A masked monkey with a cane in Star Wars? That really was George Lucas's plan.
In the early stages of developing The Empire Strikes Back, the second film in the original Star Wars trilogy, there was an unconventional idea on the table for bringing the character Yoda to life. Instead of the iconic puppetry that eventually became the chosen method, the filmmakers considered using a trained monkey wearing a mask and holding a cane to portray the wise Jedi Master.
The concept of a monkey-as-Yoda emerged during the brainstorming phase as the filmmakers sought innovative approaches to the character’s appearance and performance. The monkey’s natural movements and the addition of a mask and robe were envisioned to create a unique and mysterious presence.
They got far enough in the process that they actually dressed up the monkey and put a mask on it, before someone wised up and realized that Frank Oz and his puppet was better. Below are photos of what it looked like.
However, practicality and artistic decisions led the team to discard the monkey idea in favor of puppetry. And so Lucas ended up doing what everyone should do when they have a problem concerning a puppet: he called Jim Henson to come in and revolutionize the industry by building the first animatronic puppet.
Frank Oz, a skilled puppeteer, ultimately brought Yoda to life, and his performance contributed to the character’s legendary status within the franchise.
While the monkey-Yoda concept remains a curiosity, it underscores the creative exploration that takes place during a film’s development. The decision to use puppetry instead of a monkey is a testament to the filmmakers’ commitment to finding the most effective means of storytelling.
As fans continue to cherish the Star Wars saga, the monkey-Yoda controversy remains a fascinating glimpse into the behind-the-scenes choices that shaped the beloved Jedi Master’s portrayal on the big screen. Things could have gone a very different, and terrible, direction.