A solemn, somewhat remorseful, Yoda sits next to his greatest padawan, Luke Skywalker, and provides the final lesson a master can provide.
“We are what they grow beyond. That is the burden of all masters.”
Being 900 years old brings you more than good looks. It brings a knowledge and a wisdom that others do not have. It provides a grander view of things, for more of the story can be seen. For Yoda, it provides the chance to see why the Jedi failed, why the rebels won, and what Luke Skywalker did wrong. But more importantly than all that, if provided him the scope to see that every time a student grew past his or her master, said student did something the master never could have imagined in pursuit of a better galaxy.
Now, we must tread lightly in this pursuit, for personal perspective begins to play an integral role (from a certain point of view). Count Dooku is the prime example of this notion. Did he grow past Yoda? It would certainly seem so, from his point of view. “As you can see, my Jedi powers are far beyond yours.” Dooku is more powerful, but more so because power has never been a pursuit Yoda cared much for.
This is where the burden comes into play. Yoda trained Dooku to a level that allowed him to eventually leave and seek greater power. Had Yoda not trained Dooku in his Jedi ways, it is doubtful that he would have ever reached the levels he did as Tyranus. After training, the student has to determine his or her own path. That is the burden. The teacher can do nothing to change that fact. Yoda tried, and failed, with Dooku. That is the burden.
On an even grander scale, Yoda has to deal with the burden of the failure of the Jedi Order. As the Grand Master, he is the head and, more often than not, the heart of the Jedi Order. Slowly but surely, that Order eroded into something that the Jedi were never supposed to be; they grew beyond anything Yoda could have stopped. He is aware of the problems ( “a flaw more and more common among Jedi”), but it would seem he has no means to do anything about it. And when that Order failed, Yoda had to spend some 20 years stewing about it on Dagobah. That is the burden, and having to bear it would allow Yoda to be ready for when his next padawan arrived…
Luke Skywalker. Not yet a Jedi, and most certainly not a Jedi Master. Just a farm boy with his eyes too focused on the horizon. After crash landing on the dense, foreboding swamps of Dagobah, hope becomes an almost foreign idea. How could a Jedi Master, someone who is supposed to help him realize his best self, live in,well, a dump?
That “dump”, from the trees, to the swamp, and even to the dark side cave, are the perfect place to train the last Jedi. Through fortitude and folly, Luke grows and eventually becomes a full-fledged, bonafide Jedi. Yet the question was never if he would become a Jedi or not, but rather would he surpass the Jedi past?
The answer is simply that. The Jedi of the Republic era were lost, broken, and destitute to the point of becoming generals in a war. This lead them down the worst path imaginable. It is not just the war. It is what the war allowed them to justify. Lying. Deceit. Fighting as a means to peace. Even assassination.
The Last Jedi shows us that Luke eventually learned about that history, but it is unclear if or when Yoda gave Luke a Jedi of the Republic 101 course. Regardless, Luke was still able to surpass his master by choosing the path of nonviolence, choosing to save what he loves rather than destroy what he hates.
It would seem, though, Yoda still did have to bear the burden of Luke growing beyond him. After Return of the Jedi, Luke went around the galaxy searching for Jedi artifacts that would help him to figure out what the future of the Jedi was to be, yet it seems that communing with Force ghost Yoda was not something he did regularly, if at all. “Skywalker, missed you I have,” Yoda says as Luke threatens to burn down the sacred tree. While this does not set anything in stone, this line has the feeling of a long absence of communication between the two.
Luke went around the galaxy, learned about the Jedi, and seemingly took his time to figure out what the Jedi should become, but still failed. Just like Yoda before him. Maybe he hadn’t grown beyond his master…. Or maybe learning is something we never stop doing.
When we see the two speak on Ach-To, Luke has to learn this final lesson. Not just to share his failure, but that one moment in time does not define an individual. As much as fandom (and myself at times) would like to define Luke by his actions on the second Death Star, life is not so simple. Just as Luke feels like he is defined by that moment he gave into the “Legend of Luke Skywalker” and attempted to take the life of his nephew, things are simply not that simple. Life’s messy that way.
Luke does surpass Yoda by not just accepting his legend, not just giving his life, but winning the day, and setting the stage for the Resistance to be what it must be to “be the spark that lights the fire that burns the First Order to the ground.” In the most Jedi way possible.
But what about his students? Did they surpass him?
In a sense, yes. Kylo Ren, or Ben Solo if you prefer, grows beyond Luke not in terms of being more accomplished, but being beyond his reach. Kylo feels he has nothing to learn from “Skywalker,” and Luke has to bear that burden. To bear the burden that someone’s heart, more particularly his nephew’s heart, was so broken and damned he could not be saved by Luke.
Rey is a different situation. With Luke she received minimal training, and thus she is left in a situation very similar to where Luke was at the end of Empire Strikes Back. She found out about terrible truth (truth?) about her parents, the movement she supports is on the ropes, and her sense of self and belonging has been shattered.
Will she grow beyond the Jedi of past? If she does, who’s burden will that be to bear? Ball is in your JJ.