Clone Wars Weekly: Yoda's New/Old Voice - Tom Kane

While not imposing in physical stature, as its ultimate Jedi Master, the character Yoda casts a large shadow over the vast Star Wars Universe. The same can be said of actor/director Frank Oz, who provided the iconic voice of the character in the six movies. No one knows this better that Tom Kane, who now voices Yoda for the Clone Wars animated feature film and upcoming Cartoon Network series.

Not that Kane is a slouch in the voice-cover department, himself. Kane has practiced the craft for three decades now. His work includes Tony Stark/Iron Man in the recent Next Avengers DVD release, Professor Utonium and Him on PowerPuff Girls, and even Bill Clinton on Duckman. His next big role is as Magneto on Wolverine & the X-Men.

Oh yeah … and he's already voiced Yoda before, in the previous Tartakovsky mini-shorts animated series, as well as in other mediums.

This week in our continuing look at the upcoming Clone Wars series, we speak with the actor about his latest go around as the Jedi Master whose distinctive sentence structures are pop culture legend...

NEWSARAMA: Tom, you’re following a vocal legend, Frank Oz.

TOM KANE: Oh yeah. Which is tough. Those are big shoes to fill.

NRAMA: How did you get started on that? Did Lucas contact you?

TK: I actually started doing Yoda over a decade ago, on games, like 15 years ago actually. The first one I did was called "The Dig". For whatever reason, they started using me regularly. Some of the stuff I never got credit for because in those days they didn’t keep track of it. I actually think my first job with them was doing three miscellaneous Thai fighters. From there, they started using me on just about every single Star Wars game because I’m a good mimic.

Anyway, about the third or fourth game, there was some dialogue for Yoda. As it happens, we voice people like to goof around and imitate other voices. Anyway, I assume they were going to bring Frank in to do it. Then they heard me and one of the producers hit the talkback and asked ‘Can you do that again? Read the lines for Yoda.’

As it turns out, they recorded them. What I didn’t know was Frank Oz was off directing a movie and was not able to do it. Next thing I knew, a week later they called back to tell me they played it for George and he said to use me.

NRAMA: So how does it feel to fill those shoes?

TK: It’s amazing. You know, I’m a ham. Like so many people my age, Star Wars was a life changing event. I’m what you can call a typical fanboy but I can remember where I was when I first saw the movie. I was in 9th grade and was totally knocked out. I can draw the line as to before I saw Star Wars and after. My relationship with movies was totally different from that point on.

So, to have been that kind of fan as a child and to now be working on it, and to be trusted to be caretaker of a voice that’s so beloved—and that’s the way I look at it, it’s not mine, it’s Frank’s—it’s my job now to do it justice.

NRAMA: So you see your job kind of like Joe Alaskey or one of those guys who do classic characters.

TK: Absolutely. I’m sure Joe would tell you the exact same thing. His job isn’t to put a Joe Alaskey spin on Daffy or any of the other Looney Tunes characters he does. His job is to keep Mel Blanc happy up there in voice over heaven. I can’t tell you how honored I am.

NRAMA: What do you think of the series itself?

TK: I think people are going to absolutely love it. The unfortunate thing is this movie, which has not been reviewed too kindly, is the first three episodes we made. Even George said this to us in a pep talk he gave. He said as proud of them as we are, we were still learning what to do. These were literally the first three scripts, the first three attempts at animation, the first three times the voice over talent did the characters; everybody was still finding their way.

At the premier itself, George told the audience he wished he could show them what he’s working on now. It just blows all this away. It is so good.

For instance, when they sold the series to Warner Bros. they didn’t sell it with these episodes. They showed them Episode 5 I believe, which is when everyone had hit their stride. When they saw that, Warners said ‘where do we sign up?’

What I’m saying, ultimately, is the series keeps on getting better and better. Everything you see in the movie is just the beginning.

NRAMA: Well, wouldn’t you say that’s the way with most animated series? For instance, you were in PowerPuff Girls

TK: Oh yeah! Better yet, let’s use The Simpsons for an example. When you look back at the first season, your mouth just has to hang open at how bad it is! Seriously! Watch the first five episodes! The voice acting is different, even though it’s the same actors. The animation is definitely a lot cruder. The writing is no where near as good. If you showed a kid the first half of the first season of The Simpsons, that kid would swear to you that it was a cheap knockoff. I think though, that as new episodes come off the assembly line, people are going to be very pleased.

