WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.
In a film packed with unexpected twists and turns, few were as surprising as the cameo appearance in Star Wars: The Last Jedi by franchise icon Yoda, who paid a visit in Force ghost form to former pupil Luke Skywalker. For the Jedi Master's return, filmmakers looked back to 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, not only for inspiration and characterization, but for technique and technology.
"He was 100 percent puppet," writer/director Rian Johnson told Wired. "We actually recreated the puppet from The Empire Strikes Back. They found original molds, and Frank Oz came out and puppeteered him. It was exactly the way they would’ve done it when they shot Empire."
More than that, however, The Last Jedi resurrected what Uproxx characterizes as the "ornery" version of Yoda, the one Luke knew from his training on Dagobah.
"That felt really important to me," Johnson told the website. "And, actually, I cut some of that out and Frank Oz said to me I had to put it back. Because when I first pitched him the scene, it’s like the Yoda from Empire is back because that’s the one Luke had the emotional connection with. And that’s why we did the puppet and recreated the Empire puppet: Neal Scanlan and his team did a recreation of the Yoda puppet. It’s not only a puppet, it’s an exact replica of the Empire puppet. They found the original molds for it. They found the woman that painted the original eyes for Yoda. Then Frank came and worked with them for a few weeks to get the puppet right. He did a lot of testing and a lot of adjusting with the puppet creators. It was amazing to watch the process. The idea that the last time Luke saw Yoda was in Return of the Jedi and the notion of getting back to that version of Yoda to form the emotional connection with Luke – including a glimpse of the impishness, as part of their relationship. It made a lot of sense."
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi stars Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, Benicio Del Toro as ‘DJ’, Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, and the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. The film is in theaters worldwide.