The Real-Life Obi-Wan Hated Yoda

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

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For older Star Wars nerds, one very painful topic is how, after The Phantom Menace, George Lucas stopped using a puppet Yoda and instead brought the character to life with (what else?) CGI. Certainly, a CGI version of the Jedi Master made it easier to bring to life scenes such as Yoda’s infamously cartoon-like duel with Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, but many feel the computer animation is worse than just having a puppet controlled by Frank Oz. As it turns out, Obi-Wan Kenobi actor Ewan McGregor agrees: he had many problems with the CGI, concluding that it “didn’t feel like Yoda to me anymore.”

Ewan McGregor Hated CGI Yoda

One of the reasons Ewan McGregor didn’t like this change to Yoda is that, like most of us, he grew up charmed by the character’s puppet portrayal in The Empire Strikes Back. On the set of The Phantom Menace, he got to live out every Original Trilogy fan’s dream by seeing how Frank Oz brought the iconic character to life. As he enthused in a later interview with BBC Radio 1, “There’s about five guys under the floor with remote controls, and it was unbelievable” to watch.

McGregor Prefered The Puppet

For all the charm of seeing Oz working on the puppet up close, Ewan McGregor did share one somewhat traumatizing detail of his experience with Yoda in The Phantom Menace. Like any good fan, the actor was delighted at how lifelike Oz made the puppet, including moving ears and noises (incidentally, McGregor’s imitation of Yoda noises is beyond cute). Between scenes, though, the puppet would shut down, effectively dying right in front of him (something the actor underscored by imitating the noise of a dying robot).

However, despite that particular trauma, Ewan McGregor concluded that “it was lovely to work with [Yoda] as a puppet.” He went on to say something that many of us have been saying for decades: that compared to the later CGI version, the puppet “looked better as well.” To verify this for yourself, you might have to bust out your old DVDs…the Blu-ray release of the Star Wars films replaces the original puppet used with the CGI recreation first used in the 3D re-release of The Phantom Menace.

CGI Turned Yoda Into A Nightmarish Screensaver

Ewan McGregor elaborated on some of his thoughts about the CGI Yoda in a later interview with Variety, one that also included The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal. The Obi-Wan actor bluntly stated that “we know him from the original movies as a puppet” and that “when it was suddenly computer generated, it didn’t feel like Yoda to me anymore.”

I searched my feelings and knew what Kenobi said was true: part of Yoda’s charm was how the combination of great design and puppet effects made him feel like a living, breathing alien, and the switch to CGI made the character feel more like a bad screensaver.

CGI Can’t Replicate Yoda’s Charm

Interestingly enough, George Lucas and animation director Rob Coleman predicted that fans, like Ewan McGregor, might respond negatively to a Yoda that looks completely different. That’s why the prequel films tried to use CGI to imitate some of the familiar aspects of the earlier films, including the cute ear wiggle that Frank Oz’s puppet always had. That’s a great idea in theory, but when you see Yoda turn into a cartoon bouncy ball in Attack of the Clones while fighting Dooku, it’s hard to pretend that what we’re seeing has either the charm or dignity of the original puppet.

Obi-Wan Is One Of Us

As someone who never enjoyed the switch to CGI, it was edifying to know that Ewan McGregor feels the same way about the adorable puppet Yoda that so many of us do. It’s also funny to think that in real life, the man who played the ultimate paragon of Jedi values ended up hating and betraying his former Master. Considering that the onscreen Obi-Wan ended up mutilating and horrifically burning the former student he left for dead, though, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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