The Philosophy of Star Wars – best Yoda quotes part one

Cartoon drawing of Jedi master Yoda for Yoda Quote story (part one)

In this article, Conrad looks at some of his favourite Yoda Quotes from the Star Wars movies. He explains about what this wizened Jedi Master is talking about, and how it applies to our daily lives.

Who is Yoda?

There is a reason why I have picked Yoda for my first “Philosophy of…” discussion series. Most Yoda quotes could be turned into bumper stickers. Why? Well, not only are they instantly identifiable, but they also tackle broad themes which apply to all us. They make us think. And, yes, they can help us to lead better lives.

Yoda, you see, was all about self improvement. He was a Jedi master in the Star Wars movies, making his first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back in 1980.

But his appearance was deceptive. Unlike the gently spoken Alec Guinness before him, Yoda had the features of an elaborate Muppet. It was easy to look down on him (you literally had to, as he was only two feet tall) and with his broken up syntax it was easy to think he was cute or silly.

However, as Luke discovers, Yoda is much more than we expect. As we learn, he is a master of the mystical arts of the Force, and is about 800 years old.

The Yoda quotes I have picked sum up the causes of many of our conflicts and failures. They shine a light on why we make sometimes crushing mistakes when weighing up our work colleges and family members. They teach us that attitude means everything.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Chronologically, Yoda first rocks up in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. After a 10-year-old Anakin Skywalker flees to the galactic central world of Coruscant, he is brought by Qui-Gon Jinn to meet Yoda and the Jedi Council. Qui-Gon believes young Anakin has great power. He should be taught by Yoda and the rest of the Jedi in the ways of the Force.

But Yoda, in what at first seems like a bit of a dickish move, rebukes Anakin for his fear:

Yoda: How feel you?

Anakin: Cold, sir.

Yoda: Afraid are you?

Anakin: No, sir.

Yoda: See through you we can.

Mace Windu (another Jedi): Be mindful of your feelings.

Ki-Adi-Mund (another Jedi): Your thoughts dwell on your mother.

Anakin: I miss her.

Yoda: Afraid to lose her I think, hmm?

Anakin: What has that got to do with anything?

Yoda: Everything! Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.

But Yoda is not a dick. He has a point: that fear eventually snowballs. And when it does Anakin eventually becomes Darth Vader, the most feared villain in the galaxy.

The meaning

This gets into my favourite Yoda quotes list because there are broader themes for us understand. This is not just about Anakin becoming Darth Vader – what Yoda says is relevant to us and our lives.

Fear is what puts us on the back foot in life. When we feel fear, there is a very real danger – no a likelihood – that we stop acting. More often than not we start reacting.

This is all because of something we have in our brains linked back to our prehistoric days: the fight or flight response.

When we feel that response because of a perceived threat, the danger is we let go of our responsibility. Instead we mindlessly run away, or we lash out at the threat.

The sad truth is that, just as the Jedi have no need for fear, neither should we. We should be able to rationalise things, or use empathy to understand our world. We should be able to observe the world from a rational and positive standpoint. We know what happens if we don’t cross the road intelligently. We shouldn’t have to fear cars. We know that if we commit an act of violence that it hurts the individual: we should be choosing not to injure someone because of empathy, rather than a fear of the police.

But just like the Jedi, our fear is an everyday bugbear if not understood and handled with care. Workplaces can become toxic when someone fears the newcomer. That can turn nasty and undermining. It can turn into a long-term hateful grudge. And everyone suffers. Likewise, a person fearing their partner will leave them can become cruel without realising. They can attempt to trap the other person so they won’t go.

“That is why you fail.”

The second of my Yoda quotes is one of Yoda’s best drop-the-mic moments. It’s nestled in there amongst a scene chock full of Yoda quotes.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke has a problem: To find Yoda’s homeworld, he ended up crashing through the atmosphere and into a swamp.

Whilst Luke found Yoda and began his training, the starship languished there in the muddy waters.

Then one say it sinks further in.

Yoda suggests they lift the starfighter out of the swamp using the Force. For those two people who don’t get this by now, he’s suggesting the use of telekinetic powers.

Luke tries and fails.

Yoda lifts the huge spaceship out of the swamp. Beautiful music swells and you realise this Empire Strikes Back flick is a bit smarter than the last movie.

Luke, just as impressed as you – and a little in shock – says “I don’t believe it.”

Yoda, smart as a button, comes back with “That is why you fail.”

The meaning

How we look at the world ultimately dictates our reality. Choosing to believe you will succeed helps you to act appropriately. Let me put it another way – if you go out into the sports field convinced you can’t win, what do your chances look like?

It’s almost a butterfly effect. That nagging at the back of the mind controls the finer nuances of how you act and react to other people. If you are trying to negotiate a deal, pull of a presentation or organise a family day out its there like a gremlin. It pulls the rug at tiny moments when you need to be on form – when you need to flash that winning smile or come up with that great statistic.

Here’s an example many of us remember from sales: when you want something too much, doubt can creep in. A salesperson worrying about their target, and fearing they won’t hit it, comes across as awkward. Their lack of self belief undermines their attempts to actually sell stuff to their customers. I’ve seen top salespeople do this. Supervisors.

And there are greater implications. It’s only when you have taken in what Yoda has to say that you realise how dangerous things like low self esteem and depression actually are.

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

Remember when I said that the whole starfighter-swamp scene was full of Yoda quotes? Well, here’s another one.

Yoda is trying to explain how Luke can lift his starfighter out of the swamp using only his mind – before showing him how it can be done.

Luke argues the starfighter is “too big.”

The very short Yoda asks Luke “Judge me by my size, do you?”

As we saw, Luke still doesn’t quite grasp the gravity of Yoda’s speech. Not yet, anyway.

The meaning

Yoda is all about how the potential within us is often hidden. It’s hidden in Luke Skywalker. Indeed, its hidden in Yoda most of the time. He hardly uses the Force in The Empire Strikes Back. but when he does it’s to incredible effect.

Because of that hidden potential, it’s easy to underestimate people. It’s easy, instead, to weigh them up based on crude first impressions – the “size” of the person. Sizing people up in this way means we miss the true power of whomever we meet.

How many times have you been talked down to because people made an assumption about who you were based on your clothes or your job? I remember someone talking down to me in a shop I worked at about the English language. As they got into their condescending carry-on I explained that I was doing a doctorate in English. What I got was effectively almost 20 minutes of the other trying to overcompensate for their oversight.

I was lucky – it could have been me making the asshole call about someone serving me in a shop (as if shopkeepers and staff are the modern-day lowly servant or something). But I realised we never know the true potential of people. Not really. Not unless we get to know them.

In other words, you never know who you are talking to.

And these first impressions are often based on poor relative measurements. Look at the physical. So what if Luke is physically two-feet taller than Yoda? How much does that pale in the vastness of the universe? Then the difference is practically nil. How much do qualifications really make us “smarter” than the other person when there’s endless knowledge out there in different shapes and sizes?

Much more important is our potential to do great things.

More Yoda quotes to come….

I’ll be going through some more of my favourite Yoda quotes tomorrow. Stay tuned till then.

As always, I’m no expert .. if things are really bad, please see a specialist.

See you in the next post.