Do or Do Not: Is Yoda the Best Character for a 'Star Wars' Spin-Off?
by Ben Pearson
February 6, 2013
Recently, the internet buzzed when Harry Knowles at AICN posted a rumor that one of the standalone Star Wars spin-offs would center on none other than Yoda, the 900-year old Jedi Master who trained Luke Skywalker and countless others. This could very well turn out to be false, but if it ends up being true, it says a lot about the mindset of Kathleen Kennedy at Lucasfilm and the creative minds behind the scenes who are now running the Star Wars franchise. Some people have found the news of a possible Yoda movie to be exciting, but I'm skeptical: do fans really want more prequels when the series has just been resurrected?
Like most middle class American kids born in the 1980s, I first watched the original Star Wars films when I was very, very young. While the character design and voice work made Yoda a likeable enough character, I'll admit to being bored by a lot of the training sequences in The Empire Strikes Back. It wasn't until years later, after reading about Joseph Campbell and his theory about the hero's journey, that the true enormity of Luke's journey and Yoda's role as his mentor began to resonate. As a youngster, that didn't matter; all that mattered at the time were the action scenes and amazing special effects.
Fast forward to the year 2002. I was in high school then, and after the disappointing return of Episode I: The Phantom Menace lowered our expectations (and that's putting it nicely) for the franchise, Episode II: Attack of the Clones hit theaters. Looking back it seems kind of dumb, but at the time it was surprising and even pleasing to see a digitally rendered Yoda bust out a lightsaber, bounce around like a pinball, and battle Count Dooku. It was one of the biggest "oh shit!" moments in the prequels, and—back then—a highlight of Attack of the Clones for me personally.
As most fans came to realize after the excitement of new Star Wars movies being in theaters wore off, the prequels simply were not very good. A digital Yoda made about as much sense as a more advanced army existing before the events of A New Hope, and all of the heart and classicism of the original trilogy seemed to vanish in favor of a shiny new look and pedestrian storytelling. Thinking about it now, though, the prequel version of Yoda gave me exactly what I wanted - just at the wrong age. Yoda honestly bored me in the original trilogy when I was a kid, so Lucas tossed him a lightsaber and made him exciting for younger audiences in the prequels. The Dooku fight scene was cool in high school, but it might have been one of my favorite movie scenes in history if I saw Episode II at the same age as Empire.
With Walt Disney now in control of Lucasfilm, one of the prevailing concerns from a lot of Star Wars fans is that future movies are going to lose any sense of "edge" in favor of the Mouse House's family-friendly philosophy. With J.J. Abrams hired as the director of Episode VII to start, he'll continue the main storyline presumably with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford involved in some capacity. While we're still not technically sure that Episodes VII, VIII, and IX will follow the adventures of the Skywalkers, it does mean that Abrams and writer Michael Ardnt will be working with one continuous story that lays the groundwork for two more sequels. Unburdened from the narrative responsibility of "fitting in" with those plans, other filmmakers could essentially use the Star Wars universe as a giant playground, exploring and creating separate adventures in films that run parallel to the new trilogy.
When Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Man of Steel) was rumored to direct a Seven Samurai-style Star Wars spin-off, it gave a lot of us hope that even if the main narrative gets a little watered down, perhaps side stories could be a place where darker or a little edgier content could be explored. Snyder's reps denied his involvement (naturally) and we haven't heard a peep about that particular project since then, but with a possible Yoda movie coming up instead, the theory that those side films might explore more dangerous territory seems to be as dead as Qui-Gon Jinn after a duel with Darth Maul.
The real question is, after all of the heartache the prequels gave fans of Star Wars, do we really want to go backwards on the timeline again to visit Yoda's past when there are so many exciting possibilities on the horizon? Since the 900-year-old Jedi Master (spoiler alert) dies in Return of the Jedi, we'd have to watch a young Yoda either go through training (which would be like the prequels all over again, but with a different main character) or watch him go on other adventures outside of what's already been chronicled in the Clone Wars on film and TV. The character is great in small doses, but do Star Wars fans need an entire movie devoted to him? Plus, the stakes and drama are instantly deflated when you know the final fate of the hero, so I sincerely hope that this rumor stays just that and doesn't prove to be true.
Of course, the idea of a Yoda spin-off is all still an early rumor, and the only confirmation we have is that Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed that there are standalone movies in the works from writers Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg that will be "derived from great Star Wars characters." Joe Johnston has been talking about making a standalone Boba Fett film since before Disney bought Lucasfilm, and in Knowles' report, he also mentions that Lucas has tossed around the idea of a singular Jabba the Hutt story.
Star Wars inspired an entire generation to use their imaginations, so how about the studio showing a little creativity of their own when it comes to these spin-off, standalone movies? Are we really going to trudge through backstories on all of these characters? Jabba the freakin' Hutt? Come on Disney, you can do better than that. Say what you will about him, but George Lucas created one of the most impressive and expansive universes in cinema history; let's look to the future instead of letting nostalgia influence us to keep glancing in the rear view mirror. Wouldn't crafting brand new narratives of characters we've never seen be more interesting? I'm not saying we should never see any familiar faces in these standalone films, but it'd be a lot more compelling for those characters to pop up sparingly instead of being the center of attention.
As an adult, I unquestionably prefer the original trilogy's portrayal of Yoda. But looking at it from a business and financial perspective, it's easy to see why Lucasfilm might be considering a spin-off that could lure in a new generation of kids and still have some tie-in with the "Clone Wars" TV series and all three movie trilogies. Time will tell whether Kathleen Kennedy decides to honor the old guard by devoting entire films to pre-established characters or if she'll see the endless possibilities open to her in the universe Lucas spent his whole life creating, but here's hoping we've seen the last of Master Yoda on the big screen. Thoughts?