As Star Wars - Episode 7 drives towards a $2 billion box office haul around the world, fans are still being treated to interesting behind-the-scenes details and pre-production ideas that didn't make the final Force Awakens cut. From the conceptual origins of new franchise stars Rey and Finn to the practical effects behind some of the film's best moments, fans have plenty of trivia to digest as they wait for Disney's first Star Wars spin-off, Rogue One, to arrive on December 16th.
Deleted scenes are always a fun opportunity to reflect on what could have been - in contrast to what ultimately hit theater screens. Since J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan drastically reworked Michael Arndt's original Star Wars 7 script, crew members have already revealed a number of interesting changes and cut sequences that were considered but dropped before, during, and after filming. Most of the deleted scenes simply offered more insight into characters that were already fleshed-out by the slimmer Force Awakens cut - while others provided a bit more screen time and/or development for new cast members. Nevertheless, some were more substantive - including a sequence that would have featured the return of a fan-favorite Jedi master from the original trilogy: Yoda.
While attending the American Cinema Editors awards, Force Awakens editor Maryann Brandon revealed to Entertainment Tonight that Yoda had been considered for inclusion in Star Wars 7 - indicating the idea went far enough to warrant a visit from puppet master Frank Oz.
According to Brandon:
"There was one point where we were actually thinking of having Yoda in the film, and then we decided not to. Frank Oz came in for a day and did a whole bunch of Yoda and he was over the moon to do it — and we were tickled pink!"
Unfortunately, Brandon does not elaborate on how Yoda would have been utilized or why, exactly, J.J. Abrams decided not to bring back the beloved Jedi. Still, unlike Yoda's current cameo in The Force Awakens (in which he is represented by voice only), a "bunch" of work from Frank Oz definitely suggests that a larger role for the deceased Jedi master was under consideration at one point.
How long the character was considered and where Oz visited with Abrams isn't clear either. It's possible Abrams only explored the idea of including Yoda for a few days in pre-production and brought Oz in for a relatively informal creative meeting - or, conversely, the character could have been up for a much larger part and Oz came to set during filming. Until Brandon or someone else specifies, there's no way of knowing how much, or how little, screen time Yoda might have been given in Star Wars 7.
Since there were no murmurs of Oz on set, in juxtaposition to Simon Pegg's work, it's more likely that Oz (and the idea of including Yoda) were part of pre-production meetings - as Abrams and Kasdan began refining The Force Awakens script. That said, it's still fun to think about how the character might have been depicted and where he would have fit into the film. The most obvious way to include the now Force ghost Jedi would have been in Rey's Force flashback - but, again, the suggestion that Oz came in for a day certainly hints at a more substantive part. Assuming the visit from Oz was early in the process, maybe Yoda was, at one point, going to appear as a Force ghost to help guide Rey on her journey to Skywalker (or possibly narrate the entire Force vision).
It's similarly unclear what "doing a bunch of Yoda" actually means. Was Abrams going to ditch the prequel CGI model in favor of a practical Yoda puppeted by Oz or did Oz come in and "do" Yoda in a voice over booth? Given that Abrams tried to do everything he could with practical effects, the idea of bringing Yoda back to the big screen using modern puppeteering is an exciting one; though, Abrams also turned to CGI effects for the Yoda-like heroine Maz Kanata.
After all, Oz's puppeted Yoda was not particularly well-received in Episode 1 - forcing Lucasfilm to replace the practical performance with a CGI character for the Blu-ray release.
As a result, the decision to not include Yoda may have been a smart move - since Abrams was already tasked with re-introducing a cast of beloved human characters, re-introducing a beloved puppet/CGI character would have been even more challenging by comparison - and it's possible that even if Abrams and Kasdan really wanted to bring Yoda back, they might have opted to wait until the time, effects, and story could truly do the Jedi Master justice.
Either way, it's a fun behind-the-scenes detail - and a hopeful indication that we might still get to see Yoda again in a future film.
Star Wars: Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Sources: Entertainment Tonight (via Screen Crush)