Yoda is up there with the best Star Wars characters, with the wise Jedi master standing as one of the most recognisable faces from the Star Wars movies. And it turns out that face has a very real inspiration.
The make-up artist Stuart Freeborn was tasked with designing the best Star Wars alien and, after being mostly unimpressed by the initial concept sketches Star Wars creator George Lucas provided to him, he decided, with admirable self-deprecation, to turn to his own face for Yoda.
In an obituary to mark Freeborn’s passing in 2013, the official Star Wars website wrote that “the Jedi Master’s inquisitive and mischievous elfin features had more than a passing resemblance to Freeborn himself”.
In a behind the scenes interview unearthed on social media, Freeborn said: “George showed me a few original sketches, and I thought ‘well that’s interesting, but I want something in more depth’. And so I looked in the mirror and I thought [there was] something perhaps a little bit amusing about my face. So I modelled something of myself. ”
It was a good start, but Freeborn knew that his own face didn’t quite have everything he needed to create a wizened, wise figure of impossible age and experience.
“Now I’ve got to make him look intelligent. I got this photograph of Einstein and put the Einstein wrinkles in all around,” said Freeborn. “I did a lot of thinking about it because he’d got to be full of subtle action and movements, especially in the face and the body. I put it all in, what was necessary, and finally it all worked.”
So there we have it, 50% make-up man and 50% famous scientist. Yoda very quickly entered history as a pivotal character in some of the best movies ever made, as well as appearing in several Star Wars series in animated form. Don’t rule out a return in a new movie down the line either.