From their unparalleled wisdom to their wispy white hair, physicist Albert Einstein and Jedi master Yoda have quite a bit in common — and that’s no coincidence. In fact, the real-life scientist helped influence the physical look of the beloved Star Wars character. When Yoda was being developed for 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars creator George Lucas hired special effects artist Stuart Freeborn to bring the character to life. By chance, a picture of Einstein happened to hang in the studio where Freeborn worked on the early Yoda puppets. The wrinkled look around Einstein’s eyes eventually made it into Yoda’s final design, coupled with features from Freeborn’s own likeness.
While we all recognize Yoda today, the character almost looked entirely different, and nearly Smurf-like. As seen in The Empire Strikes Back Sketchbook, published in 1980, early concept art for Yoda depicted the great Jedi master as a lanky, blue creature with a long white beard and a pointed hat akin to a garden gnome. Another sketch showed the creature with a handlebar mustache, not quite fitting for the Star Wars universe. Other characters also underwent vast transformations from their original sketches; Chewbacca was originally a tall, thin, and hairy lemur-like creature, whereas Ewoks had long legs like an ostrich.