Rian Johnson has revealed how his team recreated Jedi Master Yoda for The Last Jedi.
It was surely the most surprising, and delightful, cameo in the film. Marketing and interviews had dropped barely a hint that Jedi Master Yoda would be returning. But there he was, a Force ghost giving advice to Luke, continuing to teach his old student thirty years after his death. Yoda has always been a fan-favorite, and the unexpected return was a pleasant surprise.
In an interview with Uproxx, writer-director Rian Johnson has discussed just how much effort Lucasfilm put into this cameo. Their first consideration, it seems, was ensuring they used the right version of Yoda. Rather than the seasoned mentor of the Prequel Trilogy, they cast back to the character we saw in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. As Johnson explained, "that's the one Luke had the emotional connection with." Luke knew Yoda as a wizened, cantankerous old hermit. Johnson's script goes to great lengths to evoke the same sense of whimsicality.
With the decision made to reintroduce the Jedi Master, it fell to Neal Scanlan and his team to recreate him. Head of the 'Creature Shop' department, Scanlan actually managed to find the original molds for the Empire puppet. Incredibly, his team then tracked down the woman who painted the original eyes for Yoda. Everything had to be perfect, calling back to the classic version of the character.
Johnson is clearly delighted with the final result. As he explained:
"The idea that the last time Luke saw Yoda was in Return of the Jedi and the notion of getting back to that version of Yoda to form the emotional connection with Luke – including a glimpse of the impishness, as part of their relationship. It made a lot of sense."
Of course, Johnson then went one step further. He actually recruited Frank Oz, who voiced the character in the original and prequel trilogies, to reprise the role.
Johnson's scene represents the Jedi Master at his best. Yoda appears to speak hope into his former student's heart, and offers cryptic advice. In a staggering intervention, he actually calls down lightning to apparently destroy the ancient knowledge of the Jedi. As the film comes to a close, we realize that Yoda actually knew the ancient Jedi texts had been taken by Rey, and he wasn't really destroying anything of importance anyway. Meanwhile, it's simply staggering to realize how much time and effort went into getting the character right for The Last Jedi.
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