He was a risk: a small, green-skinned Jedi Master alien puppet that had to A) be taken seriously by audiences and B) hold its own against series star Mark Hamill. And in the end, the risk paid off. Yoda, introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, was just magic.
He immediately became a beloved character — funny, quizzical, and wise. Today, he stands as the mystical heart of the Star Wars saga, a perfect representation of its lessons, fearlessness, and creativity stretching across the movies and animated series. To celebrate the birthday of Frank Oz, the legendary performer/director who brought Yoda to life, as well as the 39th anniversary of the original Star Wars, we’re looking at some of the great warrior’s (though, wars not make one great!) finest moments.
1. Mine. Or I will help you not!
When Yoda first meets Luke, he does not immediately introduce himself. Instead, he tests him. Tries his patience — of which Luke has little. He eats Luke’s food, wants his lamp, and invites him over for dinner. It’s a brilliant way of seeing not what kind of Force-wielder Luke is, but what kind of person. This was also our first meeting with Yoda, and with his charming backwards speak, expressive eyes and ears, and playfulness, he was impossible not to love.
2. Luminous beings
Once Yoda lays down the oddball facade and begins to train Luke in the ways of the Force, his lessons are challenging and full of wisdom, even for the audience. Among his many teachings, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” remains particularly powerful. It’s a reminder that all life is equal and connected, and only that understanding can lead to true selflessness. “Do. Or do not,” may be Yoda’s most famous line, but this lesson is the very core of Star Wars.
3. Rise of the X-wing
Immediately after Luke tries to levitate his X-wing from the Dagobah swamp — and fails — he tells his Master, “You want the impossible.” With that, Yoda, less than half Luke’s size, calmly raises the starfighter. “I can’t believe it,” says Luke. “That is why you fail,” Yoda replies. It’s a simple yet spellbinding moment that serves to reinforce everything Yoda had been trying to convey to his student.
4. Forever sleep
Some time after Luke’s disastrous confrontation with Darth Vader, which Yoda warned Luke not to attempt, the young Jedi returns to complete his training. Instead, he finds Yoda ill. The Jedi Master first confirms that Vader is indeed Luke’s father and regrets that his apprentice was not ready for that burden. Moreover, in his final and maybe most important teaching to Luke, Yoda gracefully embraces his death. It’s an act that proves Yoda was the ultimate Jedi and teacher until the very end.
5. Confronting the Emperor
With the execution of Order 66 and the turning of Anakin Skywalker to the dark side, Palpatine had all but won. The Jedi Order was destroyed, the Clone War was over, and he assumed the mantle of Emperor. Yoda and Obi-Wan had a plan, however: go back to Coruscant, send a warning to all surviving Jedi, and face the Emperor and Darth Vader. Yoda would consider his battle with the Emperor a failure, but he was still brave and lived — not to fight another day, but to teach someone who would figure out how to defeat Palpatine. From a certain point of view, this was a victory.
6. Dark Yoda
The Yoda we meet in the original trilogy is not quite the same as the Yoda we meet in the prequels. In The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Yoda is less warm. Less playful. He leads an army into battle. This is not exactly in line with the sage who tells Luke, “A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense. Never for attack.” The Yoda arc from Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Lost Missions helps explain just why Yoda changed so much, and the greater understandings of the Force he achieved that led to his change.
After hearing the voice of the long-dead Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda goes on a journey that finds him investigating deep mysteries of the Force — but also himself. He finds, much to his surprise, that he there is still much for him to learn. The Master becomes the student, and in one trial, he battles a dark manifestation of himself. It’s a reminder that no one, not even Yoda, is perfect and beyond learning.
Contacted by young Ezra Bridger from the Jedi Temple on Lothal, Yoda — communing from Dagobah — became something of a mentor for the Padawan, and even gifted him a lightsaber crystal. At the end of their second meeting, the Temple begins to crumble with the arrival of the Empire’s Inquisitors, and Ezra, Kanan Jarrus, and Ahsoka Tano must hurry to escape. Ahsoka, who, let down by the Council had left the Jedi Order as a Padawan, stops for a moment. Looking back, she sees Yoda. They speak no words to each other, but their expressions, filled with love, forgiveness, and respect, along with Yoda’s gentle wave, say it all.
What’s your favorite Yoda moment? Let us know in the comments below!
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer, and spends his days writing stuff for and around StarWars.com. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.