Study Guide

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Spirituality

Spirituality

LUKE: I'm looking for a great warrior.
YODA: Ah, a great warrior. War does not make one great.

This is Yoda's first lesson for Luke: Being a Jedi isn't all about swashbuckling and adventure. As a relatively young dude, Luke still craves excitement and danger, but he's going to need to get that in check to become a legit Jedi.

LUKE: I don't know what I'm doing here. We're wasting our time.
YODA: (aside) I cannot teach him. The boy has no patience.

Luke's impulsiveness becomes an immediate obstacle to his training. With its Zen-like focus on passivity and peacefulness, the Jedi Order requires a more down-to-earth, humble perspective for its trainees.

YODA: For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi [...] A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.

In other words, Yoda is an O.G. In addition, this passage re-emphasizes the monastic nature of the Jedi. Though it might seem like all fun and games and lightsabers right now to Luke, the reality is far simpler—and perhaps more boring.

LUKE: But how am I to know the good side from the bad?
YODA: You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.

The distinction between the dark and light sides of the Force is a key tenet of Jedi spirituality. The light side of the Force represents patience and passivity; the dark side represents anger and fear. Although it's obvious that the light side of the Force is the better of the two, the movie suggests that the optimal state of these two powers is when they are in balance.

LUKE: But tell me why I can't.
YODA: No, there is no why.

Yoda's sayings often sound like kōans, Zen Buddhist parables that typically use illogical statements to illustrate spiritual truths. Here, Yoda is using a sort of circular logic to emphasize Luke's need for faith.

YODA: That place is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
LUKE: What's in there?
YODA: Only what you take with you.

Luke's experience in the cave is an important point in his spiritual journey for many reasons. First, it shows him that he's still far from being the perfect Jedi that Yoda wishes him to be. Second—and perhaps most importantly—it shows him that he's "taking" quite a few negative feelings with him everywhere he goes, like his anger, fear, and over-emotionality.

LUKE: Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.
YODA: No, no different. Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

The concept of "unlearning what you have learned" is ripped straight from the tenets of Zen Buddhism. In the religion, as in this scene, this concept is used to illustrate both that our assumptions limit us, as well as the idea that there are complex spiritual forces (or, in this case, Force) at work beneath the physical world.

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

This statement echoes Yoda's previous statement that "there is no why." Once again, he uses strange, circular logic to highlight Luke's lack of faith.

YODA: Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere. Yes, even between this land and that ship.

Here, Yoda adds to our understanding of the Force by likening it to a "luminous" substance that binds together all living beings. In addition, he also illustrates the conflict between the spirit and the body, which can be found in practically every major religion, from traditional Native American spiritual practices to Christianity to Buddhism.

LUKE: I don't believe it.
YODA: That is why you fail.

This is Luke's main failure during his Jedi training—he relies on logic, rather than faith. Interestingly, this training ends on a decidedly dark note, with Yoda and Obi-Wan worried that Luke is falling prey to the dark side.

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