Ewan McGregor Says The Star Wars Prequels Were 'Very Difficult' Because Technology Got In The Way

Those of a certain age likely recall the arc of the "Star Wars" films released between 1999 and 2005. The three prequel films — "The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones," and "Revenge of the Sith" — were each initially well-received by fans and were all enormous box office hits, but viewed with a sour attitude, with many fans and critics citing their sterile aesthetic, weird dialogue ("I hate sand"), and monkeying with "Star Wars" canon (midichlorians?) to be ultimately damaging to the franchise at large. Thanks to a slew of online critics merrily tearing into the prequel films (the popular YouTube videos put out by Red Letter Media are a standout), a general attitude began to emerge about George Lucas' newly minted trilogy of films: They were some of the worst pop films ever made. 

This negative attitude seems to have prevailed for the better part of a decade, and the three films' silly verbiage often became quoted ironically. The three films ultimately received generally low approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes as well, with "The Phantom Menace" receiving a mere 51%. It wasn't until a generation passed — and following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm — that popular attitudes began to shift. A light internet snoop will reveal many articles from around 2015 and 2016 reappraising the "Star Wars" prequel films. An arc was now formed: Once hated, these films are now entering the realm of being rescued. 

Few people were more aware of the overwhelming vitriol received by these three films than the actors. Poor Jake Lloyd, who played the young Anakin Skywalker in "The Phantom Menace" was bullied incessantly for his presence in the movie, and has since said he's sworn off movies for good. In a recent interview, Ewan McGregor, who played the young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the films — and who will reprise the role for an upcoming Disney+ TV series — called the films an interesting experiment, and were perhaps too technology-forward.

It's taken 15 years to hear it

In an interview at the Empire Summer preview, McGregor talked about the experience of hearing negative reviews, and how long it took for positive word to spread: 

"It was an odd experience to make those movies. When you step into this world it's a big deal. It's scary. And then those films were critically not liked very much. Or they weren't written very nicely about by the critics. But what we didn't hear at the time was people your age, your generation. We meet those people now who really love our films, you know. But it's taken us 15 years to hear that. And it's so nice. It's really nice. It's changed my outlook. My relationship with 'Star Wars' is different because of that."

It must have been a relief for the actor, as he says that making them was a fun, passionate experience, and required a lot of hard work. Lucas was keen to push film technology to a new plane, incorporating a lot of digital imagery, and even advocating for digital projection, still uncommon in the early 2000s. McGregor admits, however, that because so much of his experience as an actor was up against a green screen, an element of artificiality began to get in the way of story, character, and other more practical concerns. 

"We put our heart and soul into [the movies]. And they were difficult to make because the second one, the third one, there was so much green screen and the blue screen. Because George was pushing into this new realm that he had designed. He was responsible for ILM and he wanted to max out that technology. But that meant for us that we were very much on blue screens and green screens. And it was hard work. And to do that and be passionate about it and then for the films not to be very well received was really tough."

We were like ???

McGregor went on to describe how difficult it was to work with digital technology. Not only was it unusual to spend so much time in front of a green screen, but the large and clumsy digital cameras of the era were also a headache: 

"The three movies were hard to make, and the blue screen was very difficult. It was difficult to be vibrant. We were pioneering new technology. With ['Attack of the Clones'] we used the first-ever new digital cameras, but they were clumsy and awkward. The filmmaking was supporting the technology, as opposed to the story. We would do three or four takes, and then, 'Okay, we've got that, move on,' and the cranes would move, they'd zoom in and out, and they'd go, 'Ready!' And we were like "???" It was harder and harder for us, I felt, to be the best we could be in that environment."

Once the three films had been completed, McGregor admits to feeling relief and frustration simultaneously. One the one hand, he liked his character a lot, and being able to occupy a role previously pioneered by the great Alec Guinness was a joy, but at the same time, it was such a difficult job, and the reactions were so negative, it felt like — to McGregor, at least— that "Star Wars" was pretty much at an end. 

"I really loved acting in them, and I loved playing Obi-Wan Kenobi. And I like working with George. When they were finished, there was no thought to go on. There weren't any spin-offs being made. George said that he didn't want to make 'VII,' 'VIII,' and 'IX,' so we all just assumed that was it. And the reaction to the films was weird and difficult. A lot of people didn't like the prequels, and it was such hard work to make them. We all put our heart and soul into it."

It can only be speculation that the mid-2010's reappraisal of "Phantom," "Clones," and "Sith" is what led to a renewed interest in seeing McGregor reprise his role, but reprise it he will. "Obi-Wan Kenobi" will debut on Disney+ on May 27, 2022.