I was 11 years old when the first Star Wars film was released in May 1977; piling into Dad’s company car to watch the movie at the mall in Donelson, Tennessee, was probably one of the last things we did as a family before moving away from Nashville to the suburbs of Kansas City. I became an instant fan and have seen each of the following movies initially in the theatre followed by television viewings and various home video formats. The original trilogy, of course, remains dear to my heart with Yoda high in my list of favorite characters.
Yet, I never bought into the many types of collectibles produced in conjunction with the Star Wars franchise. Until earlier this year, I never even owned any of the stamps released over the years featuring characters and scenes from the film. Then in February, I received an envelope in the mail bearing United States Scott #4143n featuring Yoda (the other stamps on this particular cover portrayed U.S. President Gerald R. Ford and writer Edgar Allen Poe — not exactly a trio that goes together!). In July, a second envelope bearing a Star Wars stamp arrived in my mailbox — also featuring Yoda, but from Portugal.
Yoda is a fictional character in the Star Wars franchise created by George Lucas, first appearing in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back. In the original films, he trains Luke Skywalker to fight against the Galactic Empire. In the prequel films, he serves as the Grand Master of the Jedi Order and as a high-ranking general of Clone Troopers in the Clone Wars. Before his death in Return of the Jedi at the age of 900, Yoda was the oldest living character in the Star Wars franchise in canon, until the introduction of Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens.
Frank Oz provided Yoda’s voice in each film and used his skills as a puppeteer in the original trilogy and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. For some walking scenes in Episodes V and I, dwarf actors Deep Roy and Warwick Davis appeared in costume as Yoda (though neither was credited). While Frank Oz served as the primary performer, he was assisted by a multitude of other puppeteers, including Kathryn Mullen (Ep. V), Wendy Froud (Ep. V), David Barclay (Ep. V-VI), Mike Quinn (Ep. VI), David Greenaway (Ep. I & VI), Don Austen (Ep. I), and Kathy Smee (Ep. I). For the radio dramatizations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Yoda was voiced by John Lithgow, while Tom Kane voiced him in the Clone Wars animated series, several video games, and the series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. George Lucas had originally conceived of Yoda’s full name as being “Minch Yoda” before shortening it.
The make-up artist Stuart Freeborn based Yoda’s face partly on his own and partly on Albert Einstein’s. In The Phantom Menace, he was redesigned to look younger. He was computer-generated for two distant shots, but remained mostly a puppet. The puppet was re-designed by Nick Dudman from Stuart Freeborn’s original design.
Rendered with computer animation in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, Yoda appeared in ways not previously possible, including his participation in elaborate fight scenes. In Revenge of the Sith, his face appears in several big close-ups, demanding highly detailed CGI work. His performance was deliberately designed to be consistent with the limitations of the puppet version, with some “mistakes” made such as the occasional ear-jiggling. Rob Coleman was responsible for the character’s new incarnation to the series.
Yoda was recreated in CGI for the 2011 Blu-ray release of The Phantom Menace. A clip of the new CG Yoda from The Phantom Menace was first seen in the featurette The Chosen One, included in the 2005 DVD release of Revenge of the Sith. The 2012 theatrical 3D release of The Phantom Menace also features the CG version of Yoda.
Yoda makes his first film appearance in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) arrives on Dagobah to seek his guidance, having been instructed to do so by the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness).
Yoda does not initially identify himself to Luke and instead tests his patience by presenting himself as a comical and senile backwater individual, deliberately provoking both Luke and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker). Luke is shocked when he finally realizes that this small, elderly creature is the powerful Jedi Master he was seeking. Finding that Luke has the same anger and recklessness which caused his father’s downfall, Yoda is reluctant to teach him in the ways of the Force, and agrees only at Obi-Wan’s behest. Before finishing his training, however, Luke chooses to leave Dagobah in order to confront Darth Vader and save his friends at Bespin. Yoda and Obi-Wan warn him that he is not ready to face Vader and is being lured into a trap, but Luke leaves anyway, promising to return. When Obi-Wan laments that Luke is their “last hope,” Yoda reminds him that “there is another”.
Yoda makes a brief appearance in Return of the Jedi (1983), set a year after The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda, now sick and frail, informs Luke that he has completed his training but will not be a Jedi until he confronts Darth Vader; he also confirms that Vader is Luke’s father, something Vader had told Luke in the previous film. Yoda then peacefully dies at the age of 900, his body disappearing as he becomes “one with the Force”. He leaves Luke with the knowledge that “there is another Skywalker”. Moments later, Obi-Wan’s ghost helps Luke come to the realization that the “other” of whom Yoda spoke is Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who is his twin sister.
In the film’s final scene, after the Empire has been defeated, Luke sees Yoda’s spirit looking upon him with pride, alongside Obi-Wan and the redeemed Anakin Skywalker (Vader’s former Jedi self).
Yoda returns as a younger version of himself in the prequel trilogy beginning with The Phantom Menace (1999). The film marked the final time Oz would portray the character as a puppet, until the release of The Last Jedi (2017). However, in the 2011 Blu-ray release of The Phantom Menace, the Yoda puppet was replaced by a CGI character to match the later depiction of the character. In the film, which is set 35 years before The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) brings the young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) to the Jedi Council. Qui-Gon is convinced that Anakin is the “Chosen One” of Jedi prophecy who will bring balance to the Force, and requests the boy be trained as a Jedi. Yoda senses great fear in Anakin, especially in regards to his attachment to his mother, and foresees “grave danger” in his training. The Council, led at the time by Yoda’s former padawan Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), rejects Qui-Gon’s request.
