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Star Wars: Ewan McGregor & Liam Neeson Had One Weird & Annoying Lightsaber Habit

Since the release of the first "Star Wars" film in 1977, the lightsaber has easily become one of the most recognizable screen props in popular culture history. Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker, Sir Alec Guinness' Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi, and David Prowse's Darth Vader each wielded the laser-beam weapon in the original film — a sword defined by its neon glow — but there's more to a lightsaber than its look when fully deployed.

When a lightsaber is activated in "Star Wars" lore, it makes a swirl of swishing humming noises — and imitating that distinctive sound apparently got on "Star Wars" creator George Lucas' nerves when Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor were working with the legendary writer-director on the set of the 1999 "Star Wars" prequel film "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace."

Of course, Neeson's Qui-Gon and McGregor's young version of Obi-Wan use their lightsabers in the film, whether it be to disassemble battle droids or duel with the villainous Sith apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park). In a 2023 interview with Conan O'Brien on his podcast "Conan Needs a Friend," Neeson told the host that Lucas became annoyed with him and McGregor for a habit they developed when using the prop.

"The first time we actually had to use the lightsaber to start a little fight ... We both automatically [made the noises]," Neeson told O'Brien. "George said, 'Let's cut there. Boys, we can add that in later.'"

Neeson also acted opposite a tennis ball in The Phantom Menace

In "The Phantom Menace," Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon and Ewan McGregor's Obi-Wan encounter the young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) long before his destiny is fulfilled as the evil Sith lord, Darth Vader. In a bid to get Anakin freed from his servitude under the junk dealer Watto (a CGI creation voiced by Any Secombe), Qui-Gon wagers with the winged creature that Anakin could win a high-stakes pod race. As such, Neeson had to learn — like he did with the lightsaber — how to act with another non-visible visual effect.

"I was supposed to being doing this scene with [Watto], a little flying monster," Neeson recalled for Conan O'Brien. "I didn't know what this thing was going to look like. It was a green tennis ball that was eventually going to be this flying monster. I'm in the makeup chair, and the lady says, 'I did see a mock-up of the monster, and you could be a monkey smoking a pipe and no one is going to be looking at you.'"

At least Neeson had a little bit more than a tennis ball to interact with when he was wielding his lightsaber. The actor told Conan that for the scene, he was able to hold the lightsaber hilt, which recalled a little bit of an aluminum tube attached. The actor wasn't done with visual effects from a galaxy far, far away after "The Phantom Menace," however. Neeson came back as Qui-Gon for the series "Obi-Wan Kenobi," as a translucent Force ghost who reunites with his former Jedi apprentice in the final scene of the last episode.