Face to face with Yoda, I was

The real Jedi Master Yoda — one of the original puppets controlled and voiced by Frank Oz in 'The Empire Strikes Back' — is on display at the museum's 'Star Wars and the Power of Costume' alongside roomfuls of costumes and props.

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click to enlarge The “real” Jedi Master Yoda - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The “real” Jedi Master Yoda
It’s strange to finally meet your mentor after decades of familiarity. In this case, I’m referring to Jedi Master Yoda.

The real Yoda is on display, along with roomfuls of authentic costumes and props, at the Star Wars and the Power of Costume exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. This Yoda, behind a glass case at the very end of the exhibit, is one of the original puppets controlled and voiced by Frank Oz in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). As an adult who would absolutely agree to a Star Wars-themed wedding, it was like meeting the pope. 

Yoda’s words of wisdom changed the way millions of filmgoers looked at their lives: “Do or do not. There is no try.” That statement is profoundly simple and accessible, much like the movies themselves. And there was his iconic way of speaking with subject-object-verb (or sometimes subject-verb at sentence’s end) that seemed so profound.

Yoda was not even originally intended to be part of the traveling exhibition, which focuses more specifically on the creative process behind costuming in the series. Fans demanded his inclusion, along with Wicket W. Warrick the Ewok (played by Warwick Davis), simply because they’re ubiquitous with the series. 

 The costume designs grew more and more intricate as the films progressed. Padmé Amidala, played by Natalie Portman in the three prequels from 1999-2005, wore so many gowns that her wardrobe is displayed throughout most of the exhibit. Of course, there are the droids and stormtroopers, as well as X-Wing pilots and much more. 

While Star Wars and the Power of Costume will delight fans of the films, it’s also a grand exploration of masterful costuming that will appeal to fashionistas, sewing enthusiasts and tailors alike, even if they don’t care for the movies. It’s a bit sobering to see the sheer variety of costumes needed to create these films — a casual moviegoing audience can take for granted that kind of attention to detail. The magic of the Star Wars films is a result of several villages’ worth of creatives. 

There’s enough variety in the pieces that everyone can appreciate something. Whether you’re looking to see lightsabers or cross-referencing the minute differences between Boba Fett’s and Jango Fett’s armor, everyone will happily have John Williams’ melodies stuck in his or her head for days to follow. 

 The presentation of these costumes and props is exquisite. The Cincinnati Museum Center is the perfect host for such cultural artifacts. These items are recognized the world over. This exhibit is sure to bring in plenty of out-of-towners, since Cincinnati is the exhibit’s only stop between Denver and Saint Petersburg, Fla. 

Naturally, the bulk of the items are from the first six films, but the jackets worn by Resistance fighter Finn and pilot Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens are on display, along with new Jedi padawan Rey’s original desert outfit and metal staff from the planet Jakku. So far, no items fromRogue One are included in the tour. Many fans would agree it’s a good thing that Jar Jar Binks was a completely computer-animated character, as the critically panned character has no presence in this exhibit.

Star Wars is an inviting franchise. It incorporates many different cultures from around the world while still being original. Yoda was partially modeled after Albert Einstein, and there’s no denying the Nazi influence for the Imperial Stormtroopers and officers. There are reference photos and conceptual artwork scattered throughout the exhibit that show the real-world sources of inspiration for the fantastic creatures, costumes, technology and architecture.

While standing eye to eye with Yoda (which seems funny as his height is but 2 feet 2 inches), I realized why the Jedi Master’s presence took my breath away more than a lot of the other items in this important collection. Before me was a complete character in repose. I was finally in the same room as a true apostle of the Force. Thankfully, Yoda’s body didn’t disappear when he (spoiler alert for a 34-year-old movie, Return of the Jedi) died. I was able to share a moment with my spiritual guide. 

Replace that feeling, you cannot.

STAR WARS AND THE POWER OF COSTUME is on view through Oct. 1. Tickets/more info: cincymuseum.org/star-wars.

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