From lightsabers to Darth Vader's mask to quotable lines ("Use the Force!"), few movies are as hugely iconic as the original Star Wars trilogy. But new video has just revealed that one of the most memorably elements of the sci-fi fantasy was nearly cut from the films completely, that'd be the voice of Yoda.
Giant Freakin Robot has tipped us to an interview with legendary puppeteer and moviemaker Frank Oz, in which he confesses that George Lucas fought hard to get anyone but Oz to voice the pint-sized Jedi master in 1980's Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. Oz recalls:
"George didn't want my voice in the beginning. I gave him a (demo) tape. He said, 'No thank you.' And in post-production for about a year I heard that he was auditioning voices for Yoda. He had no intention of using me for the voice. Then I was on my honeymoon with my first wife about 25 years ago or 30 years ago, and he said (mimes a phone), 'Frank can you come out…I think we'd like to try your voice.' And so I flew back (from Hawaii) and recorded Yoda."
You can hear his confession in the clip below:
In retrospect, Frank Oz's interpretation of Yoda's rumpled tone is such a major element of Star Wars, it's hard to comprehend that George Lucas ever doubted it. At the time, Oz was a well-known Muppets performer, bringing life to characters like Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Animal. Perhaps Lucas associated him so closely with these broad comedy characters that he feared Oz couldn’t tone it down for Star Wars' eccentric guru. Of course, real Oz fans also know that the Muppeteer had a hand in (ha!) the voice and performance of much gruffer creatures like Aughra and Chamberlain from Jim Henson's fantasy-adventure The Dark Crystal. But as that came out in 1982, we can forgive Lucas his initial misgivings.
Even before Frank Oz gave voice to Yoda in postproduction, he brought him to life on set, working as the groundbreaking practical creature's head puppeteer. Also contributing to the team effort the Yoda puppet demanded were Kathryn Mullen, Mike Quinn, David Barclay, Don Austen, David Greenaway and Kathy Smee. And standing in for Yoda when walking in a wide shot was required were Warwick Davis, who went on to front George Lucas's Willow, and Deep Roy, who memorably played every single Oompa-Loompa in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
To see Oz's Yoda in action, click over to page 2.