Neal Scanlon, Star Wars: The Last Jedi creature creative supervisor, talks about what went down behind-the-scenes in bringing back Jedi Master Yoda for the Rian Johnson-written/directed contribution to the famed franchise.
The Last Jedi has spawned varying opinions from the Star Wars community, most notably for its subversion of expectations (killing Supreme Leader Snoke; Rey’s alleged parentage reveal). Having said that, there is one particular sequence that most everyone can get behind on: Master Yoda’s Force Ghost appearing in Ahch-To to help the morally struggling Luke figure out what needs to be done.
Yoda appeared as a CGI creation in the prequels, but the quintessential version of the Jedi remains the puppet that was in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, where he was the sometime campy, but always wise mentor to Luke. Scanlon realized this and immediately knew what he wanted for what would be a memorable cameo. Speaking with Nerdist, he talked about the creative process behind the making of that very nostalgic scene.
“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. 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.
“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.
“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. 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.”
It was certainly a thrill for Star Wars fans to see the classic character come back (even for just a small cameo), but despite the great lengths Scanlon and his team went through to recreate the original aesthetic, the puppet’s first front shot in The Last Jedi was arguably a little odd-looking in a way that we can’t quite put a finger on it. Fortunately, as his scene with Luke in Achc-To progressed, his appearance significantly improved, that by the end, it’s as if not more than 30 years have passed since we first met him in Dagobah.
Scanlon’s work to re-introduce Yoda to a brand new generation of fans (and reunite him with old-timers) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the first step of hopefully seeing more of the green Jedi master in the upcoming Star Wars films, specifically the reported Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff that is currently in development. Other than that, his ability to command power via Force Lightning blows the door open when it comes to the age-old mystery of whether Force Ghost has practical capabilities other than just popping in and out to check on their predecessors.
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