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The Star Wars franchise is full of colorful characters, with George Lucas' imagination helping to craft countless alien creatures. Many of the galaxy's finest were originally brought to life through puppetry, including Yoda. After becoming iconic in two of the original trilogy's installments, Yoda eventually appeared as a younger Jedi Master in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. But it looks like the original puppeteer wasn't happy with that look.
Nick Maley worked on Yoda's appearance in Empire Strikes Back, and recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the character's appearance in The Phantom Menace. While a new version of the movie features a CGI rendering of Yoda, it was originally an oddly hairy puppet. And as Maley puts it, he was simply built wrong:
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.
While some Star Wars fans simply didn't like how Yoda appeared in The Phantom Menace, it looks like Nick Maley has some very specific notes about the original puppet. And they relate to his material and color, which made the beloved figure look a bit wonky.
Nick Maley's comments to WeGotThisCovered highlight how much work goes into creating the galaxy far, far away. George Lucas created a world full of fantastic creatures and Jedi, each crafted with care-- down to their raw material. Just one change in Yoda's puppet resulted in his Phantom Menace appearance seeming off; God is in the details.
Because The Phantom Menace was set many years before Yoda appeared in Empire Strikes Back, the crew was tasked with making a Yoda puppet that would be significantly younger. Unfortunately, taking the green guy off Dagobah wasn't easy, and Yoda's scenes in the prequel didn't look right.
In fact, Lucasfilm has actually gone back and largely retconned the Phantom Menace Yoda puppet out of existence. In new copies of Episode I, the puppet was edited out, replaced by a CGI rendering of the character. This allows Yoda to look consistent with his appearances in Episodes II and III, where the character was given more agency and finally able to engage in lightsaber combat.
As a reference, you can check out a video below showing both version of the Jedi Master in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
While keeping Yoda a puppet in Phantom Menace followed in the footsteps of his previous two appearances, ultimately George Lucas changed his mind, and allowed the green guy to become a CGI character for the remainder of his appearances in the galaxy far, far away. That is, until his Force Ghost popped up in The Last Jedi-- once again returning to practical effects and puppetry in the process.