Perhaps the biggest crowd-pleasing scene in AOTC was Yoda confronting Count Dooku. Up until the time AOTC was released, we’d never seen Yoda do anything other than train Jedi, walk around with that stick, and say wise stuff. But Yoda could open a can of whoop-ass if necessary and thanks to ILM’s digital magic, what was once impossible for a character realized by a puppet was in 2002 a reality.
This was something George Lucas had wanted to do in AOTC from the get-go. He wanted to show audiences why Yoda was “the” Jedi. But he found a lot of resistance from people along the way. ILM balked at the logistics of creating a credible fight scene with the little Jedi Master. Others thought it would look dumb and people would laugh at it. But of the 11 times I’d seen AOTC in the theaters, audiences applauded the top of this scene every single time. The audience at the first screening I’d gone to at the Uptown Theater in Washington, D.C. went absolutely bananas.
We all know the drill. Obi-Wan and Anakin attempt to battle Dooku and get it handed to both of them. It gets quiet and all of a sudden, Yoda humbly enters the scene. After some trash talking, Dooku tries to fling things at Yoda with the Force. After Yoda deflects the flying objects, Dooku tries Force lightning. When that doesn’t work, it’s time to take out the lightsabers. Yoda flips around and engages the really tall Dooku like a champ. It’s only when Dooku tries to topple a pillar on top of Anakin and Obi-Wan that he’s able to escape from Yoda. Cheater.
ILM’s visual effects artists of course did an amazing job realizing this scene. If the visuals didn’t work, the whole thing would’ve been a disaster. While today’s animation would be even better it was pretty spectacular for 2002. I happen to think it works now. Not only does Yoda look great in fight mode, I like his whole attitude prior to the fight. Some of those poses were seemingly inspired by Neo in “The Matrix.” Christopher Lee had to sell the duel on his end and he didn’t even have anyone to fight as it was shot on a soundstage. Lee does an amazing job but that just goes without saying. The lighting in the scene–some of it digital, some of it done on set–is perfect.
This was a high risk scene that walks the line between “wow, this is awesome” and the absurd but it became one of the most iconic fight scenes in the saga so far.