“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.
Today, Yoda is one of the most recognizable elements of Star Wars, so much so that his statue graces the exterior of our San Francisco campus. But the character’s debut in The Empire Strikes Back remains one of the biggest challenges in the company’s history, accomplished only by the collaboration of cast and crew members including main puppeteer and voice artist, Frank Oz.
To keep his identity mysterious, Yoda was largely absent from Empire’s promotion in the spring and summer of 1980. His reveal became a surprise hit. Fan letters poured in. One young Canadian student claimed he could do an impersonation of both Yoda and Miss Piggy (one of Frank Oz’s Muppet characters). Another youngster from New York asked Oz, “How did you ever come up with the idea of a little green man who ended up to be the best part in the movie to me?”
So many people wrote letters addressed to Frank Oz or Yoda that Lucasfilm commissioned a postcard specially designed for fans of the new character. Oz was recruited to draw a unique signature for Yoda that’d be printed on the card, as if the Jedi master himself were available for autographs.
During production, Oz had taken it upon himself to write a multi-page biography of Yoda, fleshing out the character’s background to inform his acting. One can imagine this type of creative process extending to the creation of Yoda’s signature, with its modest, childlike script, implying what Oz then described as the “gentler world” from whence the old Jedi came.