The Last Jedi featured a number of surprises, but the biggest of all the twists and turns was also the smallest: Yoda. The wizened Jedi Master introduced in The Empire Strikes Back returned to give Luke Skywalker advice in Episode VIII, bringing the iconic character into the modern Star Wars fold. To get his appearance on Ahch-To right, Neal Scanlan—head of the creature shop (which is also responsible for aliens)—knew they had to make a puppet from the instant he learned of Yoda's return. He told Nerdist the experience of creating Yoda was a gift.
"To know that we were going to have Yoda, we just said, 'Look we need to go back and look at Empire Strikes Back, we need to look at how Stuart [Freeborn] created Yoda because that is the most pure puppet moment,'" Scanlan said. "It's Frank Oz, who is one of the greatest puppeteers ever, and we knew that Frank was going to redo this. We just felt that it was absolutely right and proper that we create the puppet in the closest likeness to the original and to give Frank exactly what he had the first time around."
Scanlan and his team tried to make the puppet more efficient and easier for Oz to use, but it was of the utmost importance to them to create a true representation of the Yoda we all remember—especially since the motion sequences mimic some of Yoda and Luke's encounters on Dagobah. "We were acting it out in a very similar capacity of Frank being beneath the floor, and the puppet being above him and his assistant puppeteers with him to do the eyes and the ears and the extra hand and his little feet all on rods," Scanlan recalled.
And they went to the source to make a replica of the original Yoda puppet. Lucasfilm still had possession of the original head mold and one of the hands. They obtained other information by scanning through old magazines and talking to Oz about how he operated the puppet during the original trilogy. They engineered the puppet from that data. Scanlan said it was important to them to go light on the Force ghost effects. "I remember saying to Rian [Johnson] that if we were going to do it, we couldn't make him too much of a ghost because it would deny everybody the joy of seeing him solid and real," he said. "The guys then came in later and added a really lovely glow, which I think just reminds us of the fact that Yoda is there as a ghost, but is there enough for you to really feel that you're not being cheated."
VFX supervisor Ben Morris and his team were in charge of the Force ghost touch. "It was an amazing experience. I mean, having Luke Skywalker and Yoda in front of you, in the middle of a real, practical set on a freezing cold night was one of the best filmmaking experiences I've ever had. It was just goosebumps," Morris enthused. "In terms of what we actually did, we did add the glow around him, and I had asked Rian very early on, 'Do you want him to be semi-transparent, like some of the characters have been in the past?' And he said, 'No, let's keep him opaque.' So, the visual effects that were required for that character were actually quite minimal. I think he's just an incredible piece of work by Frank Oz, and Neal and his team."
Were you surprised to see Yoda in The Last Jedi? What did you think of the scene he and Luke shared? Let me know in the comments.
Images: Lucasfilm, Disney, Giphy
Amy Ratcliffe is an Associate Editor for Nerdist. She likes Star Wars a little. Follow her on Twitter.
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