We all know the whole walk what you talk scenario. It is the cliche of all cliches. Still, its truth holds. One of the main reasons for the fall of the Jedi was that their actions and their words did not line up. They claimed to be peacekeepers, but still fought as generals. The hypocrisy is so blatant, so obvious, that they should have been able to see it. But they weren’t, and thus they fell.
Part of the reason for this fall was the failure of the Jedi leaders. Yoda, as the Grand Master, has to shoulder much of this blame. He allowed for Anakin to be trained, despite knowing his future held danger, allowed the Jedi to fight in a war, and was so blinded by the “Jedi way” that he could not even see the evil right in front of him. Literally, right in front of him.
While in exile, Yoda knew he had much to learn. Some 20 years later, when Luke comes to Dagobah, we see a different Yoda. A wiser Yoda. This is the Yoda the galaxy has always needed to lead the Jedi. Yet this Yoda could not have come about if not for the mistakes he made in the past.
This is also the Yoda that we hail as a great teacher due to his quotable lines of wisdom. But the prequels proved that words were not enough. Saying is different from doing. So, while Yoda’s words are indeed important and should in no way be looked past, it is his actions we must look at to see what he has learned, and the Jedi he has become.
None of the change would have been possible had Yoda not been able to admit defeat when it came. It is this ability that allowed him to be open to learning how to change. In his duel with Sidious, he plummets to rock bottom, and he knows it. He leaves the fight because he knows he is not the Jedi that is going to be able to defeat Sidious, at least not at this time. By admitting this to himself, he allowed himself the time to become the master Luke needed.
Even in helping Luke, he knows when to admit an end, in this case the end of his life. No more, has he, to teach Luke. By allowing himself to go, rather than forcing himself to stay and walk Luke step by step, he gives Luke the opportunity to learn things Yoda never could have taught him.
As a teacher, it would be easy for Yoda to think he knows it all. He’s 900 years old, the greatest Jedi in the Order, a survivor of Order 66, and the one who is training the new hope for the galaxy. Entitlement comes with the gig, but Yoda does not take the payment. Instead, he is always willing to learn. He learns from Qui-Gon how to become one with the Force. He learns from the mistakes of the Jedi, as we see when he tries to convince Luke not to go and try to save his friends. He has learned from the mistakes he made during the prequels, and it has changed his outlook and approach to being a Jedi. Whereas prequels Yoda would have “trusted in the Force” and allowed Luke to go and fight, the new Yoda of the original trilogy knows that trusting in the Force really means pick your your battles, and pick them wisely. How Jedi choose to win, as he tells young Ezra Bridger.
Moreover, by not forcing the situation, and allowing Luke to make his own choices, he gives Luke something Anakin never truly had: freedom. It was Yoda learning from his mistakes that allowed him to become the best Jedi he could be, and he is giving that chance to Anakin’s son as well.
Yet, as much as a great teacher should always be willing to learn, a great teacher must be willing to admit when he is wrong. Yoda is able to do this when we see him in Empire Strikes Back. He does not directly speak of the mistakes he made in the past, but we can see it in how he trains Luke. In the prequels, we see Yoda training the younglings with lightsabers. That is what is important to that era of the Jedi. The ability to fight. Obi-Wan says it perfectly when he tells Anakin, “This weapon is your life.” That idea had to come from somewhere, and since Yoda was the head he has to take the blame.
In Empire, Yoda trains Luke differently. It is more about being attuned to the Force, not controlling it and wielding it. We never see Luke use a lightsaber while training with Yoda. In fact, Yoda encourages him against using his lightsaber when he goes into the cave. Only the mistake of making the Jedi warriors could have allowed for Yoda to learn that lesson.
There is a clear change from the Yoda of the Republic to the recluse we see in the era of the Empire, for one very particular reason above all others. Yoda has learned that faith is the most powerful weapon. He lives with a faith in the Force itself, rather than a faith in what he can do with the Force. He trusts the Force to help Luke learn from his mistakes in the cave, and on Cloud City. And even when it might seem that Luke has not fully learned those lessons, he does not push things. He trusts the Force to finish the lesson for Luke (which it does).This ability seeps so much through Yoda’s existence that it confers onto Luke, giving him a faith in the Force that is willing to throw a lightsaber away in front of the two most evil creatures known in the galaxy. Luke trusts the Force completely because Yoda trusted the Force completely.
The Last Jedi provides the compilation, the thesis if you will, on all of these lessons. Of course his words on failure and students passing teachers are already in the pantheon of memorable Yoda quotes, but it is not these that stand out. Rather, Yoda’s action of burning down the “sacred” tree with the “sacred” text teaches the lesson Luke had to learn in order to set Rey and the galaxy up for the return of the Jedi.
In the prequels, the downfall Jedi comes because of their hubris. They were foolish enough to take a code that was supposed to guide their communion with the Force and turn it to a doctrine of indoctrination. They lost their way because their texts came before the Force.
By burning down the tree, Yoda teaches Luke an important and critical message. As the leader of the Jedi, whether he likes it or not, Luke is the example. There is no Council. Luke’s mistakes are the Jedi’s mistakes. So when Luke raises his lightsaber to strike down Ben Solo, he makes the same mistake that the Council made many years before. Call it “aggressive negotiations” or whatever you’d like, the reality is that both tried to solve the galaxy’s problems at the end of a lightsaber.
The burning tree, with all its Biblical and religious connotations, symbolizes that it is time for the old to leave and the new to step in. Yoda sets it up and Luke knocks it out of the park, winning the day not in a duel but by meditating. Trusting the Force to keep the hope in a way no Jedi ever had before.
And in doing so, he helps the Jedi take their first steps into a new world. A world with Rey at the helm.