When Qui-Gon is mortally wounded in a duel with Sith Lord Darth Maul (played by Ray Park and voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), his dying request to his Padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) is that Anakin be trained as a Jedi. Obi-Wan, determined to fulfill his promise to his master, tells Yoda that he will train the boy, even without the Council’s approval. Yoda makes Obi-Wan a Jedi Knight, and reluctantly gives his blessing to Anakin’s training.
Yoda makes his first CGI appearance in Attack of the Clones (2002). Set a decade after The Phantom Menace, Yoda, now in direct control of the Order’s policy as Master of the High Council in addition to his traditional position as Grandmaster, is one of the many Jedi who are concerned about the emergence of the Separatists, a group of systems rebelling against the Galactic Republic. After the first attempted assassination of Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman), Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) “suggests” that she be put under the protection of Obi-Wan, who is training Anakin (now played by Hayden Christensen). At the climax of the film, Yoda arrives in time to save Obi-Wan and Anakin from the Separatists and defeats his former apprentice, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), in a lightsaber duel.
In Revenge of the Sith (2005), Yoda leads the Jedi Council in pursuing the mysterious Sith Lord Darth Sidious. Palpatine has by now amassed near-dictatorial emergency powers, and begins interfering in Jedi affairs by appointing Anakin as his personal representative on the Council. The Council grants Anakin a Council seat, but denies him the rank of Master, feeling that doing so would amount to giving Palpatine a vote in the Council. Additionally, they order him to spy on Palpatine, whom Anakin considers a friend and mentor. Confused and angered by the perceived snub and the instructions to commit what he believes to be treason, Anakin continues to lose faith in the Jedi Order.
Anakin seeks Yoda’s counsel about his prophetic visions that someone close to him will die. Yoda, unaware of the person Anakin speaks of is Padmé, or that she is Anakin’s wife and pregnant with his child, tells him to “train himself to let go of everything that he fears to lose”. Unsatisfied, Anakin turns to Palpatine, who then reveals himself as Darth Sidious. Palpatine manipulates the young Jedi into becoming his Sith apprentice, Darth Vader, with the promise that the dark side holds the power to save Padmé from dying in childbirth.
Palpatine later transforms the Republic into the tyrannical Galactic Empire, proclaiming himself emperor for life, and orders the clone troopers to kill their Jedi generals. At this time, Yoda is on Kashyyyk, overseeing the battle between the Separatist forces and a combined command of clone troopers and Wookiees. Through the Force, Yoda feels the deaths of each of the Jedi as they are assassinated by their own troops. After swiftly killing the clone troopers instructed to kill him, he escapes with Wookiee leaders Tarfful and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and returns to Coruscant, where he and Obi-Wan fight their way into the Jedi Temple to stop a trap for all surviving Jedi. Inside, they discover that all the Jedi inside, younglings included, have been slaughtered. They then discover a holographic recording, revealing Vader as the assassin. Yoda decides to face Palpatine, sending Obi-Wan to kill Vader. When Obi-Wan protests, Yoda tells him that the Anakin he knew no longer exists, having been “consumed by Darth Vader”.
Subsequently, Yoda battles Palpatine in a lightsaber duel that wrecks the Senate Rotunda. In the end, neither is able to overcome the other and Yoda is forced to retreat. He goes into exile on Dagobah so that he may hide from the Empire and wait for another opportunity to destroy the Sith. At the end of the film, it was revealed that Yoda has been in contact with Qui-Gon’s spirit, learning the secret of immortality from him and passing it on to Obi-Wan.
Yoda is also instrumental in deciding the fate of the Skywalker children after Padmé dies in childbirth, recommending that Luke and Leia be hidden from Vader and Palpatine in remote locations. Other than the ancient Jedi Master, only the Organas, the Lars family, R2-D2 and Obi-Wan know of their true identities.
In The Force Awakens (2015), set 30 years after Return of the Jedi, Yoda’s voice is heard by the young scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) after she discovers Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Yoda appears to Luke as a force ghost as Luke debates whether to burn down the tree storing the only remaining copies of the Sacred Texts of the Jedi. As Luke makes his way to the tree, Yoda appears behind him and talks to Luke about the inner conflicts going on inside him and reminds him that a Jedi must always be sure of his path. When Luke decides against burning down the tree and destroying the texts, Yoda summons a lightning bolt down upon the tree, setting it ablaze while Luke steps back in horror at the sight of the texts seemingly being lost forever (unaware that Rey had taken them earlier as she left the island.) When confronting Yoda as to why he did it, Yoda tells Luke that the true Jedi knowledge is within Jedi themselves and it is their responsibility, not books, to pass that knowledge on and continue the way of the Jedi. As Luke takes in the message, he sits with Yoda and shares a quiet moment with his former master.
Unlike in the later sequels, where fight scenes necessitated the character be rendered in with computer-generated imagery, Yoda is once more portrayed using puppetry.
Yoda will appear in Star Wars: Episode IX.
In 2007, Yoda was selected by Empire magazine as the “25th greatest movie character of all time”. On their list of the 100 Greatest Fictional Characters, Fandomania.com ranked Yoda at number 60.
On August 25, 2007, Portugal”s postal service — the CTT — released a set of six stamps and one miniature sheet containing an additional three stamps to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie. Designed by Francisco Galamba and printed by Bpost using the offset process, Yoda appears on a stamp denominated at 0.85 euros. There was also a self-adhesive stamp booklet of six stamp designs issued with Yoda on a stamp with the denomination determinate on the International rate for letters weighing no more than 20 grams.