Why Ewan McGregor Wishes Yoda Would Have Stayed A Puppet

Jedi Master Yoda has always been an enduringly beloved character in the "Star Wars" universe. But it wasn't just the little green alien's hermitlike eccentrics or sage guidance that struck a chord with fans. When Yoda first appeared in "The Empire Strikes Back," he was brought to life by the puppeteering talents of Frank Oz. But the uncanny magic of the original Yoda puppet was lost on the prequels, with the exception of "The Phantom Menace." Starting with "Attack of the Clones," George Lucas made the still-controversial decision to render him entirely in CGI, making it easier to shoot scenes like his flip-heavy duel with Count Dooku. But you only need to take a glance at the terrifying original design of Yoda to realize trial and error is a big part of creating the character. At one point it was even seriously considered that the iconic Jedi Master might be better played by a monkey. Luckily that didn't happen — but Yoda's transition from puppet to CGI was no less schismatic.

Ewan is team puppet Yoda

Ewan McGregor is one of the lucky few who's actually worked with a Yoda puppet. As a result, the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" actor has a unique perspective on the pros and cons of puppet versus CGI versions of the character. McGregor broke down the surreal experience of shooting scenes with the Yoda puppet that was used in "The Phantom Menace" during a BBC Radio 1 interview:

"I was lucky to work with Yoda in the first episode, because in the first episode, Yoda was still a puppet, and he was operated by Frank Oz, and there's about five guys under the floor with remote controls, and it was unbelievable. It was like one of those — I got to play a scene with Yoda, and at the end of every scene when George shouted 'Cut!' he would sort of die, he would just like, die. So he'd be, every little thing would be moving about, his ears, and he's like [makes Yoda noises] and then he'd go [makes dying robot noises] because they just stopped operating him. But it was a great shame, it was lovely to work with him as a puppet, and it was, you know, as far as I'm concerned it looked better as well. I think it just felt better, felt more like him, you know?"

Being able to act alongside an Oz-directed Yoda puppet is the closest McGregor could possibly get to the original trilogy. And there's already been talk that a Yoda cameo might neatly bridge the gap his Disney+ series is building between the "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope." If he does appear, it's clear McGregor is expecting a puppet, and given that's how Yoda returned in "The Rise of Skywalker," odds are good he won't be disappointed.

Why CGI Yoda was inferior

After "The Phantom Menace," Lucas apparently felt CGI was better suited for shaping Yoda. Unfortunately, not many "Star Wars" fans or actors agreed with the director's infatuation with using the technology available to make the prequels as polished as possible. "When we were doing Episode Three, I had this scene with Yoda, and Yoda wasn't there," Hayden Christensen said of his experience with the CGI version. "It was just a green screen, and again a little stand with a mark on it for an eye line, that was about the extent of it." His comments underscore how the switch complicates the job of actors who are expected to interact with something they can't see. In an interview with Pedro Pascal for Variety, McGregor called the digital Yoda "not nearly as endearing." He continued:

"Also, we know Yoda as a puppet. We know him from the original movies as a puppet. So when it was suddenly computer generated, it didn't feel like Yoda to me anymore."

To Lucas' credit, he did try to keep some continuity after the switch. Industrial Light and Magic animation director Rob Coleman revealed that the director wanted the digital Yoda to mimic the movements Oz had given the character. "When Frank would move the head, the ears would jiggle," he told Time. "If we hadn't put that in, it wouldn't look like Yoda."

The Phantom Menace puppet was hated by Oz

But CGI Yoda wasn't the only controversy to surround the character's prequel appearances. Despite Ewan McGregor being in favor of sticking with puppet Yoda, Frank Oz was less than thrilled by the Yoda he had to work with for "The Phantom Menace." As reported by Cinema Blend, his main issues were with the changes made to the puppet configuration between the original trilogy and the prequels.

"They built a puppet for 'Episode I: The Phantom Menace,' but made the mistake of trying to update Yoda. They re-sculptured him and made him out of a different material which was heavier. Then, because he was transparent instead of opaque, it meant light didn't hit him the same way so his color wasn't the same."

As Oz seems to imply, tinkering with a good thing just leads to more trouble. But even despite the vitriol the puppeteer had for the abomination they'd turned his Yoda into, it's still pretty clear the character benefits from having a physical presence onset. Further tinkering would even lead Lucas to remove the puppet version from "The Phantom Menace" altogether, replacing it with the sleek new CGI one. I doubt that's the solution Oz had in mind at the time; he probably just wanted his old puppet back. Although the thought of Lucas trying to make said puppet realistically do some of his stunts from "Revenge of the Sith" is enough to make me admit maybe CGI Yoda was the lesser of some other evil.