Yoda is one of the most iconic characters in cinema history. So many of us have quoted the 900-year-old Jedi from Star Wars at least once. But figuring out just what this wizened old space wizard was going to look like was not a simple process. Designer Stuart Freeborn’s earliest designs for the Yoda puppet looked more like a gnome from folklore than an alien. He ultimately based Yoda’s final look on his own face, combined with that of Albert Einstein’s.
YouTuber 70sSciFiBoy has unearthed a vintage interview with Freeborn from back in 1979. And it shows how creating Yoda was not an easy process. This interview is shortly before Empire went into production in England. You can watch the full video right here:
During the interview, Freeborn shows off the original proof-of-concept Yoda puppet. This less detailed prototype version was far more Muppet-like in appearance. This is only fitting really, seeing as how the voice of so many Muppets, Frank Oz, would bring him to life. But even then, everyone involved with the creation of Yoda knew the character had to look far more realistic. But it’s nevertheless fascinating to see this early version.
Obviously, many things changed from the time they shot this interview to filming. Freeborn describes Yoda as being “only” 400 years old at this point. We guess George Lucas decided that was way too young. Also, he describes Yoda as not just strong in the Force, but as the Force itself. Another detail that changed along the way. But if the Force had a physical embodiment, we suppose Yoda is as good a candidate as anyone.
Even Yoda’s name was different in the beginning. In the first drafts for The Empire Strikes Back, the Jedi Master was called actually “Buffy.” A name that would eventually go to another unlikely warrior who fought creatures from the dark side. Later, it was changed from Buffy to “Minch Yoda,” and finally, just Yoda. Freeborn designed almost all the main creatures in George Lucas’ original trilogy, including Chewbacca, Jabba the Hutt, and the Ewoks. Much like John Williams and Ralph McQuarrie, Star Wars simply wouldn’t have been Star Wars without his contributions.