Here’s How Yoda Was Brought Back For Star Wars: The Last Jedi


In terms of global box office, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has now officially grossed over $1 billion in 19 days – so it could be argued that spoilers are no longer an issue at this point. But, we can never be too careful – even though the film has already been predictably pored over, dissected and analyzed to an extent rarely seen elsewhere in cinema. Some regard it as being a divisive franchise instalment – with a high level of criticism being leveled at the character of Luke Skywalker, in particular. But, it’s the revival of another beloved Star Wars icon that’s discussed in a new interview featured on Nerdist.

A conversation with Creature Shop head Neal Scanlan has revealed the high level of collaboration and deliberation that went into the process of getting the return of Jedi Master Yoda just right. It’s a pretty lengthy chat, too, with Scanlan dropping a whole bunch of juicy insights into how they brought the character back.

“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.”

While, from a technical perspective, the designers sought to make Yoda a “more efficient” puppet that would be easier to use, the team adhered very closely to the theatrical conventions employed in the original Star Wars trilogy.

“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.”

Once the practical side of Yoda’s return was settled, the question then centred around how to effectively communicate, in visual terms, that Yoda is a Force Ghost without disappointing fans. Here, Neal Scanlan advocated for the lightest CGI touches possible.

“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.”

This is where the VFX team, led by Supervisor Ben Morris, came in – and Morris was keen to highlight the importance of the careful union between practical and digital effects in Yoda’s appearance.

“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. 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.”

Yoda’s role in The Last Jedi may only constitute a few minutes of screen-time, but the reverence with which the character – and by extension, the fans – was clearly treated speaks volumes about the way in which each department involved in this project approached their work. In the final analysis, such meticulous care and attention has paid off, since every frame of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is infused with exactly the kind of love and enthusiasm for the saga that’s shared by audiences around the world – and for that reason, Yoda’s appearance fits perfectly.