WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for director Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, in theaters now.
Yoda left quite the impression when he was introduced in 1980's Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, transitioning from fan-favorite character to pop-culture icon. George Lucas didn't initially paint him as a legendary Jedi Master, but rather as a mischievous prankster who rifled through Luke Skywalker's supplies on Dagobah while feigning ignorance of the "great warrior" he sought there. In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson brings back Yoda for one final prank on Luke that may well shape the future of the Jedi.
Already frustrated after crashing on the isolated swamp planet in The Empire Strikes Back and possibly losing his X-wing to its murky waters, Luke is further pestered by by the appearance of a pint-sized green prankster who toys with his flashlight, criticizes his rations and picks a fight with the prickly R2-D2. It turns out, however, that Yoda was only hiding his true identity to determine the purity of Luke's heart. In short, his pranks had a higher purpose.
Fast forward 37 years to Rey departure from Ahch-To in The Last Jedi in hopes of redeeming Kylo Ren. That makes Luke even more disillusioned with the Jedi, and he decides to burn the sacred tree at at the first temple and incinerate the Order's remaining sacred text, leaving its history and legacy in literal ashes.
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However, he can't bring himself to light the tree on fire -- and that's when Yoda appears in the form of a Force ghost. He harnesses Force lightning to burn the tree, leading to a nostalgic conversation between him and his former student. In their exchange, Yoda knocks on his former pupil's head with a staff as he teases him about his stubbornness. However, that's merely a precursor to Yoda's slyest prank yet.
Yoda explains that failure is a good teacher, and we must learn from mistakes, not be bogged down by them. And so he agrees that the Jedi philosophies of old must burn away, hence his actions. But as Luke expresses regret about failing Rey and burning of the books, Yoda reminds him with a wry laugh, "Wisdom they held, but that library contained nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess." Now, at first glance, it would seem he's referring to the Jedi ideals of using the Force for good that have already been instilled within her.
But as the movie ends, we see a quick shot of the Jedi texts on the Millennium Falcon, where they've been tucked away for safety: Rey stole them as she left Ahch-To. It's highly likely the all-seeing Yoda knew that, which is why he had no problem with burning the tree. Yoda's assuring words then inspire hope within Luke, and spur him to Force-project to Crait to save the Resistance.
Yoda, as playful and as wise as ever, claims a win-win. Apart from helping Luke, he sees that Rey is poised to continue learning about the light. This is something he knows will enable her to find other Force users and establish a new Jedi Order, free from the baggage of the past. Even in the afterlife, a great teacher, Master Yoda remains.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi stars Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke, Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, Benicio Del Toro as ‘DJ’, Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, and the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. The film is in theaters worldwide.