Why Frank Oz didn't let Rian Johnson play with the real Yoda on the 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' set

Gwynne Watkins
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

In the behind-the-scenes documentary The Director and the Jedi (included in the digital and Blu-ray editions of Star Wars: The Last Jedi), there’s a section showcasing the return of Yoda, played by Frank Oz. The veteran Muppets performer agreed to puppeteer the character for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. (In the prequels, Oz provided Yoda’s voice, but the character himself was a digital creation.)

The documentary shows Last Jedi director Rian Johnson trying his hand at Yoda during rehearsals. As Oz explained to Yahoo Entertainment, that particular Yoda puppet was a stand-in for lighting purposes — because Oz wouldn’t have allowed Johnson, or anyone else, to put a hand in the actual Yoda.

“It wasn’t the [real] puppet, thank God. … I wouldn’t have been happy,” Oz said during a Facebook Live interview about his film Muppet Guys Talking. “It’s like if you’re a golfer, you don’t want other people to use your clubs. Inside that character is very special to me. So it was OK to use the lighting one, but not the real one.”

Oz was initially surprised that Johnson wanted to use the puppet version of Yoda, since the CGI character is much simpler from a production standpoint. In addition to Oz, Yoda in The Last Jedi required three assistant puppeteers to work the body, arms, and animatronic facial expressions. But for Oz, who began his career playing characters like Miss Piggy and Cookie Monster, the experience was like coming home.

“It was a joy. It was fantastic. I love the challenge, and I love the character,” Oz told Yahoo. “You know, the challenge is great. It’s four of us doing one character, and we have to rehearse one line of dialogue. It might take us three days. The specificity is incredible.”

Oz’s documentary Muppet Guys Talking is available to stream at MuppetGuysTalking.com. Watch our full Facebook Live interview with Oz and producer Victoria Labalme below.

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