By now, just about every aspect of the Star Wars saga has been analyzed and broken down a million times over. After all, the George Lucas-created space opera changed cinema forever and continues to inspire new generations of fans, despite launching more than 40 years ago with the original 1977 film. But some fans might not know the connection between the Muppets and Star Wars, and how Jim Henson was the first choice for Yoda.
Frank Oz has played Yoda throughout the ‘Star Wars’ saga
Of course, Frank Oz – who originated such iconic Muppets as Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy – has long performed one of Star Wars‘ most popular characters. Beginning with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, Oz has provided the voice of the diminutive Jedi Master known as Yoda. And he has done so for every one of the character’s big-screen appearances.
Oz even returned to do the puppeteering for Yoda in 2017’s The Last Jedi, just as he did in The Empire Strikes Back. Whenever Yoda is computer-generated, Oz still lends his voice to the role. And he did the same for two episodes of the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Now fans can’t imagine anyone else playing Yoda. But Oz’s closest Muppet colleague nearly landed the role instead.
George Lucas originally asked Jim Henson to play the character
According to Culture Slate, Lucas originally wanted Henson to play Yoda. That makes sense, as Henson created the Muppets and was the de facto leader of the company. Yet, while Jim Henson Studios created the Yoda puppet, Henson was unable to commit to the role. Instead, Henson made his feature directorial debut with 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper.
Henson then turned to Oz, his close collaborator and friend, and suggested he take the role. Oz ended up playing Yoda, and in the process, he stumbled onto what has undoubtedly become one of the most iconic performances of his career. Oz ultimately retired from performing his Muppet characters in 2001, though he occasionally pops back up (e.g., The Last Jedi).
Jim Henson isn’t the only big name to pass on a ‘Star Wars’ movie
Thinking back on what Henson’s Yoda could have sounded like is a fun thought exercise for Star Wars fans. But he’s far from the only major star to turn down the chance to be in a Star Wars movie. WhatCulture.com has a whole list of them for fans ready to stroll through an alternative history of the “galaxy far, far away.”
Naturally, most of these date back to the original film, which seemed like a tremendous risk at the time. Al Pacino, Sylvester Stallone, and Burt Reynolds were all up for Han Solo. And Jodie Foster read for Princess Leia. But perhaps the most fascinating what-if is Leonardo DiCaprio as Anakin Skywalker, a role that ultimately – and divisively – went to Hayden Christensen instead.