How Star Wars: The Last Jedi brought back THAT surprise character

Exclusive: Director Rian Johnson takes us behind-the-scenes on one of Episode VIII’s most memorable returns – contains spoilers

Mark Hamill in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Lucasfilm, Disney, HF)

**SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI**

As we’ve noted already, newly-released Star Wars sequel The Last Jedi takes the franchise in all sorts of unexpected directions, introducing intriguing new concepts and doing away with old ideas in one of the boldest takes the series has seen in years.

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However, one of the most crowd-pleasing moments in the whole film does still draw heavily from the series’ past, reintroducing a figure few fans would have been expecting to see in the new movie – and during a recent chat with The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson he told us all about how he pulled the scene off.

We’re giving you one last chance to look away if you haven’t seen The Last Jedi – if you skip ahead you’re only hurting yourself!

Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (LucasFilm, HF)
Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (LucasFilm, HF)

If you’re still here, then you’ll be one of the fans delighted by the The Last Jedi’s reintroduction of Frank Oz’s Yoda, the tiny green-skinned Jedi master first introduced in 1981’s The Empire Strikes Back and subsequently appearing in Return of the Jedi, all the prequel films and a vast amount of spin-off media.

“It became obvious to me that there was a place in the movie for Yoda, and especially in Luke’s journey that ‘Oh, this could be the thing that finally – he’s the one guy who can really speak truth to Luke.’” Johnson told RadioTimes.com of his decision to include the character.

Back to his playful Empire Strikes Back persona after years of appearing more serious in the prequels, the sequence sees a Force Ghost of Yoda berate Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his inaction, goading him into helping the Resistance and appearing to burn down a library of precious Jedi texts by calling down lightning (though in actual fact, Daisy Ridley’s Rey has already stolen the books and hidden them on the Millennium Falcon).

And after the prequels introduced a CGI Yoda that had a mixed reception with fans, in the new film Yoda is resurrected using practical puppetry effects, with original puppeteer/voice actor Frank Oz brought back into the fold and original materials from the Empire Strikes Back all pulled together to help bring Johnson’s vision to the screen

“I got really excited about the notion of, ‘Wow, we could do the puppet!’” Johnson told us.

“And [creature designer] Neal Scanlon and his group actually found the original mould for the Empire puppet, and meticulously recreated it. They actually found the woman who drew the original eyes for Yoda, she’s still working outside Pinewood, and they found her and got her to do the eyes.

And if you were wondering, yes, it is Frank Oz puppeteering the whole scene, reuniting the cinema veteran with Mark Hamill decades after they first appeared onscreen together.

“Frank came back, and Frank puppeteered and performed the entire thing,” Johnson said. “The whole thing is a practical performance by Frank.

“And seeing him and Mark work together…I’ve got pictures I’ve been sitting on for the past two years that I can’t wait to put out, of Frank Oz down there with the Yoda puppet. It was extraordinary.”

However, Johnson says there was never any serious thought given to bringing back another notable Force Ghost from the original trilogy, namely Alec Guinness’ Obi-Wan Kenobi, due to a lack of usable material from Guinness (who passed away in 2000) and actor Ewan McGregor’s younger Kenobi (who did some voice work for the character in previous movie The Force Awakens) not fitting in with the timeline.

“Because we had Yoda, who was actually going to play a scene with Luke, I couldn’t think of anything where we could manufacture something from Guinness that would be as powerful as that,” Johnson explained.

“I don’t know what you would do. Digitally recreate him? Or do some kind of… we got Yoda, I think that’ll work.”

Based on fans’ reactions, we’d have to agree. Fingers crossed Episode IX will see the Yoda/Luke Force Ghost mash-up that the world’s been calling out for.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in UK cinemas now