Study Guide

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Yoda (Frank Oz)

Yoda (Frank Oz)

A character analysis you seek, eh? Hrrrm? Patience you must have, young Shmooper.

Now that we've gotten that out of our system (we've been practicing our Yoda impression since the third grade) let's take a closer look at the green man himself: Master Yoda. Like Obi-Wan before him, Yoda serves as a mentor for our mythic hero Luke, teaching him the ways of the Force and—hopefully—guiding him away from the dark side.

Zen and the Art of Shiny Laser Swords

Unfortunately, the little dude has his work cut out for him. Like his father Anakin, Luke is headstrong and impatient—he's flat-out rude to Yoda before he realizes that this Kermit lookalike is the most respected Jedi in the galaxy. This disturbs Yoda so much that he refuses to teach Luke altogther until the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi convinces him otherwise, arguing that he too was the same way when Yoda taught him.

As it turns out, it takes no shortage of patience to understand Yoda's lessons. Just check out this iconic exchange:

LUKE: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?

YODA: You will know [...]

LUKE: But tell me why I can't...

YODA: No, no, there is no why.

Here's another classic:

LUKE: All right, I'll give it a try.

YODA: No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

And one more for good measure:

LUKE: I don't believe it.

YODA: That is why you fail.

In all three instances, Yoda subverts Luke's logic to make a point about his lack of faith in the Force. These statements are reminiscent of Zen kōans, which are short stories, sayings, and parables used in Zen Buddhism to impart illogical spiritual truths. Just check out a few of 'em—they sound like they came straight out of Yoda's mouth. (To make the comparison more striking, many of these kōans depict a master humbling an overconfident student.)

Dropping Out

Despite these proven techniques, Yoda has a tough time teaching Luke. Sometimes it's due to Luke's anger, like when he fails his test in the cave by attacking a fake Darth Vader. Sometimes it's due to his lack of faith, like when he scoffs at Yoda's suggestion that he can lift an X-Wing using only the power of the Force.

Although Luke clearly makes progress over the course of his training—he can do a killer handstand at least—he's not up to Yoda's standards by the time he ships off for Cloud City.

In fact, Yoda clearly believes that Luke is on the wrong path at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Like his father before him, Luke is allowing himself to be guided by his emotional attachment to others rather than the impersonal murmurings of the Force, which favors passivity above all else. Is Luke really about to break bad? Given that Return of the Jedi exists, we know that this doesn't happen, but the question alone shows us that Yoda and Luke's relationship is more uneasy than most people remember.

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