Home Columns Silber Linings: The Yoda lightsaber duels are awesome, actually

Silber Linings: The Yoda lightsaber duels are awesome, actually

The Star Wars prequel trilogy has a complicated legacy, but there's one controversial element that's a highlight of the entire franchise.

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The Beat’s Gregory Paul Silber has been accused of having a bit of an… obsessive personality. Each week in Silber Linings, he takes a humorous look at the weirdest, funniest, and most obscure bits of comics and pop culture that he can’t get out of his head.

I kicked things off last week by mentioning how annoying it can be to talk about superhero movies on the internet. Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment, because this week, I’m doing the most dangerous thing a critic can do on the internet: sharing a Star Wars Opinion. And that opinion is: Yoda’s ridiculous lightsaber battles in Episodes II and III rule, and anyone who says otherwise hates fun.

Listen, I love Star Wars. My dad took me to see the original trilogy as they were rereleased in 1997 when I was but a wee 6-year-old youngling, and it kickstarted a lifelong love affair with laser swords and space dogfights and pew pew pews. To this day, there are few things that arouse my restless soul like John Williams’s unforgettable opening theme. I am a Star Wars fan.

So understand that I take no pleasure in saying this, although we all know it’s true: Star Wars Fans are the worst. I’m not trying to court controversy. Star Wars is objectively one of the most popular things on the planet among people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, so obviously I don’t mean all Star Wars fans are bad. But with a large enough swath of toxic fans to harass an actress off social media or, more recently, trying to get a host fired for speaking out against racism, just to name a few examples, it’s no secret among those occupying the geekier corners of the internet that the loud minority of entitled fanboys are quick to bully anyone who appears to defy the will of “real Star Wars fans.”

But this started before YouTubers and adjacent #FandomMenace grifters formed a whole cottage industry around hating The Last Jedi (my favorite Star Wars movie, no matter what the aforementioned fanboys may have to say about it). It goes at least as far back as the 1999-2005 prequel trilogy, which despite their massive box-office success received ugly backlash at the time of their releases. Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best was harassed to near-suicide, and Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker as a young boy in The Phantom Menace, quit acting altogether by the time he was 12 following the bullying he received.

Nothing justifies that level of harassment, but that’s not to say the prequel films themselves aren’t seriously flawed. I rewatched them recently for the first time in their entirety since childhood, and was taken aback by how many good ideas are squandered by laughably clumsy dialogue, nigh-incoherent storytelling, and an over-reliance on special effects. Some corners of the fandom have attempted to rehabilitate the prequel trilogy lately, and while it never deserved the outrage delivered by old-school fans who felt scorned (does any blockbuster franchise reboot?), they’re certainly not great films.

The only hill I’ll die on when it comes to Prequel Discourse is that those scenes where Yoda does battle with a lightsaber are fantastic, and there’s nothing you can do to make me think otherwise. 

We first see that cute little green laser sword in the climax of 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones, when the Frank Oz-voiced Jedi master saves Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) from the evil Sith lord Count Dooku/Darth Tyranus (Christopher Lee). Yoda FWOOMs his lightsaber again in 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in another battle that effectively ends in a draw, this time with big bad Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid).

I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why Star Wars fans hate that Yoda was ever given a lightsaber. In fairness, one of them is rather valid: in the original trilogy, which is largely characterized by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)’s journey from hot-headed farmboy to an enlightened Jedi who’s slow to anger, Yoda teaches Luke how to regulate his emotions and use The Force wisely. I can see why some fans would think Yoda trying to slice and dice bad guys is antithetical to a character who was first seen expressing disdain for violence.

Still, even if we’re just talking about Star Wars canon (I can feel everyone reading this wanting to shove me into a locker), I don’t see how Lightsaber Yoda breaks the narrative logic. The whole point of prequels is that they take place before the original thing, right? Sure, Yoda may be 900 years old, but considering the severity of the events of the prequel trilogy, including his unwitting role as a military leader in what led to the downfall of galactic democracy, it’s easy to see why some twenty years later, he’d have changed his philosophy on weaponry and war.

Besides, George Lucas and company had been telling us since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back that Yoda is a Jedi master. Yeah yeah, “a Jedi uses the force for knowledge and defense, never for attack,” but why shouldn’t a slightly younger Yoda have the knowledge to defend himself skillfully with a lightsaber?

Mostly, the complaints about lightsaber Yoda seem to come down to the belief that a little green muppet flipping around and telekinetically throwing things at Sith lords is too silly for a franchise that, since 1977, has featured the likes of space Bigfoot, space Munchkins, and a tribe of sentient teddy bears. My love of Star Wars is earnest; I get choked up at the finale of The Return of the Jedi. But just because the franchise appeals to adults doesn’t mean it isn’t mostly live-action cartoons for children.

Yoda’s lightsaber battles are fun. They’re dynamic, hilariously over-the-top, and utterly satisfying in the same way that audiences cheered for Captain America when he lifted Mjolnir in Avengers: Endgame. Many fans waited years to see him kick butt in that specific way, and once it was delivered, in the most shameless fan-service-y way possible, it’s a delight. And it’s always fun to see cute diminutive characters get a chance to be badass–just look at the popularity of the Kingdom Hearts video games.

This is going to be a recurring theme in Silber Linings: it’s okay to like silly things, even childish things. It doesn’t make you any less of an adult. But when you insist that Star Wars must be a serious franchise for grown-ups, you sound like a child.

1 COMMENT

  1. Definitely agree. I saw “Attack of the Clones” in an upmarket cinema whose clientele tended more to the arthouse usually, and the point where Yoda drew his lightsabre on Dooku and assumed combat stance still raised one of the biggest spontaneous cheers I’ve ever heard in a cinema.

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