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LucasFilm said that Irvin Kershner, who directed "The Empire Strikes Back," would "note that Freeborn quite literally put himself into Yoda, as the Jedi master's inquisitive and mischievous elfin features had more than a passing resemblance to Freeborn himself." (Yoda's looks were also said to be partly inspired by Albert Einstein.)
Freeborn recalled being approached by "this young fellow" named George Lucas, who told him, "I've written a script for a film called 'Star Wars.'"
"He was so genuine about it, I thought, well, young as he is, I believe in him. He's got something. I'll do what I can for him," Freeborn told the BBC.
Nick Maley, a makeup artist who worked with Freeborn in the 1970s, called him a mentor who "ran his department like a headmaster."
"It was my years working with him that helped me learn how to think, how to solve problems, how to not take the most obvious path," Maley said. "Everybody will remember him for 'Star Wars,' but he did so much more than that. No one should overlook the groundbreaking work he did on '2001: A Space Odyssey.' That was really the forerunner of 'Star Wars' and used a lot of the same technology."