Warning! SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Last Jedi ahead!
Star Wars: The Last Jedi features a surprise appearance from Yoda, although you’d be forgiven for finding his appearance a bit weird. The Jedi Master returns to Luke on Ahch-To as a Force ghost in the movie, and fitting of the original trilogy focus, he’s a puppet (rather than the CGI creation favored in the prequels).
The decision to bring Yoda back was that of writer/director Rian Johnson, who felt it was necessary for a significant figure from Luke’s past to be the kick in the pants he needs to rejoin the fight. Johnson wanted the scene to recreate the emotional connection shared between the two characters, which is why he chose to go with the real version of Yoda first seen in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. To accomplish this, he tasked creature shop head and concept designer, Neal Scanlon to not only make a new Yoda puppet but an exact replica of the Yoda puppet from Empire.
Choosing to bring Yoda to life with practical effects along with this level of attention to detail (Johnson even points out in another interview with Uproxx that they “found the woman that painted the original eyes for Yoda“) should have fans absolutely thrilled with the Yoda who appears in The Last Jedi. Except, for all their hard work the film’s initial, full body shot of Yoda is jarring, to the point it may actually pull some viewers out of the movie entirely. Why is this? Why does The Last Jedi‘s Yoda look so weird?
The reasons Yoda looks not his best in The Last Jedi are many, ranging from advances in filmmaking to our own nostalgia. That they painstakingly recreated the Yoda puppet from Empire is amazing, but then The Last Jedi wasn’t filmed in the same manner as Empire was in 1980. Film technology has advanced greatly since then, resulting in a shooting – and especially post-production – process that is very different from what would have been possible in the early 1980s. Johnson has stated that only about 10-15% of The Last Jedi was filmed digitally, which is unusual for modern films, but that he also prefers digital for “low light situations, or shooting elements for effects heavy sequences.” And while that is by no means definitive proof Yoda’s scene was shot digitally as opposed to on film stock, it could be one reason why an exact replica of the puppet from Empire looks a little wonky in The Last Jedi.
In addition to the advances in filming, there is also some CGI effects work applied to Yoda during the scene, most notably the effect that gives him the blue aura of a Force ghost. The result here is similar in that when coupled with the puppet, it doesn’t look as convincing as the effect originally used decades ago. It’s a mish-mash of the old and new that never fully gels. Not too mention, Yoda doesn’t appear all that ghost-like, coming across as more corporeal than he appears in the final moments of Return of the Jedi.
But most of all, what really hurts The Last Jedi‘s Yoda look is nostalgia. No matter how carefully they went about recreating the Yoda from Empire, it will never perfectly match up with the Yoda everyone has in their heads. There are a lot of factors that cannot be duplicated, resulting in an image which will always clash with the Yoda everyone recalls. Surely, there would have been even more outrage had they chosen to recreate Yoda with CGI, and the puppet does find its groove, but the final result may have been all the better for it.
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