In “Ambush,” the premiere of Lucasfilm Animation’s STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, episode director David Bullock (“Justice League: The New Frontier”) and writer Steve Melching (“The Batman”) recall the Yoda of The Empire Strikes Back. This first episode of the brand-new, CG-animated series airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Friday, Oct. 3 on Cartoon Network.
In the episode, Jedi Master Yoda and three clone troopers must face off against Count Dooku’s dreaded assassin Asajj Ventress and her massive droid army to prove the Jedi are strong enough to protect a strategic planet and forge a treaty for the Republic.
“I wanted to bring back some of the impish fun of Yoda from Episode V (The Empire Strikes Back) and instill it into the Clone Wars era as he is leading these three clones in a desperate situation,” Melching says. “Yoda became a very serious character in Episodes I, II and III, and I thought this was a great opportunity to show his clever, fun side as well as his inspirational and warrior side.”
While Melching crafted the words, Bullock and supervising director Dave Filoni focused on elevating Yoda’s action – and ensuring that his diminutive scale alongside the other characters didn’t interfere with his intense battle scenes. Bullock offered kudos to fellow director Rob Coleman, who offered tips on keeping Yoda consistent with his legacy. Coleman served as an animation director on Star Wars Episodes I, II and III, and was responsible for Yoda’s famous lightsaber duel with Count Dooku.
“When I was storyboarding Yoda’s big fight scene in ‘Ambush,’ Rob (Coleman) told me that George (Lucas) liked to flip a switch so that Yoda would go from very reserved to ‘springy,’” Bullock says. “Overall, the episode is a good mix of the impish Yoda of The Empire Strikes Back, some serious, reflective moments, and Rob’s ‘ninja Yoda’ for the action bits. And Yoda kicks some serious butt in this episode.”
The assignment to direct “Ambush” was taken with great reverence by Bullock.
“I’m really proud of the fact that this episode went to me to direct as I knew it was ‘the Yoda episode,’” Bullock says. “It wasn’t even titled ‘Ambush’ until it was in layout – for months it was just called ‘The Yoda Episode.’ Any chance to work with the main Star Wars characters is a thrill because we knew we were adding to their history, but it was also a bit unnerving because we knew that it had to be handled properly or the fans would not buy it.”
Introduced in the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, the Jedi master Yoda at once captured the attention of young movie-goers. A muppet voiced by Frank Oz, the character almost took over Empire and the third Star Wars film Return of the Jedi.
In 1999 George Lucas attempted to capture lightning in a bottle a second time with his ‘prequel’ The Phantom Menace. It was only obvious that Yoda would make an appearance in the film as a slightly younger version of the sagely swamp creature. However, the muppet looked out of place and quite odd (was it the Asimov-like sideburns?). Even Frank Oz recognized that the progress in CGI rendering made his puppeteer skills superfluous in the movie. The Jedi master returned in the second prequel Attack of the Clones as a completely computer generated character.
‘Blasphemy!’ cried the fans. But the approach worked, allowing the animators to depict a wide range of emotions in their character for the first time.
More importantly, it got a younger audience unfamiliar with Empire Strikes Back to adore the fighting monk-like Yoda. The subsequent animated films have fleshed out Yoda even more. Whereas fans were at one time resistant to a CGI-rendered Yoda, they are now anxious to witness his newest adventures.
The newest Clone Wars series premieres this Friday night on the Cartoon Network, so the wait is not a long one!