Say what you will about pod-racing and the insidious Darth Maul, but it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the years haven’t been kind to The Phantom Menace.
Pitched as the Star Wars equivalent of ground zero, the ill-fated 1999 blockbuster introduced the opening chapter to Lucasfilm’s prized Skywalker Saga, though the results were less than stellar. Pacing issues and a muddled script were among the many weak points hidden beneath the film’s glossy exterior, and it’s only now, almost 20 years after the fact, that people are beginning to realize just how ugly the CGI rendition of Yoda truly was – like u-g-l-y ugly.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and sure enough, Star Wars effects guru Nick Maley, best known for his puppeteering work on Empire, spoke out against The Phantom Menace and its handling of Yoda during the For the Love of Sci-Fi convention this past weekend.
They built a puppet for Episode I: The Phantom Menace but made the mistake of trying to update Yoda. They re-sculptured him and made him out of a different material which was heavier. Then, because he was transparent instead of opaque, it meant light didn’t hit him the same way so his color wasn’t the same.
To use a more telling metaphor, Maley then compared Yoda to the archetypal grandmother in that while she may be old-fashioned, she’s still your grandmother, and shouldn’t be changed or altered in any way through CGI. And if that doesn’t put things into perspective, we don’t know what will.
They also needed to put a stronger mechanism in so the result was a Yoda that looked quite different and generated a lot of criticism. Ultimately you can’t redesign grandma: grandma is grandma. She might be old-fashioned but that’s grandma. You need to save your new stuff for your new characters.
Next up for the Star Wars saga is the launch of the so-far untitled Episode IX next year, before Lucasfilm begins doubling down on The Mandalorian and other TV projects set within that famous far-away galaxy.