Interpreting the Zen of Yoda

A mutual love of Star Wars being one of the foundations to our relationship, TJ and I frequently cut each other up by dropping hilarious Yoda imitations upon each other.  The groovy-gravelly tones of the long-eared galoot Jedi doyen has been imprinted upon global pop culture ever since his hand-animated debut in 1981’s The Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda’s actual species yet remains a mystery. George Lucas himself has said in interviews he never really figured out where his pint-sized, lightsaber proficient alien Confucius actually originated from.  Shooting Yoda from the hip with Frank Oz’s memorable pebbly voiceovers, Lucas describes him as “a mystery character, he’s a magical character.  He has no background.  He comes and he goes.  He’s the subversive secret mysterious stranger that enters the film and to then exits at the end.”

And yet, the lovably twisted lexicon of Yoda has never really left us. For 40 years now, Yoda-speak has become both parody and parable in our commonplace lives.  A 900-year-old-ish master of Zen, Yoda is, and his never-judge-a-book-by-its-cover aura is so beloved in pop culture people have been known to outright sob at his demise, perhaps the greatest performance a puppet not named Kermit ever gave in cinema.  So enamored are we with Yoda, Disney has recently banked millions of dollars on merch bearing a contemporary pipsqueak preemie version, revealed during The Mandalorian Season 2 as “Grogu.”

Even if you don’t believe in The Force, there’s a strong chance you’ve heard a famous quote of Yoda snagged time and again by the general media.  It’s popped up in sports, medicine, psychology, metaphysics and self-help, and you likely already know where I’m going here. So say it with me, as Yoda dropped it upon an over-eager Luke Skywalker back in the day…

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

The overt message is wisdom for the ages, one of the most profound life lessons delivered to my generation in the same manner we were bestowed precepts at the ends of Fat Albert, He-Man and She-Ra episodes.  Beware the dark side that tempts us. Drift towards the light and make good choices for your future salvation. Don’t let a cackling wizard and his black-domed henchman seduce you into becoming an extant of hedonism.

For me, however, the underlying moral of the story, is this:

It is much easier, much safer, to take the quick and easy route in life.  It’s far more work to take the harder and slower route, the uncertain route, the less convenient route. One that may not pay off immediately, but is the more righteous way to go. In other words, a road less traveled. We have choices in life, so many they often become trivialized minutiae to the masses, though carrying vast importance to an individual or small group of like-minded. Truly, life decisions become a matter of the fast and opportune to a large percentage of our very well-known species.

There’s one thing I would ever want to say to the human race when it’s my time to vanish into the ether and merge my life essence with the grand universe as Yoda, Ben Kenobi, Mace Windu, Kit Fisto, Qui-Gon Jinn and ultimately Anakin Skywalker did…

Empathy is the beacon on the path of the light side. It calls to us and empathy for one another is what will save our species.  Multicultural empathy especially is the number one lacking thing in our society. The more we take the time to understand and appreciate one another, the blurrier the division lines ultimately become.  If there’s one thing George Lucas and all the many writers, actors, directors and filmmakers have been trying to teach us through the ever-evolving Star Wars universe, it’s a spirit of multiculturalism where color, gender, sexuality and yes, humans and non-humans have a place at the proverbial table.

A brighter world, would this be, Yoda might say in his astral form.

–Ray Van Horn, Jr.

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