Saturday, 13 August 2011

208: W is for Wisdom

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

If you had the chance to prove to the world that you were the wisest being in the galaxy, how would you go about it? What would you say or do to get that message over? Would you be up to the task?

What if you had two movies to do it in? Too much time? Okay, how about if you only had 23 minutes to do it in? Better? No?

Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

Yoda seems to have managed it.

Like Darth Vader, Yoda's name has spread beyond the GFFA and into popular culture. He's become synonymous with wisdom, to the point where you can comparatively drop his name into a conversation and a lot of people will get the gist of knowledge, peace and serenity. This has been established with only 23 minutes of screen-time*1 in the Original Trilogy (granted, he's had a lot more in the prequels and in The Clone Wars, but his reputation was cemented in between 1980-83, in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).

What confuses his philosophical status, however, is: he's a puppet. The first three times we see him, he's a meticulously crafted bundle of rubber, fabric, wires and metal.

Yoda in the 'concept' stage

Yoda began his life on the drawing boards of Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, before being modelled for tESB by Stuart Freeborn. Although visually striking and unique*2 in the GFFA, George Lucas and Irvin Kershner wanted to make sure that audience expectations for the one referred to as "the Jedi Master" were sent stumbling when his identity is revealed.

"Luke has no idea what this fount of knowledge will look like and does not at first believe that the curious personage of Yoda embodies the Force. Luke's inability to recognise him must be shared by the audience."

Stuart Freeborn, interviewed on p70 of Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of TESB by Alan Arnold.

Yoda's job in tESB is, of course, to instruct Luke (and the audience) in the ways of the Force, expanding on the brief introduction given by Ben Kenobi in the previous film. As with ANH, we learn at the same rate Luke, and from his point of view.

"In these scenes between Yoda and Luke, the Force is best understood as something very real. We learn how it is used, where it comes from. The Jedi training program and disciplines are explained. The concept of the Force's use for good, rather than evil, is promulgated. Finally these scenes lead to a fight that is based on the disciplines these scenes with Yoda reveal"

Irvin Kershner, interviewed on p200 of Once Upon A Galaxy: A Journal of the Making of TESB by Alan Arnold.

So despite the low screen-time, once Yoda is established and demonstrated as a teacher, he effectively impacts on every scene featuring Luke that is to come. Once Skywalker leaves to help his friends on Bespin, we're seeing Luke 2.0, and the teachings of the Jedi stay with him, and us, until the final shot of spirit-Yoda on Endor.

Yoda in Marvel's tESB adaptation

As well as the sterling work by Frank Oz, in puppeteering and voicing Yoda, credit has to go to Mark Hamill for being such a convincing counterpart. The majority of Yoda's scenes in the OT are with Luke*3, and it's Skywalker's reactions that sell Yoda to us as much as Oz's performance.

Since his return in tPM (or more properly his AotC CGI incarnation), Yoda's scenes have still been philosophical, but way more action-based. For us old-schoolers, it's great to see the green one finally laying it down and giving Dooku a run for his money. As you'll probably know, this attitude-shift is mirrored in RotS when he turns one of Palpatine's clonetroopers into a shish kebab.

Yoda in Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars

We also got to see some pre-EpIII verdant carnage in Genndy Tartakovsky's fantastic Clone Wars 2D animated series, which showed off Yoda's determination and combat-skills (largely because there wasn't a lot of room for introspection in such short episodes).

But 2005 wasn't the end of the line for our little green friend, despite his exile to Dagobah. Yoda is a regular fixture in The Clone Wars animated series, and episode 1.1 'Ambush' goes a long way to re-capturing his reflective side as he tells a group of clones how unique they are in the Force.

Yoda in Dave Filoni's The Clone Wars

And still he branches out, appearing most recently in the animated Star Wars Lego: The Padawan Menace, in charge of a group of boisterous younglings on an outing. The show is firmly tongue-in-cheek, but it's the Yoda we know and love.

Yoda in Lego Star Wars: The Padawan Menace

The great thing is, whether he's being profound, mischievous, authoritative or just kicking-ass, he never breaks character. All of these aspects go to make up Yoda, and in that respect, he arguably better developed than many other figures in the saga.

I've already written about the effect that Yoda's death-scene had on me as a child, and while I don't tear-up these days, it's still a sobering scene. Again, it's Mark Hamill's acting that gives weight to what's unfolding. Otherwise it'd just be a puppet going to bed.

"There is a strong emotional effect of saying goodbye to this creature. Not only is Luke saying goodbye to Yoda, but the audience is saying goodbye to him. It's kind of sad because you like him. He's an extraordinary man. To me, Yoda is a Zen master."

Irvin Kershner, interviewed on p232 of The Making of TESB by J.W. Rinzler.

Yoda is a part of current popular culture, and yet his is the wisdom of the ages. They may have become soundbites, but carry his words with you and ask yourself: What would Yoda do?

Do. Or do not.
There is no try.

Yoda(s) in my back garden

*1 - 17½ minutes in tESB, and 5½ minutes in RotJ. Incredible, isn't it?
*2 - Unique until the appearance of Yaddle in tPM. But we still don't know their species.
*3 - In fact, the only other actor in Yoda's scenes is Sir Alec Guinness, although they factor less, time-wise.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment