Star Wars memoirs

from someone who was actually there!

Nick Maley’s

As a result of my involvement in the walking version, Bruce asked if I could also assemble a radio controlled version for the sequence where Yoda is in Luke's back pack. The puppet that Frank Oz operated was good for the close-ups, but for the longer shots of Luke running, walking etc. and where Yoda is balanced on Luke's foot, they needed a radio controlled version.
At that time I had done nothing with radio control and shied away from making the mechanism. But Ron Hone was working with Nick Allder, in the Physical Special Effects Department, and supervising robot fabrication so we collaborated on the project under Stu’s supervision.

Two mechanisms were built. One was a back-up and stood by incase the first on got damaged during filming. In fact only one was needed. People often look at the photos and think they were fully mechanical robots. But we only had 64k computers in those days. Robotics were sci fi in those days. The arms and legs were static and could be wired into any position to suit the shot. The eyes, eyelids, jaw and neck were radio controlled and the whole thing was self contained. It fitted perfectly in Luke's backpack. Mark could move freely while the operator was across the set somewhere.

I had made the molds that the skull came from. I made the skins and fitted them to the mechanisms. The hair was punched in (as it was on all the Yoda puppets) by Graham Freeborn and myself and then it was artworked.


Stu was very caught up building the intricate brass mechanism for the prototype puppet. Graham, (his son), and Kathy, (his wife), were working full time on set and that left me as the only experienced tech in the workshop. Stu considered the complexity of building a mechanical figure that appeared to walk, and told George it was impossible in the time.

Bruce Sharman the Production Manager came to me and asked if I could suggest a solution. It was clear that Stu was right... a mechanical figure was not an option but I had another idea. Because nobody knew how tall the trees on Degobah were, then IF you saw Yoda walking alone, he could be bigger than the puppet version. (If a larger version was with Luke you would see the difference immediately). So I suggested that we make a version of Yoda with a little person inside... and he would just walk through the swamp at the end of the scene when Luke meets the Jedi master.

As Kenny Baker was the smallest little person in the cast, it was suggested that he might be in the suit. But Kenny is a dwarf with a distinctive waddling walk that Stu thought was wrong for the character so instead we used a midget named Deep Roy who is small but in proportion with normal people.

TECHNICAL STUFF: The Wardrobe department made a costume to fit Roy and I quickly made a Yoda head by taking one of the skins for the puppet and expanding it with Di-iso-Octyl Phthalate suspended in Iso-proyl alcohol. (To be an effects make-up artist you have to be a chemist too). At that time we were using Windsor Hills foam and that was very sensitive to many materials..... so chemical expansion was a quick solution to the problem. Punching the hair into an ultra weak skin was very tricky but fortunately the figure was a long way away. Artworking the rather oily skin was difficult too.

There was a forth puppet that was built for ESB and I’ll tell you about that in the Making of Yoda Part III!

If you were looking for something truly unique?   Found it you have!

TECHNICAL STUFF: There are two traditional methods of applying hair. The first is to make a wig, either from wefting or by knotting the hair, onto a shaped lace base, 3 or 4 hairs at a time. The second is to glue the hairs individually directly to the actor, mask or puppet... that system is known as "laying loose hair". Neither were suitable in this case. Loose hair was too delicate for a puppet that was used constantly for weeks and the hair was too whispy to use a conventional wig.
On 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, Stuart (Freeborn) had used an alternative system for the hair on the ape masks. I don't know for sure that he invented it but I think he may well have. Bails of synthetic (hair like) thread were threaded through the shaft of hypodermic needles, (where the fluid passes during an injection), and punched right into the skin itself one hair at a time. On STAR WARS we used real hair and had to re-thread the needles on every strand. We used the process extensively on Chewbacca and Yoda.