Natalie Portman Struggled To Find Work After The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

There are a lot of strong opinions about the "Star Wars" prequels. Some fondly remember them as the films they grew up on, while others have gone as far as to say George Lucas ruined the franchise. But how about trying this one on for size:  Lucas almost killed Natalie Portman's career.

Lucas seemed preoccupied with the all-digital visuals of the prequels, taking advantage of cutting-edge special effects at the turn of the century. According to, "Attack of the Clones" had more than 2,000 visual effects shots integrated into the film. However, all that digital technology disrupted the audio recording in "Attack of the Clones," causing the need for every single line of dialogue to be rerecorded.

While Lucas did push the digital filmmaking movement forward, he also forgot one big thing important to any film: believable dialogue. In the book "The Star Wars Archives: 1999-2005," Lucas admits that the dialogue between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Queen Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) in "Attack of the Clones" was corny. He tries to justify the wooden dialogue between characters as "consistent with the 'Star Wars' style," forgetting how Mark Hamill purposely gave Luke Skywalker a character arc simply through the way he delivered his lines.

Poorly written dialogue, rerecorded audio, green screen sets, and new technology equaled poor performances by nearly all the prequel actors. So much so that Portman struggled to find work after the trilogy wrapped.

'Everyone thought I was a horrible actress'

From "No, I am your father" to "I love you ... I know," the original trilogy is loaded with memorable moments and quotable one-liners. Heck, even the droids are memorable ("I am C-3P0, human cyborg relations."). So, what the heck happened with the prequels? In "The Star Wars Archives: 1999-2005," George Lucas described it as "presented very honestly, it isn't tongue-in-cheek at all, and it's played to the hilt." Seriously, Lucas said this. I'm not sure he understands what the phrase "to the hilt" means in this galaxy.

Noted film critic Roger Ebert summed up the dialogue from the prequels best, specifically in his review for "Attack of the Clones": "But as someone who admired the freshness and energy of the earlier films, I was amazed, at the end of 'Episode II' to realize that I had not heard one line of quotable, memorable dialogue. They talk and talk and talk. And their talk is in a flat utilitarian style: They seem more like lawyers than the heroes of a romantic fantasy."

Natalie Portman talked to New York magazine about the damage her performance in the prequels did. Portman said:

"'Star Wars' had come out around the time of [the theatrical play] 'Seagull,' and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me."

But then a director from the 1970s American New Wave film movement stepped in and possibly saved her career.

From ugly duckling to Black Swan

Director Mike Nichols — perhaps best known for his 1967 film "The Graduate," for which he won an Oscar for Best Director — also knows a thing or two about acting. Before a lengthy career as a film director, Nichols was an improv comic (one-half of the influential Nichols and May act with Elaine May), stage actor, and theater director. His eye for talent was keen, casting an unknown Dustin Hoffman as the lead in "The Graduate." Nichols would later get a firsthand look at Portman's talents when directing her in the 2001 theatrical play "The Seagull."

So when Portman struggled to find work after "Star Wars," Nichols intervened. Portman explained to New York magazine how Nichols wrote a letter to "Cold Mountain" director Anthony Minghella, urging him to hire her. Portman was cast as a Civil War-era widowed mother, and the role could not have been more opposite from her stiff performance in "Star Wars."

The "Cold Mountain" role reignited Portman's career, leading to an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Nichols' 2004 film "Closer" and an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2010's "Black Swan." Portman would discover she wasn't the only one Nichols saved. Portman later learned "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" director Milos Forman was granted asylum in the United States thanks to a letter from Nichols.

Although George Lucas remains a galaxy-sized force in Hollywood, creating the "Star Wars" universe and helping to launch the modern blockbuster era, he almost destroyed Portman's young career. Thankfully, Nichols had the vision to see Portman was ready to graduate far beyond what audiences saw in the "Star Wars" prequels.