Puppeteer: Better than Yoda, no character is
The new Star Wars characters are fun, but they’ve got nothing on Yoda, according to Kathryn Mullen.
She’s admittedly biased. Ms Mullen was a puppeteer for the famed character in the 1980 hit, The Empire Strikes Back.
“I loved the new movie,” she said after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Speciality Cinema on Friday morning.
“It’s so much fun! I loved seeing the original actors, but I really missed Yoda.
“I can’t help being a little attached to Yoda, since I actually was attached to him.”
The 70-year-old saw the new blockbuster with her husband, Michael Frith, and his daughter, Christina.
“We went as a family,” Ms Mullen said. “I’ve been a fan since the first Star Wars movie in 1977.”
Yoda came into her life two years later. She was in Borehamwood, England, working on The Muppet Show at the time. The Empire Strikes Back set was across the street.
She agreed to work on Yoda during a brief vacation.
“At the time we never imagined The Empire Strikes Back would be such a big film, and Yoda such a big part of it,” she said.
Her work was difficult, although it’s hard to tell from the movies.
“Yoda was a big, heavy puppet made out of foam latex rubber,” she said. “Remember, puppeteers work with their arms over their heads. We got tired very quickly working with Yoda. Miss Piggy, in full regalia, was also heavy, but not as heavy as Yoda.”
Frank Oz was the master puppeteer for Yoda; Ms Mullen was his assistant.
“I handled Yoda’s right hand and he handled Yoda’s head and left hand, most of the time,” she said. “We took things shot by shot.
“Sometimes I handled other parts of the puppet such as his smile or his ear wiggle, or sometimes both hands.”
A bicycle cable ran from the back of Yoda’s head to a joystick contraption that controlled his eyes. This was manned by another puppeteer, Wendy Froud.
“She worked on the building of Yoda and helped make him into a workable puppet,” said Ms Mullen. “Otherwise, the Star Wars film crew knew nothing about puppets.
“So we really had to work in co-ordination to avoid tripping over one another.”
Mr Oz was very particular about everything, down to the blinking of Yoda’s eyes.
“It was hard work,” Ms Mullen said. “A single shot might take 30 seconds, but would have to be done ten or more times from different angles and perspectives.”
But she said there were many funny moments on the set. One scene in Yoda’s house involved live snakes.
“We had a couple of snake wranglers on the set,” Ms Mullen said. “They were feeding the snakes during filming.
“A snake was supposed to crawl up Yoda’s stick or arm.
“Frank said to me, ‘I’m not doing that. The snake is going to crawl on you.’
“So the snake crawled up Yoda’s right hand. I wasn’t afraid of snakes and these snakes were well-handled and weren’t poisonous.”
Yoda died in 1983 in Return of the Jedi, in which he was drawn with CGI animation.
Ms Mullen has watched The Empire Strikes Back and the other Star Wars films many times.
“George Lucas did a magnificent job with The Empire Strikes Back,” she said.
She and her husband live in Bermuda for part of the year.
They run their own charity, No Strings, which makes puppet films to help children in the developing world.
• There are numerous 2D and 3D showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens from now until Christmas Eve at the Speciality Cinema. See www.specialitycinema.bm
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