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Special FX artist takes us back in time to the classic Star Wars Trilogy

Posted at 10:52 PM, Dec 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-18 22:33:21-05

TULSA, Okla. — Creature effects specialist Nick Maley was one of the makeup artists for the classic Star Wars Trilogy: "A New Hope", "The Empire Strikes Back" and the "Return of the Jedi".

On "A New Hope" he crafted the eyeballs for many of the aliens featured in the Cantina scene, foamed the prosthetics for the ugly characters, made the skins for Chewbacca, and glued all the "warts" onto the character Greedo that Han Solo shot.

39 years later he was honored by the production company "Lucasfilm" for his work on the sequence and contribution to the archived data when they officially named one of the Cantina characters after him, "Damono DeoMaley.”

Known internationally as “that Yoda Guy,” he takes us back in time describing the creative process behind the character Yoda who he calls, “The world’s first animatronic superstar.”

Having worked on "The Empire Strikes Back" for ten months, Maley recalls that it took the Lucasfilm executives five months to figure out what Yoda would look like as Maley’s boss, Stuart Freeborn, sculpted one variation of the Jedi Master after another.

That only left two months to build the complex animatronic Yoda puppet mechanism, and while Freeborn focused on the prototype, Maley was given the task of designing a walking Yoda. He did that based upon actor Deep Roy, and then he was asked to collaborate on a radio-controlled version.

Once the Special Effects Department specialists had built the mechanism, Maley fitted the skins and added the details that brought the wise, green creature to life.

Maley says that two close-up Yodas were used in "The Empire Strikes Back". The prototype that Freeborn built appeared in all the scenes in Yoda’s house. But when problems developed with the mechanism, Maley was asked to produce a backup Yoda which appeared in the forest scenes teaching Luke the secrets of the Force and raising the X-wing.

“You can tell the difference easily if you look at the stills of Yoda in the house and in the forest. They [both] have the same skins and skulls but they are fitted differently. The prototype Yoda had very chunky teeth and sleepy, slightly crossed, eyes. The back-up didn't,” Maley said.

When asked about the the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian now screening on Disney+, Maley says that he liked baby Yoda. “I thought it was the best thing in it,” said Maley.

We asked Maley what his thoughts were on the first Star Wars film ever released and how they compared to the newer films in the series.

“I think people who are not of that generation, don’t view [the first Star Wars] movie in the context of what it was at that time. It was the first movie I ever saw with quadraphonic sound. It also used another technology which hadn’t ever been used, computerized camera technology that allowed them to pass a camera down the corridor of the miniature Death Star, so you really felt like you were flying. They took World War II fighter pilot footage that they based all the action sequences of the X-wing and the TIE fighters. That had a sense of realism that audiences hadn’t seen before, but that changed how later movies were made,” Maley said.

He describes seeing a special crew screening of "A New Hope" in the UK in December 1977.

“It was about three days before the film officially opened in England. It had been over a year since we had made the movie. We sat in the cinema expecting a good but ordinary movie. The seats started to rumble, and you heard something behind you that made people turn around, it was like the rumble of an earthquake. And then you heard something go over the top of your head, and then you saw the first ship come down onto the screen and everybody went, “Wow.” And then the second ship came down onto the screen and kept going and going and going. The whole audience, all people that had made this movie, stood up in their seats and applauded,” Maley said.

Maley looks forward to seeing the latest Star Wars film, "The Rise of Skywalker", which is scheduled to premiere on Dec. 19.

He expressed concern about where they might take the Skywalker Saga.

“I am hoping that J.J. Abrams will solve the issues that some fans feel were raised in Episode VIII ["The Last Jedi"]. I’m really hoping for the best,” Maley said.

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