Yoda – Greatest Puppet Performance Ever

Today is an important day in the history of movies, and the history of puppetry. It’s the 30th anniversary of the release of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the greatest of the Star Wars films. From a puppetry standpoint, Empire marked the first appearance of Yoda. In his original appearance, Yoda was a puppet brought to life by Muppet puppeteer Frank Oz. Now 30 years later, I still feel that Oz’s performance in this movie is quite possibly the finest puppetry performance ever captured on film.

I remember my 4th grade class having an intense conversation with our teacher, arguing whether Yoda was a puppet or little person in heavy makeup. My teacher was sure it had to be a person. The expressions, the movement of the eyes…there was no way it could be a puppet, he argued. I’m sure he was not the only person who was fooled.

Now Yoda was a very intricate puppet, capable of things that your average puppet ministry puppet could never do. I would still suggest that there is a lot that puppet team members can learn by studying Oz’s performance. The audience literally forgets that they are watching a puppet, which is something many puppeteers would consider a goal when they perform. When the audience forgets about the puppeteers, they pay greater attention to what the puppets are saying. Obviously, in ministry that is very important.

So…Happy 30th Birthday Yoda! You don’t look a day over 800.


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