In the original Star Wars trilogy, was Yoda made using CGI available at that time or was he made using practical effects (like a puppet)?

  • 12
    All the original Star Wars trilogy (not counting the special editions) was practical effects.
    – OrangeDog
    Dec 1, 2019 at 23:54
  • 6
    Also no coincidence at all that Yoda was the same size as a Muppet. Dec 2, 2019 at 3:32
  • 23
    CGI (as we know it today) was not available at the time - even the laser/blaster fire was not CGI - they were hand-painted on film
    – slebetman
    Dec 2, 2019 at 6:08
  • 34
    I'm genuinely curious. How young do you have to be to assume that CGI has always existed for as long as films have existed? This is like hearing my son working out whether events like WWII happened when I or Granny or Great-granny were alive, back when he was about 5 or so.
    – Graham
    Dec 2, 2019 at 9:11
  • 12
    @Graham Random: my little sister found my GTA 1 CD, started playing it, then after a while asked me how to take it out of top-down view into 3D. Sweet summer child. And that must have been 15 years ago. Dec 2, 2019 at 13:15

3 Answers 3


The Yoda in the 1980 Empire Strikes Back and in the 1983 Return of the Jedi was entirely realised using puppetry.

Here we see Frank Oz (the chief puppeteer and voice of Yoda for the two movies):

Frank Oz and Yoda

And here's a video of the behind the scenes footage:

CGI in 1980 and 1983 was in no way capable of rendering anything like Yoda. Here is arguably the best effort of CGI from 1984:

Even when CGI was used for Yoda in the prequels, we see the result is good but still not quite so realistic as the original puppets:

Yoda in Attack of the Clones

  • 3
    Frank Oz was in the credits wasn't he...? This should have been a 'no-brainer'.
    – user18935
    Nov 30, 2019 at 23:18
  • 24
    @Jeeped Frank Oz is credited in the movies which use a CGI Yoda, so not sure how that's a no-brainer.
    – HorusKol
    Nov 30, 2019 at 23:21
  • 3
    I'll have to review the credits from the earlier movies. I thought his puppeteer skills were front and center.
    – user18935
    Nov 30, 2019 at 23:37
  • 7
    Totally quibbling, but that "behind the scenes" video doesn't contain footage, just stills. Dec 1, 2019 at 22:21
  • 7
    While a bit disappointed in CGI Yoda myself, there is no way a Puppet Yoda vs Dooku or Palpatine would have been nearly as good. Dec 2, 2019 at 20:38

The first real attempt to incorporate a CGI character in a movie was Terminator II (1991), more than a decade after the introduction of Yoda (1980).


Computers in 1991 were so primitive, James Cameron invented the liquid metal T-1000 because it was the only kind of CGI effect that wouldn't look awful a few years later — it was supposed to look fake.

The T-1000

But 90s CGI is usually pretty bad. George Lucas began redoing the original trilogy's special effects when he rereleased A New Hope for its 20th anniversary. The version on the left is the original Jabba puppet; the version on the right is the best 1997 CGI could do:

Jabba Comparison


My personal dividing line for when CGI characters got realistic enough to be invisible is Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011):

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  • 11
    The first CGI character was even earlier - 1985's Young Sherlock Holmes
    – HorusKol
    Dec 1, 2019 at 23:28
  • 5
    The Abyss from 1989 had the water tentacle character that was CGI, and predates Terminator 2. As both were James Cameron movies, The Abyss probably laid the groundwork for the T-1000 to appear at all. Dec 2, 2019 at 16:25
  • 4
    Every generation of video games and CGI looks totally real until you see the next one. Dec 2, 2019 at 17:11
  • 4
    @ReinstateMonicaSackTheStaff. To be fair though, the differences between successive generations appear to be converging to an asymptote of zero. It really is getting to the point where it's impossible for a casual observer to tell. Dec 2, 2019 at 20:14
  • 2
    Insightful as this might be, it is not an answer to the question.
    – Joachim
    Dec 5, 2019 at 2:04

In the original trilogy (i.c. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, since in Episode IV: A New Hope Yoda doesn't make an appearance), Yoda was portrayed exclusively using puppets:

Frank Oz provided Yoda's voice in each film and used his skills as a puppeteer in the original trilogy and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. For some walking scenes in Episodes V and I, dwarf actors Deep Roy and Warwick Davis appeared in costume as Yoda [..]. While Frank Oz served as the primary performer, he was assisted by a multitude of other puppeteers [..].

The make-up artist Stuart Freeborn [who designed the character and created the puppet] based Yoda's face partly on his own and partly on Albert Einstein's.

(Here's a really nice insight into the character design, and how it turned out to be somewhat of a self-portrait of Stuart Freeborn.)

It was actually only after The Phantom Menace that Yoda became a complete CGI character:

In The Phantom Menace, he was redesigned to look younger. He was computer-generated for two distant shots, but remained mostly a puppet. The puppet was re-designed by Nick Dudman from Stuart Freeborn's original design.

In the 2011 re-release of Episode 1 on Blu-ray, Yoda (among other things) was recreated using CGI, however:

enter image description here

For the remaining two episodes of the 20th century sextology, his CGI appearance, however more dynamic, was still dictated partially by his puppet physics:

His performance was deliberately designed to be consistent with the limitations of the puppet version.

quotes from Wikipedia

  • 9
    So Greedo shoots puppet Yoda and replaces him with CGI Yoda?
    – Machavity
    Dec 2, 2019 at 20:52
  • 1
    @Machavity Yoda shot first!
    – Stephen R
    Dec 3, 2019 at 18:20

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