NRAMA: So have you been flying out to Marin to record?

TK: No. I’ve been doing all my lines from my home. I have flown up though, mainly to do some behind the scenes things. I’ve also been to the Ranch for some other things. Mostly PR stuff. Let me assure you that based on what’s been done, I think George and everyone involved in this will be working on Star Wars: The Clone Wars for many seasons to come.

NRAMA: Getting back to playing Yoda. Is that kind of a straightjacket for you? I mean, Frank and George did define the character very specifically.

TK: Well, yeah. I actually ran across George backstage when I was doing the announcing for the AFI tribute to Sean Connery. When it was over with, on my way to the after party, I talked to him about how he wanted me to do Yoda for the series. At that point, we had only recorded about six episodes and they hadn’t started even animating them yet.

So I asked him if he was happy with my work, and he actually said no. He then said he would like me to shift it a bit. I was doing my best to have Yoda sound exactly as Frank had him at the end of Revenge of the Sith. Anyway, George said I was nailing it, but he actually wanted me to sound more like the Yoda at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. He just added that maybe Empire was a little too sing-song-y. I would use the term “muppet-y,’ which, of course, is not a term George would use. With Sith, Frank sounded a little too old and gravelly for this period in time. So the Yoda I’m trying to do is a blend of the Yoda of Attack of the Clones and Empire. In fact, we actually went back and re-recorded my tracks to get it more towards what George wanted.

NRAMA: And how is it working with [supervising director] Dave Filoni?

TK: You know, I think this is the first time that George has allowed an unabashed fanboy to take over. It shows. I think one of the criticisms from one of the publications was there was, if I remember correctly, “too much action.” There was too much stuff going on. I laughed because that’s only the first three episodes. Wait until we really get going.

Because, as you can imagine, that’s really what the fans want. They want lots of action. Yes, some of the reviewers get it. They looked over at their 8-to-11 year old and saw them freaking out. As one critic I know put it, and he was a 46 year-old man, when he saw it from the eyes of his 12 year-old it rewrote the review.

You’ll get to see a lot more of Yoda with CN’s debut Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode, “Ambush.” Find out why next edition.

STAR WARS COULD COME TO YOUR HOUSE

Got this press release the other day, and we’re running it more for its informational value. Those of you who can read between the lines might learn a thing or three.

Press Release

“On Saturday, Sept. 27, in homes across the country, thousands of kids, along with their families and friends, will get a sneak peek at one of the most anticipated television series of the fall, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. On that same day, one lucky youngster is getting his own world television premiere event in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois.

“Cartoon Network is partnering with House Party, a leading word-of-mouth company in the area of viewer engagement, to premiere the debut of the groundbreaking television series via 2,000 in-home viewing parties across the country. Each child who is hosting a premiere will receive a party kit that includes a light saber, character masks, glow sticks, tattoos, stickers, posters and balloons for all of their guests. Cartoon Network will also make the first two episodes of the eagerly awaited series available to hosts for their parties. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the first weekly television series from Lucasfilm Animation, premieres on Cartoon Network Friday, Oct. 3, at 9:00 p.m. (eastern).

Calvin Rodgers, the lucky nine-year-old Chicagoan, meanwhile, will literally have the red carpet rolled out for him, his family and friends, and hundreds of other special guests, at the Park West Theater in Lincoln Park. He was recently surprised with the exciting news when a group of clone troopers came to his school, Edgar Allen Poe Classical, and delivered Star Wars books donated by Penguin Books to help celebrate the debut of the series. Along with a screening of the first two episodes, guests at his premiere will also enjoy a fun-filled afternoon of Star Wars-related activities and games. Several other kids hosting parties on that day will also receive surprise visits at their homes from clone troopers.

Hosts can share their STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS party at www.houseparty.com/starwarstheclonewars.

NEXT EDITION: We give an advance peek at the first two episodes of CN’s The Clone Wars.

 

Related Stories:

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: Writer Henry Gilroy, p3

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: Writer Henry Gilroy, p2

Star Wars: The Clone Wars debuts on Cartoon Network on October 3rd.

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: Writer Henry Gilroy, p1

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: Creating a New Clone Wars

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: From Big Screen to Small

Clone Wars Weekly Dispatch: Director David Filoni

Movie Review: Star Wars: Clone Wars

Twitter activity