Who was Yoda’s inspiration?

Yoda and Spencer W. Kimball

I’ve heard several people claim Spencer W. Kimball, a former prophet of the LDS church, was the inspiration for Yoda’s appearance. Their faces were similar but it sounded like an urban legend.

In search of an official answer I found several sources saying he was based on Stuart Freeborn, the British makeup artist who created Yoda’s character, combined with Albert Einstein. I’m convinced that’s correct.

This Ask Metafilter question has several responses, including Joseph Campbell, Midgets seen in the Wizard of Oz, Tsenzhab Serkong Rinpoche, debate partner of the Dalai Lama, the mystic dreamt up by Carlos Castaneda, and the title character in the 1975 Russian-Japanese film Dersu Uzala directed by Akira Kurosawa.

This blog entry quotes Wikipedia (which no longer makes that claim) that he was based on the Tarsier.

By Common Consent has a comment saying the director of the Empire Strikes Back told them it was a little man on the set who came up with the idea, which was more or less his own caricature.

The nation master says he was originally designed by British makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, who based Yoda’s face partly on his own and partly on Albert Einstein’s, as his eyes are supposedly inspired by the latter. The current Wikipedia page appears to have copied this although it doesn’t have a citation listed.

An article from the BBC about Stuart Freeborn states, “he decided to make a model of his own face and, as he wanted Yoda to look intelligent, he added a wrinkled cast of Albert Einstein for good measure…”

Yoda and Stuart Freeborn




  1. I vote for Kimball! Preserve the legend!

      » Comment by Roger on March 15, 2008 @ 9:00 pm
  2. Ha ha. You’re so funny. That isn’t the legend. Sure their faces might look similar and all. But the legend is that it was Spencer’s cancer stricken voice that inspired THE VOICE of Yoda. “Legend has it” that George Lucas met Spencer W. Kimball on a plane. George was impressed with the style of Spencer’s “small cult” of a religion and his being the prophet of it, but more especially his voice. A prophet, of all things, with a weary old cancer voice was bound to make it into the movie industry, especially with the idea that that man led a religion hidden in the mountains of western United States. It almost sounds like an American version of Tibet. Most of Star Wars themes are Asian in nature. Thus the silly old prophet living as a hermit on a remote planet just as monks might in Asia and the Tibetan religion does in western china. With Spencer as an American version of that stereotypical religious ideal he was bound to make the part. If there was any correspondence to the look of Spencer it was mostly coincidental. Their both old wrinkly prophets (though from different universes) the similarity in looks was bound to be there, but only coincidently.

      » Comment by Spencer on August 12, 2009 @ 12:29 pm
  3. @Spencer The voice inspiration may be the legend you heard. :)

      » Comment by Dan on August 12, 2009 @ 12:48 pm
  4. Well you’re on the right track when you mention Tibet. The inspiration for Yoda came from Father Perrault in Frank Capra’s movie, Lost Horizon. Yoda gives a nod to the character when he speaks of Luke always with his mind on the future, on the horizon…

    There is more than a superficial similarity between Father Perrault’s character and Spencer Kimball, former leader of the LDS faith located in Salt Lake City, which is also surrounded by mountains and was patterned after a society in which there was peace and no poor among them.

      » Comment by Val on October 11, 2009 @ 7:15 pm
  5. The creature of Yoda, i.e. the special effects were created by Stuart Freeborn and he based the look upon his own face and that of Albert Einstein.
    p.s. I know this because Stuart Freeborn is my uncle…

      » Comment by Steven on October 23, 2010 @ 7:11 am
  6. @Steven Well I’m a monkey’s uncle :) Hah, I kid. You have wikipedia on your side regarding Stuart Freeborn’s role in creating Yoda.

      » Comment by Dan on October 23, 2010 @ 10:41 pm
  7. Yoda is obviously based on Krishnamurti, they look the same, speak the same way, say similar things, Yoda basically is Krishnamurti.

      » Comment by Chris on July 4, 2012 @ 10:00 pm
  8. I agree with Chris.
    The voice of Yoda is obviously based on Krishnamurti.
    No doubt about it.

      » Comment by Drew on August 30, 2012 @ 1:35 am
  9. Ahem!!

    The creature of Yoda, was created by Stuart Freeborn and he based the look and voice upon my father Spencer W. Kimball…Who spent time in Tibet while reading the Star Wars manuscript…before being inspired to announce the priesthood could be held by any creature.

    Rumor has it that Father Perrault while saying mass quoted…”May God be with you…the response: And also with you…which inspired George Lucas to use the phrase, “May the Force be with you.” However Luke’s response, “and also with you.” was cut from the script.

    Just one of the many mysteries.

      » Comment by Edward on October 29, 2012 @ 12:57 am
  10. @Edward Thanks for the comment. Do you have any evidence for your claim?

      » Comment by Dan on October 29, 2012 @ 9:57 am
  11. I met Stuart freeborn a few years ago and had a conversation with him about the making of yoda s face. He told me That the making of yoda was brought forward and as he had no time to get a model he used his own face as a mould. ! A lovely man with many stories and memories

      » Comment by Pamela on October 31, 2012 @ 1:59 am
  12. If it’s not Krishnaji , then it’s one heck of a fluke. Uncanny.

      » Comment by Daft Vadar on November 2, 2013 @ 12:56 pm


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