Star Wars has rejected Yoda’s most iconic lesson, suggesting the phrase “Do or do not, there is no try” needs careful qualification. When Luke Skywalker arrived on the planet Dagbah, he was operating under the illusion the most powerful mentors in the Force would all be great warriors. The last thing he expected to discover was an aged hermit who refused to be judged on his size, and who excelled at giving the most cryptic advice imaginable. Still, Luke soon learned to respect Master Yoda, and revered him for the rest of his life. Years later, during te sequel trilogy, it was Master Yoda’s Force Ghost who returned to Luke’s side, offering him wisdom and counsel when he most needed it.
Yoda had trained to be a Jedi centuries ago, and he had taught countless others over the course of his 900-year lifespan. He had learned to love pithy sayings, one-liners that his students would be able to spend a lifetime reflecting on. Yoda passed on one of his most famous to Luke, stressing the idea of being confident when using the Force; “Do or do not,” he observed. “There is no try.” Yoda’s point was that his student’s intention to “try” to wield the Force – in this case by demonstrating the power of telekinesis – implicitly hinted at his belief in the potential for failure. Rather, he believed, a Jedi should operate with supreme confidence that they were acting according to the will of the Force, and that the Force would respond to them.
Not every Jedi agreed with Yoda’s teachings. Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The High Republic transmedia initiative is exploring the period when the Jedi and the Republic were at their height, centuries before the events of the prequel trilogy. They have already shown some masters happily talking about “trying” when it comes to using the Force, in part because – unlike Yoda – they saw no shame in failing. But George Mann’s recent audiobook The Battle of Jedha goes one step further, in a telling scene in which two Jedi celebrate the importance of trying. The Jedi on Jedha have palpably failed in their mission, unable to successfully negotiate a peace between two warring planets, but they have done so through no failing of their own. There were simply forces in play they could not anticipate; even with the guidance of the Force, they struggled to figure things out in time. Still, they take comfort from the fact they tried.
Yoda was flawed in his judgment – or even wrong – far more often than many viewers realize. In this case, the saying “Do or do not, there is no try” commits a Jedi to an absolutist perspective where any unsuccessful mission is a result of failing to trust the will of the Force. The galaxy is far more complex than that, though, and Jedi will always be encountering things they did not expect, and do not understand. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where Jedi become paralyzed in such circumstances, unable to figure out what to do because they cannot ascertain the will of the Force and they do not know what course of action is the right one. In those situations, the best servants of the light side will simply shrug their shoulders and respond to the needs of the moment, trusting the Force to guide them and accepting the possibility of failure.
This ties to the fact redemption has always been a major theme in Star Wars – but one Yoda does not seem to have fully understood. The prequel trilogy shattered many of his old certainties, forcing him to reevaluate everything he stood for, but he still doesn’t seem to have fully realized failures and falls can be redeemed. “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny,” Yoda warned Luke. “Consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” Luke ultimately proved even a failure can be turned into a success if you act in accordance with the will of the Force, and even a Sith Lord can return to the light side. He proved Yoda wrong.
This is the beauty of Star Wars. Even the wisest Jedi Master of all is flawed and mistaken, struggling to identify the truth of the Force and its will. The balance of the Force is more complicated than even Yoda realized, and his absolutist teachings were flawed. He’s still a hero, still a wise being, still worthy of reverence – even if he wasn’t right about everything.
Next: Star Wars’ Famous “A Long Time Ago…” Line Has Lost Its True Meaning