Original Yoda Muppeteer Shares Behind-the-Scenes ‘Star Wars’ Stories

Original Yoda Muppeteer Shares Behind-the-Scenes ‘Star Wars’ Stories


(dramatic orchestral music) – [Cathy] I’m Cathy Mullen. I used to be a puppeteer, and
helped Frank Oz perform Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. They were shooting Empire
directly across the street from the ATV studios where we
were shooting the Muppet show. So, it was very easy to kind
of go across the street, and do Yoda. The scenes we did were
all the scenes on Dagobah, which is Yoda’s planet. Dagobah was a huge soundstage
that they had built for The Shining a couple years before. Huge soundstage, really huge,
and they built that swamp. They filled the filled
the entire soundstage with that swamp, and it was
real mud, and real water, and terrible smelling smoke, oil smoke. The thing began to stink like
you (laughs) wouldn’t believe. There was a platform. The whole thing was built on a platform. We were in a pit, four
feet below, so that’s where it was really gross because
your nose is right up into the mud. Yoda was what we call a live hand puppet. If you don’t know what
a live hand puppet is, it’s a two person puppet. You’ve got the main
puppeteer whose got the hand in the head of the puppet
that works the mouth and his left hand in the
left hand of the puppet. So, this is your main puppeteer. Now, you’ve still got another
hand that has to work, so that’s what we call right-handing. So, I was right-handing for Frank. So, I had control of the right hand. I think he had a little
smile I had control of, and I had control of the ears. So, I would work those things
when Frank wanted me to. And then there was
another girl, and she was working the eyes, which
was a big box like this and joysticks, two joysticks. One for the blink, and one for
the movement of the eyeball. And, it came from the
bottom of the Yoda puppet, a wad of cables that big, all the way over to (laughs) Wendy, who was hiding behind a rock or something. The first scenes we shot of
Yoda, the first dailies we saw, we sat down and we were going “Oh no.” It was just awful, and
Frank was freaking out. He said, “Okay, okay, okay.
We have to take it way down.” And so, the movements
became very, very small. You can imagine how
hard it was to do that, all of that coordination. (Hands rubbing)
And so the big scene for me was the raising of the X-Wing, which went something like this. Okay, Frank says, “I’m going to do this,” and scrunched Yoda’s face, and he said, “And then you do this.” Okay, practice, I did it, so
he goes, “No, no, no. This.” “Okay,” says I, “You mean this.” Right, okay, we go again, this. “No, no.” That must’ve happened a dozen times. I never did it differently,
I don’t believe. He did, he was absolutely
convinced I was not doing what he was telling me to do. Maybe I wasn’t. We’ll never know, will we? We know that the X-Wing came up at least in the special effects shot later. So, that was the big funny part for me, raising the X-Wing with Frank Oz.

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