Frank Oz might be the single-most-important voice of the 1980s. If you were a child in the ’80s (and ’90s), you heard Frank Oz as the voice of several specific Mupppets, including Miss Piggy, Cookie Monster, Bert, Grover, and many more. But, outside of the Muppets and Sesame Street, Frank Oz was also the voice of Yoda. Hired by George Lucas upon the recommendation of Jim Henson, Oz helped to create most of what makes Yoda so Yodaish. Although the face of Yoda belongs to the late makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, the voice and the way Yoda behaves is 100 percent Frank Oz.
In a recent wide-ranging profile with The Guardian, Oz explained that as written, the first script he saw for The Empire Strikes Back did not include all the backward-style lingo we now associate with Yoda. “I was just looking at the original script of The Empire Strikes Back the other day and there was a bit of that odd syntax in it, but also it had Yoda speaking very colloquially. So I said to George [Lucas]: ‘Can I do the whole thing like this?’ And he said: ‘Sure!’ It just felt so right.”
This story checks out with various other interviews Oz has given on the birth of Yoda’s voice. In 2018, he told Neil deGrasse Tyson that he imagined Yoda’s speech actually reflected the “formal” way Jedi spoke over 700 years prior. “It’s because that’s the way the original Jedi spoke,” Oz explained in 2018. “It was a very formal and elegant language…he’s trying to keep the formal Jedi language live while these surf kids are talking their language.”
Oz’s conception of “the original” script for The Empire Strikes Back is almost certainly relative. Prior to George Lucas and Lawerence Kasdan finishing the script, the task was originally given to fantasy novelist Leigh Brackett, who tragically passed away before finishing the job. Obviously, the Yoda of Brackett’s script was lightyears away from what he became later. Essentially, if the dominos had not fallen the way they did, and Oz hadn’t suggested that he go whole-hog on Yoda’s “odd syntax,” then we’d all be living in a much different — and darker — galaxy.