Yoda Was Supposed to Be Played by a Monkey in a Mask

in Star Wars

yoda on luke's back

Credit: Lucasfilm

When George Lucas created the Star Wars franchise in the 1970s, nothing quite like the space opera had ever been done before (or since, to be fair). This meant, though, that everything about the original trilogy — A New Hope (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and Return of the Jedi (1983) was brand new, and required some trial and error before Lucas and his team got it right.

yoda on dagobah
Credit: Lucasfilm

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One of the most surprising facts about Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is that the iconic character of Grand Master Yoda was originally supposed to be played by a monkey wearing a mask. Yes, a real simian — and there is photographic evidence.

yoda on dagobah esb
Credit: Lucasfilm

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Some time ago, Twitter user Will McCrabb shared one shocking photo of the monkey, wearing a somewhat terrifying mask. McCrabb wrote:

Never forget that they briefly tested a monkey wearing a mask holding a cane to play Yoda in long shots for EMPIRE.

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Eventually, of course, Lucas decided to go in a different direction, using an impressive puppet for Yoda. Contrary to popular belief, the puppet was not created by Jim Henson Studios, but by an Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) employee.

Muppet History shared:

Fun fact, Yoda is NOT a Muppet.

While the iconic Star Wars character is often performed by Frank Oz of Muppet fame, the original puppet was constructed by Stuart Freeborn for Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic, with Jim Henson simply serving as a consultant.

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Lucas did, however, originally offer the role of puppeteering Yoda to Henson, but the legendary Muppets creator was busy with his own movie and passed the task off to Frank Oz instead.

Oz, of course, has gone on to play Yoda for over four decades, most recently voicing the Jedi Master in the Skywalker Saga conclusion, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), the Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge game show, and the Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge virtual reality video game.

frank oz with yoda puppet
Credit: Lucasfilm Archives

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At this time, it is not yet known when we will see Yoda again. Timeline-wise, he could theoretically appear in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney+.

The show, starring Ewan McGregor (Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayden Christensen (Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker) in their prequel trilogy roles, will take place approximately 10 years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), meaning that Yoda would still be alive and well.

obi-wan and yoda
Credit: Lucasfilm

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However, it is important to note that since this show will chronicle the events after the execution of Emperor Palpatine’s Order 66, the remaining members of the Jedi Order are in hiding throughout the galaxy.

There is also, of course, the potential for a Yoda flashback scene to occur in The Mandalorian Season 3 or one of its spinoff series.

With Grogu playing such a crucial role in Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni’s hit show, it seems quite plausible that we will eventually see the foundling’s new Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker, recall a memory of his own instructor, Yoda, before his death, which occurred several years prior to The Mandalorian.

Luke Skywalker and Grogu,
Credit: Lucasfilm

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What do you think? Would having a monkey play Master Yoda have changed the entire trajectory of the Star Wars franchise?

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