Star Wars memoirs

from someone who was actually there!

Nick Maley’s


When I rejoined the Star Wars creature crew for the second movie ESB in 1978, the script was already complete as was the concept art. Yoda's dialogue was already backwards. I cannot speak with certainty about what ideas influenced the writers and whether any of the people named above inspired the characterization. It has been suggested that George Lucas had the Japanese classic movie "The Seven Samurai" in mind when writing Star Wars. So possibly there could have been a little of Sokaku Takeda in the concept for Yoda. But the drawings we were given that Ralph McQuarie had done showed no signs of it.  Ralph drew a very thin, YOUNG, character remarkably similar to Jiminy Cricket with pointy ears and a plated forehead. Clearly there was no physical resemblance.

Similarity between the names "Yoda" and "Yogi" is the basis of claims that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the inspiration for Yoda,  That’s a stretch. There was no reference of any kind to him in the workshop.  I prefer the theory that the name "Yoda" was derived from the Sanskrite word "Yoddha" which means warrior, and/or the Hebrew "ידע" (pronounced "Yodea"), which means "He knows" or "One who knows".

I believe that claims regarding Spencer W. Kimball may have their it roots in the fact that there was a Mormon involvement in ESB, (refered to in other Star War tales of mine). I think Gary Kurtz may have been a Morman at the time. I'm not sure, but that was the rumor and we certainly had Mormons being given tours of the studio. HOWEVER, there were NO pictures of Spencer W. Kimball in the room where Yoda was modeled. His name was never mentioned to those of us working in the MFX creature workshop and the only human face in evidence there there was poster of Einstein as an old man.
I have seen video of Stu saying he threw Yoda together quickly. Stu is a few years from making it to 100 (writing this in 2009). His memory is sharp in many ways, but maybe he forgets the first 3 versions that he labored over. I remember his son Graham grumbling about the 5 months it took for Stu, George and Gary to lock down what Yoda would look like. In the script he was only described him as "blue". The drawing was skinny and not practical by 1978 technology. But I think it was already green. By the time Yoda was shrunk to fit Frank Oz's arm, it was clear that the initial sculpt lacked the wisdom needed for the part. Months passed with different versions emerging. Stu looked stressed as he would alternate between
remodeling and developing prototype eye mechanisms. Pressure was building to get the look completed but Yoda was still young and not too smart looking.

As the deadline grew closer Stu turned in a new direction, subtly altering the features to echo personalities renowned for wisdom. The face shape altered to be more the shape of Ghandi. The eyes and white hair of Einstein, when he was old, were added. You couldn't have old eyes on a young face. So Stu looked in a mirror and added the lumps and bumps of his own face to fill the gaps. (He was 65 at the time). There are photos of Stu and Yoda smiling together. The resemblance is remarkable.

This was the 4th version of Yoda that Stu modeled. it may have taken 4 and a half months to modeling the first 3 that were not used. But the last version he rushed to put together at the last minute. George (Lucas) and Gary (Kurtz) came in the morning after it was completed and the older, wiser, smiling yet worried face of the ultimate Jedi master was an immediate hit.