Yoda is a character from the Star Wars franchise, performed by Frank Oz. The character debuted as a puppet in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back, with Oz as voice and lead puppeteer, and Kathryn Mullen assisting.
In an interview with Leonard Maltin, George Lucas discussed the creation of Yoda:
“I went to Jim [Henson] and said, 'Do you want to do this?' And he said, 'Well, I'm busy, I'm doing this, and doing that, I'm making a movie and all that -- I really can't, but... how about Frank? You know, Frank's the other half of me.' And I said, 'Well, that'd be fantastic.'”
A popular misconception is that Yoda is a Muppet, based on the involvement of Oz, the character's existence as a puppet, vocal similarity to Oz' portrayal of the Muppet Grover, and a false assumption that The Jim Henson Company (or even Jim Henson himself) built the character. However, had he been built by Henson, the more realistic Yoda would technically qualify as a creature rather than a Muppet. The Yoda puppet was originally designed and built by Stuart Freeborn for Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Henson merely consulted on the building of Yoda. A few other Henson veterans contributed to the character, such as Wendy Froud who assisted on construction, but their work on Yoda was under LucasFilm's employ.
The creation of Yoda arose entirely independent of Henson, the only real connections being the loan of Oz and one or two other designers/assistants, and a slightly similar technology. Oz explained the character's creation in detail, during a 2000 interview with IGN FilmForce:
“...Jim [Henson] came to me and said Gary Kurtz, who was co-producer of The Empire Strikes Back, had a character and I think they asked Jim first – but with running a company and everything he couldn't do it, so he recommended me....
From then on, I was the one who kind of put all the elements of Yoda together, and although Jim didn't make Yoda, George [Lucas] and he had an understanding that they would exchange technology information. George would give to Jim and Jim would give some of his people to George to help. Wendy Froud helped out a little bit with the character and two other people from Jim's company worked the cables for me.”
Warwick Davis stood in as a double for the character in scenes where Yoda was walking in 1999's The Phantom Menace. Frank Oz returned to perform the character on set, but the puppet was replaced with CGI in later home video releases; the puppet was not used at all for Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, with Oz serving in a voice over role only. Oz returned again in 2015 for the 2017 release of The Last Jedi where Yoda was rebuilt using the original molds for the puppet from The Empire Strikes Back.
- In a Movie Mania segment, various Muppets audition for the role of Yoda.
- John Crichton refers to Yoda in the "I, E.T." episode of Farscape. He says the planet that the crew lands on reminds him of Dagobah, Yoda's home planet in The Empire Strikes Back.
- In the September 14, 2005 episode of From the Balcony, Bobo auditions for the part of Yoda in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
- When asked which classic cinema character he'd like to play in an interview hosted on Amazon.com, Kermit answers that he's suited to play Yoda since he's already small and green.
- In a November 2011 appearance on George Stroumboulopoulos, Kermit says he regrets not getting the role of Yoda. "I didn't have the ears for it."
- At the London press conference for The Muppets, Kermit is asked if he minds getting typecast playing himself in movies all the time. He reveals having been looked over for some roles in the past, including Yoda. "Right body type, wrong ears."
- In the January 17, 2014, issue of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, Kermit imitated Yoda for a silent interview photo when asked if it was true that he rejected the alien role back in the day.
- Grover portrays "Groda" in the "Cookie's Crumby Pictures" segment, "Star S'mores." Gargour reprised the role in a 2018 episode of Iftah Ya Simsim.
- Beginning in 2002 with Attack of the Clones, Yoda became a CGI character, the concepts of which Oz was consulted on. The documentary From Puppets to Pixels features behind-the-scenes footage of George Lucas providing direction to his team of animators regarding how Yoda should move in a fight scene. Having already referred to Yoda as frog-like, Lucas remarks that Yoda is "actually the illegitimate child of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy."
- In the Empire of Dreams documentary, George Lucas had this to say about the creation of the Yoda puppet: "That was like, a real leap. Because if that puppet had not worked, the whole film would have been down the tubes. It just would have been a disaster if it had been this silly little Muppet... if it had been Kermit running around in that movie, the whole movie would have collapsed under the weight of it."
- According to the 2010 book The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back by J.W. Rinzler, a filmed blooper exists of Miss Piggy interacting with Mark Hamill on the Dagobah set. "When Mark Hamill first met Frank Oz, he asked him to do a brief Miss Piggy cameo during rehearsals on set, as a practical joke — but when the time came much later, it caught even Hamill off-guard. During one scene, Yoda tells Luke to follow his feelings. Luke protests that he has followed his feelings — and suddenly, Frank Oz whips out a Miss Piggy puppet, saying, “Feelings? You want feelings? Get behind the couch and I’ll show you feelings, punk. What is this hole? I’ve been booked into dumps before, but never like this. Get me my agent on the phone!”"