For the directors of The Mandalorian, stepping into the Star Wars galaxy was already an intimidating prospect. Adding to the pressure was directing Werner Herzog, the acclaimed filmmaker who plays a mysterious man with ties to the remnants of the Empire. In the series premiere, Herzog’s character hires The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) to retrieve an asset, which viewers soon learn is an infant who bears a striking resemblance to Yoda.
Though Herzog never watched Star Wars before taking his role in The Mandalorian, he instantly took to the world — and, apparently, to the puppet portraying baby Yoda.
For executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, delivering on characters such as baby Yoda was a tricky proposition. They wanted to use animatronics when possible, but were unsure they would work onscreen. So they would shoot two versions of scenes in order to hedge their bets — one with the animatronic characters and one without.
“We would shoot clean plates. Because we could do a great ILM CGI character if we needed to,” Favreau told the crowd at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood Wednesday. “We wanted to try using the old techniques, then you could always fall back on the CG one if it didn’t work.”
That’s where a funny moment on set between Herzog and a puppet came into play. Herzog filmed a scene with a puppet, and the filmmakers then removed it for another take. (Though Favreau and Filoni declined to name the puppet, they seemed to be speaking of baby Yoda.)
Filoni told Herzog they were removing the puppet to shoot a clean plate. Only Herzog didn’t want the puppet removed. He wanted Favreau and Filoni to believe in themselves — and in the puppet.
“He says, ‘You are cowards. Leave it. Leave it,'” Filoni recounted to huge laughs from the crowd. “He was so committed.”
Added Favreau: “It was so awesome.”
Earlier in the evening, Herzog spoke with fondness of joining the Star Wars galaxy and the expansive world-building that went into it. As the debate rages over whether or not blockbuster films are truly cinema, Herzog responded that there was room for both.
“It’s all cinema. Let’s face it,” Herzog told THR. “I love both sides of the fence.”
He noted that while he was a big part of the trailer, he has just a small role in the series.
“My part makes the basic ingredients of the story,” said the actor.
Friday’s episode of The Mandalorian confirms that yes, baby Yoda is powerful with the Force. Filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa, who directed episodes two and six, recalled reading the cliffhanger in the premiere script and realizing with shock he’d be the one to tell the next chapter.
“It’s a big deal within the universe. I couldn’t believe it when I got to the last few pages and I saw that reveal,” Famuyiwa told The Hollywood Reporter at Wednesday’s event.
In Star Wars canon, little is known about Yoda’s species. It has never been named, and beyond Yoda, just one other member of his race has been glimpsed onscreen — Yaddle, in The Phantom Menace.
“I felt like it was exciting because I know how special that is and what that brings to the overall story and how that grounds you in the familiar of Star Wars, but then you don’t have any idea where this thing is going to go,” said Famuyiwa. “I can tell you, it’s going to be very exciting, fulfilling and certainly a ride everyone should take.”