“I’m looking for a great warrior,” says Luke Skywalker on the swampy, dark-infested world of Dagobah. The old goblin hermit who has surprised him hops off a tree root giggling, “Ohhh, great warrior! Wars not make one great…”
Just a few short scenes later in The Empire Strikes Back, we realize that this little green man is actually Yoda, the Jedi Grand-Master who has trained force-users for nearly a millennium. Thus Luke’s expectations, as well as those of the audience, are nicely subverted.
But Yoda, it turns out, was far from done subverting people’s expectations. After 22 years as an old, shambling puppet (expertly controlled and voiced by founding Muppeteer Frank Oz), Attack of the Clones introduced a CGI Yoda. Still, he was true to the original puppet, still Frank Oz, and despite Obi-Wan quipping with Anakin about “rivaling Master Yoda as a swordsman,” we never thought our 900-year-old friend would see battle.
But battle he did, and if anyone tries to tell you that on first viewing they didn’t cheer like a maniac the second Yoda Force-pulls a lightsaber into his hand at Dooku’s challenge, they are lying through their teeth. Even though it’s loses some luster for me the more I watch it, due to the fact that they seem evenly matched, I still get a little chill when Yoda appears for that final duel.
It turns out that our Yoda really IS a good swordsman. Using the Force to compensate for his height and age, Yoda becomes a manic whirlwind of wild slashes and superhuman jumps while wielding a Shoto-Saber. Though that wildness does potentially pose a bit of a weakness, it certainly makes up for it by maintaining the element of surprise. I mean, we all know Yoda is perhaps the most powerful being in the galaxy when it comes to wielding the Force (with the possible exception of Anakin in his prime), but to see him in the thick of things actually physically defending his title of Grand-Master is…impressive. Most impressive. And it only gets better in Revenge of the Sith
Of course, some people don’t see it that way. Some have gone as far as to say that it’s a defamation of Yoda’s character, citing the opening quote. Well, truth be told, these people actually do have a reason to feel uncomfortable with this display, though not the reason they think.
The most important thing to remember is that the Yoda who said “Wars not make one great” is a good 20-30 years older than the one who pulls out his lightsaber and smacks Christopher Lee around. While physically Yoda wouldn’t look that much different, it’s still long enough to learn a new lesson, even for someone as wise as Yoda.
Now, while Yoda does seem to only use the saber as a last resort, he’s still caught up in the violence enough to have his own Clone regiment to order around and sometimes lead into battle. Though he is the wisest Jedi on the Council during the Clone Wars, he is still caught up in the arrogance and Dogma that crippled the order enough for Palpatine’s scheme to work. What makes it uncomfortable is that Yoda is now fallible enough for that. This isn’t a flaw in the Saga, but good character development. So how do we get from Clones to Empire? Naturally, seeing everyone he knows and has taught be cut down by the machinations of the Sith and nearly succumbing as well is a harsh lesson. When he says the line in Empire, he’s speaking from personal experience.
Of course, this doesn’t stop him from urging Luke to destroy Vader and Sidious, indicating that perhaps he wouldn’t be averse to taking up the blade again if given the chance. Yoda is not a perfect being, there’s really no such thing. All we can do is keep trying to learn as long as we live, and try to be the best role models we can to those who come after us. Part of that is knowing when to pick up the lightsaber…and when to throw it away.