Sir Alec Guinness: The Original Obi-Wan Kenobi

Credit: BFI

Yesterday (August 5) marked the 20th anniversary since Sir Alec Guinness had passed away. Over his time, he had played many iconic roles to grace the movie screen from Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy to Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

However, it was also known that Guinness had contributed to the war efforts during the Second World War, as he was in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve – as a sub lieutenant. Later on, during the war, he was a temporary lieutenant and commanded a landing craft during Operation Husky – the invasion of Sicily, which was one of the first major offensives into the German occupation of Europe by allied forces.

One of his earliest roles in film was an extra, as a solider in a concert audience, in Evensong (1934). However, it would be a year after the end of World War Two before the ball got rolling in his acting career, as he secured the role of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946) and Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948).

16 movies after playing the role of Fagin, Guinness finally secured his first ever Oscar academy award with his performance as Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai in 1958. This award was given to him for the ‘best actor in a leading role.’ It would also be the only Oscar out of five nominations he would win – excluding his honorary award (which he won in 1980).

Thenceforth, he continued to play numerous roles such as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Jacob Marley’s ghost in Scrooge (1970) and Adolf Hitler in Hitler: The Last Ten Days (1973).

In 1977, Guinness embarked on a journey which would leave behind a legacy for countless generations to come as he secured the role of Star Wars’ Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi. A character which had a big part to play in the movies development for the main character, which resulted in Guinness reprising his role in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983).

Despite his performance in the supporting role on Kenobi, as he aided a young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to the ways of the Jedi, he failed to gain another Oscar after he was nominated for the 1978 Oscars – where he lost to Jason Robards who played in Julia (1977).

The Englishman would go on to play a role in seven more films and a handful of TV movies, with this last appearance as a character called James in the TV Movie, Interview Day in 1996.

After a successful career in film and a legacy that will surely live on for the rest of time, Sir Alec Guinness passed away on the night of August 5, 2000, aged 86.

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