Yoda Was Nearly Played By A Monkey In Empire Strikes Back

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In 1977, filmmaker George Lucas released the first "Star Wars" film. The epic space opera told the story of a young boy named Luke Skywalker, who is called upon to fulfill his destiny — he must put an end to evil and bring balance to the galaxy. With the "Star Wars" trilogy and the franchise it built soon after, George Lucas changed the face of sci-fi forever. The characters and the world-building was unlike anything the world had seen, and it breathed new life into the genre.

"Star Wars" became a new hit franchise at a time when they were much more rare, a lot of what came in the sequels was trial and error. Not every idea from behind the scenes came to fruition, and in the case of the creation of Jedi Master Yoda, that's a very good thing.

In the sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back," Obi-Wan Kenobi instructs Luke Skywalker to visit Yoda, the Jedi Master who trained Kenobi when he was younger. During the development stage, there were discussions about having Yoda played by a monkey in "The Empire Strikes Back." No, not a Kowakian monkey-lizard, but a real trained monkey. It walked around wearing a mask, holding a cane and more. Needless to say, it was creepy, so let's just say that you must unlearn what you're about to learn.

A real, Simian monkey nearly played Yoda

Though die-hard "Star Wars" fans have probably heard this before, the more casual viewers may not know that the great and wise Jedi master Yoda was initially just a monkey in a mask. George Lucas planned to have a real Simian monkey play the part, and he hired a trainer to teach the animal to hold Yoda's signature cane. The filmmaker eventually realized that filming with an animal proved to be a lot more trickier than he expected, so he decided to go in a different direction.

This piece of "Star Wars" trivia came to light when J.W. Rinzler's 2010 book "The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" was published. The book contained behind-the-scenes information and other unknown bits of trivia. Still, perhaps its biggest reveal was the photo of the monkey impersonating Yoda, which is quite terrifying to look at.

Fortunately, George Lucas enlisted the services of Industrial Light & Magic employee Stuart Freeborn to design and build an animatronic puppet for Yoda. "The Muppets" creator Jim Henson consulted on the building of the puppet, and the character was voiced by Frank Oz (which is why he sounds a little like Grover from "Sesame Street"). The team worked through a number of different puppets, because Freeborn's original design for the Jedi was rather grotesque-looking. Despite returning as a puppet in "The Phantom Menace," Yoda would eventually be recreated with VFX instead of practical puppetry. 

"Star Wars" lore has always been vague about what species Yoda belongs to, as well as his background — and it wasn't until "The Mandalorian" released in 2019 that the character was reinterpreted for the franchise in the form of Grogu (also known as baby Yoda). At this time, it is unknown if we'll see Yoda ever again — but I'm feeling particularly hopeful about him returning in the upcoming "Obi-Wan Kenobi" live-action series.