‘That Was Hard’: Ewan McGregor Reflects On Massive Backlash Against ‘Star Wars’ Prequels

Ewan McGregor vividly remembers joining the “Star Wars” universe to critical disaster.

While the Scotsman had already starred in notable films when “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” (1999) began production, McGregor’s casting as Obi-Wan Kenobi raised his profile overnight. The critical backlash, however, ultimately proved just as memorable.

“I am happy that I am this character for a lot of people, but when these films came out, they were so disliked,” McGregor told Variety in an interview published Wednesday. “That was hard. The first one was panned, and we still had to make another two!”

He continued, “It was weird to be in a film that was hammered.

George Lucas built an empire out of “Star Wars” (1977) and its sequels, which introduced whole generations to lightsabers, handsome rogues and a digestible notion of good vs. evil. The fandom certainly hadn’t gone dormant after but powerfully reawakened in 1998.

While the “Menace” teaser attached to “Meet Joe Black” at the time spawned massive enthusiasm, the $115 million film itself was critically trounced for its childish humor, narrative flaws and overwhelming use of CGI. It maintains a 52% Rotten Tomatoes rating to this day.

McGregor had signed on for two more sequels, which were received only marginally better. The actor clearly survived the backlash and went on to have an impressive career, which arguably began years before “Menace” under the direction of Danny Boyle.

McGregor recently reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a titular Disney+ series.
McGregor recently reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a titular Disney+ series.

McGregor recently reprised his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in a titular Disney+ series.

Boyle had cast McGregor in “Shallow Grave” (1994) and “Trainspotting” (1996), but made Leonardo DiCaprio the lead of his 2000 follow-up “The Beach.” McGregor felt famously slighted by this, as he was far more interested in that role than he was in any “Star Wars.”

“It wasn’t a done deal for me,” he told Variety about playing Obi-Wan Kenobi. “I didn’t think it was at all who I was. I believed, at that point, I was a Danny Boyle actor. ‘The Beach’ was more important and I meant it, it wasn’t flippant. I did ask a lot of people for advice.”

The actor ultimately returned to the role in 2022 for a Disney+ miniseries, which not only spawned massive enthusiasm from fans — but a positive Rotten Tomatoes score. Whether McGregor will return to the show remains to be seen, though he certainly wouldn’t mind.

He told Variety, “I would love to do the second season, but there’s no talk of it yet.”