Why a Yoda movie may be a bad idea


With yesterday’s news of standalone Star Wars character movies, there’s a lot of speculation that Yoda may get his own film. He’s definitely one of the most iconic characters in the series, and he has a real mystique about him given his small stature but incredible strength.

Yet there’s a certain taint left behind by the prequels that leaves me uneasy about the idea. We’d be dealing with some point or points in Yoda’s past which dovetail into the prequels and the original trilogy, and making those pieces fit can be difficult. It’s all in the execution, of course, and at least the screenplays of these standalone films will be in the capable hands of Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg.

But, I don’t know, man… I kind of have a bad feeling about this.

Cumbersome and Awkward Can Sometimes Yoda’s Speech Become

Yoda’s speech pattern has always been funny, but in those misplaced articles and backwards constructions there were these little spiritual, philosophical, and mystical ideas that were poetic. A line like “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter” (courtesy of Kasdan) seems like it has some sort of natural pause, like a break in a poem or in song lyrics.

It’s good in doses and done sparingly, but if not handled right, you wind up with garbled language that just sounds silly, the worst examples are clunkers like “Not if anything to say about it I have,” from Revenge of the Sith, or “Around the survivors a perimeter create” and “Until caught this killer is, our judgment she must respect” from Attack of the Clones. To be fair, those movies have some of the worst writing in all six films.

It’s going to be a balancing act of making Yoda-ese distinct while avoiding unintentional self-parody, which easy in a feature-length film to fall into it is very.

Yoda and the Warrior/Sage Dilemma

One of the more divisive fan issues with the prequels was whether Yoda should have been depicted as a flipping, twirling, spinning, smack-talking lightsaber mofo. That might be one of those interesting things about Yoda as a character. Some fans view him as this wizened old master who’s beyond fighting (“Wars not make one great”) while other fans view him as the best of the Jedi’s battle-worn veterans (“If so powerful you are… why leave?”).

Me, I always wondered why a 800ish-year-old martial artist would flip around recklessly instead of going for economy of movement and efficient strikes, but okay, the Force or something, whatever.

Yoda seemed more badass to me when he raised an X-wing in Dagobah than when he breakdanced Christopher Lee to a draw during a swordfight. The X-wing moment was a surprise and spoke to an internal strength in people that could transcend physical strength. It was a bit of magic in a movie rife with it already. The duel was Yoda throwing down without thought or grace, a show of physical strength but not necessarily that inner strength, and it just looked really silly. It seemed sillier still because of this commercial for the DVD release of Attack of the Clones.

Some Great Characters are Meant to be Supporting Players and That’s Okay

You can probably make an action figure or statuette out of any character in a movie, but it doesn’t mean they’re all prime for their own film. That doesn’t just go for throwaway/background players but for memorable ones as well. Still, some supporting characters could do a solo film no problem, like maybe Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski or maybe Quint from Jaws.

But, you know, as much as I love Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, I wouldn’t have wanted to see a movie about him because he’s a character defined more by what he brings out in other people. The same goes for Mickey in Rocky. A movie about Mickey’s past could be interesting, but there’s more at stake for him in old age realizing his own unrealized potential through someone else who’s younger that he didn’t like initially. Q from the James Bond series shows up and provides gadgets, and in his brief utilitarian moment gets to be a memorable personality; same with Edna Mode from The Incredibles.

Some great characters are gadget whizzes, gurus, good examples for heroes, bad examples for heroes, sidekicks, friends, acquaintances, functional units in storytelling machinery. They’re role players on a team who are nonetheless an essential part of it. And maybe Yoda fits there, somewhere with Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio and Kyuzo from Seven Samurai, essential but not the point of focus.

Whatever Happened to Yaddle, the Female Yoda?

One of the side characters in the Star Wars prequels was a female from Yoda’s species named Yaddle. (She was unnamed on screen.) There was also a taller Yoda-like guy in a few shots. These other-Yodas, for lack of a better term, both died sometime during the prequels.

But with any movie dealing with past events and past characters, I have to ask: would this film try to look at Yoda’s species as a whole? Would it try to address some questions about origin and Yoda’s beginnings and rise to power as a Jedi? It’s all those meticulous worries of world building that people become obsessed with and obsess over; not that I’m obsessed, but there is an impulse to delve, to answer, to reveal — show all the pieces, show all the blueprints.

These questions are bits of speculation about what the film might cover (hell, it’s all speculation right now since it’s me writing about a unconfirmed rumor), but I bring these questions up just to post a silly picture of a young Yoda in Jedi drag and dovetail into the last two points.

Mystery Can Add to the Mystique, Answers Can Take It Away

I think the taint of the prequels made me have a bad feeling about a standalone Yoda movie because those three films were a cautionary tale: sometimes you don’t need answers because the mystery is better. All the backstory concerning certain characters, certain situations, and certain relationships was probably better in your head than it was on screen when you saw the prequels; or in a handful of cases, the prequels may have confirmed what you believed in your head. (That might be where the sage/warrior split comes from, amongst other things.)

But I think leaving things unanswered is sometimes better. An incomplete character biography or an incomplete history of a fictional world gives people who encounter these things a sense of co-authoring or co-creating — you construct your own answers based on the actual and thematic evidence that’s already there. That’s where some of the odd personal investment in unreal things may come from.

Yoda is a great character not because we want to know everything about him, but because what we know might be enough (at least in the original trilogy); or what is revealed through interactions with others is enough, at least. The danger is that in revealing too many things about Yoda, it can take away the magic of the character rather than add to it.

The Bigger the Character, the Harder They Fall

That’s generally the danger of writing the backstory after the main text. It will be something interesting about all of these standalone Star Wars movies if the young Han Solo and Boba Fett movie news is true. How do you maneuver around what’s already established to enhance what’s there? Look how bad they botched it with Darth Vader.

For some reason I can see a Boba Fett film since there’s something that strikes me immediately about that rogue, but Yoda and Han Solo are more problematic since they are established figures and so prominent in each film they’re in. There’s a weight of expectation based on what’s established. Boba Fett is more of a blank slate, so there’s more room to play with in his story and the pressure is lower. Like with the Ewoks. (Sidenote: I thought The Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor were really fun. Then again, I haven’t seen those movies in at least 20 years.)

I guess there is one thing that sticks out to me about Yoda in my favorite scenes with him. He always seems like one of those great helpers and teachers. Yoda is there to make others great, to be that essential power that illuminates something in someone else’s story — he’s not meant to be the hero, but instead the hero’s hero.

If a Yoda movie winds up happening, I hope the creative team proves me wrong, gets rid of these bad feelings I’ve got, and washes the taste of prequel out of my mouth.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.