Unlimited Power

22 Years Ago, Star Wars Completely Rewrote an Iconic Character

From puppet to powerhouse.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Lucasfilm
Celebrating the Prequels

Ask any Star Wars enthusiast, zealot, or fairweather admirer about the temperature in the room in 2002, when beloved hyperbatonic Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz) battles Sith Lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) in the climax of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, and they’ll likely give similar answers. Bedlam, pandemonium, sheer, joyful mayhem, as if Oprah interrupted the screening to announce she’d hidden keys to brand new cars under every audience member’s seat.

Then again, maybe viewers would clap politely for Oprah, and hold their happy racket for the fight scene. Once a foam latex hand puppet, and last seen getting his jollies mocking a tenderfoot Luke Skywalker, Yoda’s makeover in Attack of the Clones reimagined him as a computer-animated dervish: still deceptively harmless on account of his stature, amiability, and semi-Buddhist outlook, but newly capable of showing off in a disciplined whirlwind of Force power and swordsmanship.

Seeing Yoda in action was always going to stir excitement for hardcore Star Wars devotees and casual moviegoers alike, given how firmly embedded he is in pop culture consciousness. Even if you’ve only watched The Empire Strikes Back once, you know Yoda on a fundamental level. The throaty squawk of his voice, his unique speech pattern, his wrinkly chin, his waggly ears, his hatred of seagulls. Most of all, you know that Yoda is (or, as we meet him in Empire, was) a great Jedi, one of the greatest of the already legendary order, and that the film reveals threadbare glimpses of his renown.

Twenty-two years after Yoda debuted as an eccentric teacher, fans finally got to see him kick Christopher Lee’s ass.


You know, then, that there’s more to Yoda than meets the eye in his first canon appearance. He lifts Luke’s X-wing out of Dagobah’s squelching swamp; cool. He trains Luke in the Force by making the poor kid do one-armed handstands, and run over hill and dale while wearing him like a backpack; harsh, but fair. What we never see Yoda do is tear it up in a scrap.

Lucky for us, Attack of the Clones is a come-one-come-all venture. The finale, set in the arena on Geonosis, invites everyone into the melee, from Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) to Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) to a bunch of anonymous and largely unnamed Jedi, to the great Sir Christopher Lee. If Lee, 78 years old at the time, could participate in the sequence (with the help of his stunt double, Kyle Rowling), then there’s no reason the centuries-old Yoda couldn’t, either.

And what participation it is: twirling, leaping, vaulting, grunting, shouting, defying gravity, physics, and the rigors of age to prove to everyone — Ben Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, Dooku, the viewers — that he lives up to his mythos.

This article is part of the “Celebrating the Prequels” series, a two week-long series of articles about the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy leading up to the 25th anniversary of The Phantom Menace.

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