their roles and personal Star Wars™ journeys.
How Matthew Wood Became General Grievous
Journey is, by the way, an appropriate word describing Matthew Wood’s history of working with Lucasfilm.
Matthew has been with the company since the age of 17, starting out as a video game tester. “I saw a job for Quality Assurance Technician in Nicasio on this local bulletin board – and I thought, well, it's either Lucasfilm or a dairy farm! I had done some research to find out where Skywalker Ranch was, and it was in the same area where I lived.”
“Through a little social engineering, I ended up finding out the fax number of Lucasfilm. This was 1989, and my dad had a fax machine, so I faxed a résumé of all the video games I played. That’s basically what I sent them.”
Matthew Wood recording his General Grievous for Star Wars Battlefront II. Matthew also does the technical post-processing of Grievous' voice.
That was enough to land Matthew an interview, and eventually, a job at Lucasfilm’s division for video games, fittingly named Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts) at the time. “It was a total dream job!”
Since then it has just continued. He developed his career into undertaking highly technical sound work. Today, Matthew is the Supervising Sound Editor at Skywalker Sound, the sound division of Lucasfilm. But early on, he also knew that he wanted to act.
“The same equipment that I use to make sound effects, I use to do voice acting. I got a lot of opportunity early on working on a show called The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. And then I just built up a résumé from various projects that I worked on. It was a way to kind of satiate that part of my brain, as well as the technical side.”
Then, in 2005’s Star Wars™: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith™ and The Clone Wars series, he stepped into the shoes of General Grievous, using both his voice and creative post-processing skills to bring the character to life.
Talking about the popularity of General Grievous among fans, Matthew says, “I’ve been working on Star Wars for almost 30 years now. It does have this ability to transcend in popular culture. To have something that was created 13 years ago still resonate for folks is humbling.”
Matthew mentions that General Grievous has, together with his arch-nemesis, sort of grown over the years – especially in the memes.
“I think most that come up to me say: ‘Hello there’ (referencing the banter between Obi-Wan and Grievous) – that’s the first thing I hear from them! I love being part of the vernacular, it’s super exciting!” Matthew says.
The Legacy of James Arnold Taylor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi
James Arnold Taylor has, of course, said that very line thousands of times. He’s the actor who’s played Obi-Wan Kenobi the longest, most notably throughout The Clone Wars animated series.
“It is probably the greatest honor for me as an actor, to have gotten to play this character for so many years. And in so many iterations! The television show, video games, toys, a movie . . . It’s one of those ‘pinch me moments’ in my life, because I still kind of wake up some days and go, ‘I . . . I get to be Obi-Wan Kenobi?’ It’s fantastic!”
“So uncivilized.” James Arnold Taylor delivers some classic Obi-Wan Kenobi lines – and some written specifically for Star Wars Battlefront II.
James explains that his performance is a bit of a mix between the Ewan McGregor (prequel trilogy) and Alec Guinness (original trilogy) portrayals of the character.
“I really felt that, for me to pay homage to both of these incredible actors that have played him, I needed to combine a little Ewan McGregor and a little ‘These aren't the droids you're looking for,’” James explains, changing his voice to one reminiscent of Guinness’ classic act.
“You combine a bit of both and you get my Clone Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi.”
However, that doesn’t stop him sneaking in a little bit of James in his Obi-Wan as well.
“George Lucas gave us the permission years ago, saying, ‘Make these characters your own’. You can hear it in the excitement, certainly, because I’m still a bit of a nerd excited to be doing this!”
While recording voice lines for Star Wars Battlefront II – although James has made Obi-Wan his own – he couldn’t help but to slip more into Ewan McGregor’s performance sometimes. Especially for the lines made famous in the prequel films.
“Then, when it’s a Clone Wars line, I go a little more into my Obi-Wan. So, you might hear a little mixture of both. But I definitely cannot deny that the power of Ewan McGregor’s performance as Obi-Wan Kenobi is influencing mine.”
Bringing the Voices of Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous to Star Wars Battlefront II
So, what are some of the duo’s voice lines in Star Wars Battlefront II? You can experience what General Grievous has to say by booting up the game today, but our Community Transmission on Hero Voices also gives a peek of what’s in store for both him and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Grievous is funny, because I'd love to be able to do all his lines in one session, but I would probably end up bleeding out of my throat,” Matthew says, continuing, “He goes up to eleven really quickly. Because that character, when we originally put him together with George Lucas, he wanted him to be military drill sergeant. Very vengeful. He certainly has had something in his past that’s been weaponized by Count Dooku, to make him so hateful of the Jedi.”
“You must realize, you are doomed.” General Grievous and Obi-Wan Kenobi facing off on Geonosis in Star Wars Battlefront II.
“And then as far as on a technical level, George also liked Bela Lugosi and that Eastern European kind of talking. So, I mashed that together to make my performance.”
Having worked on Star Wars for so long, it’s still special for Matthew to see General Grievous coming to life in Star Wars Battlefront II.
“I always love revisiting characters from the Clone Wars era, because I feel like there are so many stories to be told! Now, we have the ability to actually set foot into General Grievous’ shoes and see how he operates in real-time. That’s really exciting to me, to be able to portray the character in such a way! I’m a gamer myself, so I can’t wait to see how all this pans out with what the team has created.”
When we asked James about how it feels like to step into the voice-over both and becoming Obi-Wan Kenobi again in Star Wars Battlefront II, he says, “It really is like riding a bike with this character now. After almost 18 years of playing him, you just fall into those places. Of course, the writing is so great, because it feels like Star Wars, so it's really pretty easy to just go in there.”
“I've been working in Star Wars games for 17 plus years now,” James says, continuing, “And the way they've changed and grown as such is exciting. Because this now, is the epitome of what we all expected or saw in our heads, and now it's here.”
General Grievous* is available in Star Wars Battlefront II today, and Obi-Wan Kenobi* is set to arrive on November 28 along with the Battle of Geonosis Update**.
–Daniel Steinholtz (Follow Daniel on Twitter @dsteinholtz) with help from Nina Dobner
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*New heroes are available for Credits earned in-game
**All updates require Star Wars™ Battlefront™ II on applicable platform (sold separately), all game updates, internet connection, EA account, and, for console players, Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus membership (each sold separately)