Life Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back [part 5]: Yoda.


Those following previous installments of this series will note I’ve changed the title from “Retrospective on The Empire Strikes Back.” That’s because it really is about how this simple piece of fantasy in sci-fi clothing changed my world at age nine, leaving me with impressions and wisdom that have lasted decades later. Hope this mid-stream switch doesn’t throw anyone too badly.
I love how the Star Wars saga continually throws us into planets that are all-something. All desert. All mechanical. All arctic. And, in the case of Dagobah, all swamp.

Nice LANDING, Luke. You'll never get it out now. πŸ™‚

My initial thought as a nine-year-old upon Yoda’s appearance:

"...Why does he sound just like Grover from Sesame Street?"

The answer, of course, was that puppeteer Frank Oz was the hand(s) and voice behind both the blue-furred Muppet and this new character to the Star Wars saga. I think I may have even been aware of that fact. Suffice it to say, though, that what this little green guy had to say utterly overshadowed all those externalities. The first quote that jumped out at me:
“Wars not make one great!”
Spoken in a scene where Yoda is still playing the loon, I took note anyway because it seemed so at odds with the Star Wars saga to date. After all, didn’t Luke become great because he’d struck a mighty blow in this galactic war by blowing up the Death Star?
I didn’t immediately gain a life lesson from this comment β€” I was a bit too young, still β€” but I’ve come to know Yoda is absolutely right. There’s nothing about war that makes a person great. Rather, wars — or, more accurately, the struggle of life — tests the greatness that already exists within a person.
Quote #2:
“All his life, has he looked away…to the stars, to the horizon…never his mind on WHERE HE WAS! What he was DOING! Adventure…FEH! Excitement…FEH! A Jedi craves not these things!”
Again, in this criticism of his soon-to-be-pupil, Yoda turns a key Star Wars moment β€” Luke wistfully viewing the Tatooine sunset(s) β€” upon its ear and challenges both the hero onscreen and the young me in the audience to reconsider my priorities. LESSON LEARNED: Keep your mind on the present.
Quote #3
“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny; consume you it will!”
Chilling words. And the LESSON was clear: Shun the evil way. It is absolutely corrupting.
Unfortunately, the same scene will show how subtle that evil way can be.
Yoda instructs Luke to enter an evil cave. Uncertain of what he’ll find, the student begins to strap on his blaster and lightsaber. But Yoda says:
“Your weapons…you will not need them.”
Luke takes them anyway. It’s hard to blame him, really. That cave was pretty creepy-looking. But it’s at this moment that Luke truly fails the test. It’s not because he took his fear of the unknown with him in the form of his armaments. It’s that Luke distrusts his mentor, thus cutting himself off from being able to learn from the master.
I’d like to say I got this lesson right away. But I didn’t.
I recall moments when my father tried to teach me how to swim. He would gently pull me into just deep enough water to see what I could do — and, I suspect, so I could see what I could do. Had I trusted him enough to not let me drown or even struggle much while I learned by doing, I may have learned to swim much sooner than I did. But by insisting on staying in the shallows, I added several years to that learning process.
Truthfully, it’s hard to call this a LESSON LEARNED, because I still have problems with this. But the lesson’s plain: Trust your mentors; otherwise, why have them? They may not explain all the whys and wherefores, but they really do know best.
We’re not even half done with Yoda. See you next time for more life lessons from the Jedi Master and The Empire Strikes Back.

2 Responses to “Life Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back [part 5]: Yoda.”

  1. Kris G Says:

    Took me a long time to realize that quoting Yoda did NOT make me a dork. Yoda is the core of everything meaningful in the Star Wars trilogy. I can’t find one Yoda quote in this movie or others that I find false or misleading. Yoda is the ultimate fictional philosopher, bar none.

  2. Kris G Says:

    “Wars not make one great.” I took that a little differently, by the way. I took it to mean that violence is not the answer, might does not make right. No man can attain or show greatness from battle alone.

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