[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi]
The Last Jedi is already being heralded as one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, and it’s no mind trick. Thanks to director Rian Johnson, the action, acting and stakes are some of the best the series has ever had. However, he gets some help in establishing the film’s complex, exciting tone from a few characters appearing early in the series’ history.
Before diving into any specifics, please be warned once again: these are spoilers. Perhaps as spoilery as spoilers get. See the movie before you read this. Please.
Now that all the lookie-loos have departed, let’s talk about the return of the series’ most goofy, legendary and vocally iconic Jedi.
Yoda (Frank Oz) may be a force ghost, but he is back all the same when Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) needs him most. Like Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) discovered in the prequels, if you’re strong enough in the Force, you can basically live forever as a spirit. There were hints of Yoda’s return when Rey (Daisy Ridley) touched the lightsaber in The Force Awakens and his voice could be heard, but we’ve never seen a force ghost like this.
Despite a glowing outline, the green riddle-talking Jedi seems as lively and physically influential as when he passed in Return of the Jedi — summoning lightning down from the heavens to burn the last of the Jedi’s sacred texts. The Jedi weren’t lying when they said they’d become more powerful than we could possibly imagine.
In addition to raising questions about future installments (does this mean Luke can physically affect the world in Episode IX?), Yoda’s appearance gave a little fun and lightness to a film which, at that moment, desperately needed it.
This is the moment where we’ve just seen Rey run off to confront Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in hopes of converting him to the light side of the force. Only the most optimistic of people would predict her victory as she traveled to Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) ship, so Luke is utterly disheartened.
Yoda’s main point in his speech to Luke? There’s nothing in the sacred texts that Luke doesn’t already know, so why cling to them? Even if those texts burn, even if he tries to obliterate all traces of the Jedi, the force and the Jedi will live on. There is truly no last Jedi, as Rey is waiting to pick up his mantle. It’s the message Luke needed, and while viewers will undoubtedly count his final stand against Kylo as the Luke moment of the movie, it wouldn’t have happened without this earlier, sweeter moment with Yoda.
Here, Johnson and crew decided to return Yoda to his Muppet-like impishness from the original, eschewing the CGI version from the prequels and allowing him to be a physical puppet.
Yoda undercuts Luke’s seriousness, right when he’s struggling with the entire fate of the Jedi, can also be read as commentary on fandom in general. We fans are often too self-serious in our reverence for canon, for things being just like they were in the past. Yoda’s is arguably the most powerful Jedi we’ve seen in the series, and yet he is wise enough not to be over serious about himself. (After all, Empire Strikes Back introduced him as someone Luke saw as an annoying old hermit — a strange alien stealing and rummaging through Skywalker’s belongings.)
Luke learns to honor a past that is inside of him — not in old texts. And Yoda returning to pop his final apprentice with a ghost cane, then burn down the sacred Jedi texts, is the perfect piece of anarchy to help Luke out of his funk.
Yoda’s last lesson didn’t need to solve a major problem, it just needed to give Luke a spark of hope.