I am watching Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back AGAIN, lol. Yoda is one of the most loved and revered characters in the Star Wars universe and rightly so. Frank Oz, the team of puppeteers, designers, sound editors, John Williams' music and George Lucas all did an incredible job creating Yoda's physical presence, voice and movements; but it is Mark Hamill's performance that truly makes Yoda alive to me.
Think of it, Mark Hamill spends nearly 30 minutes, one fifth of the film, as the only human character on the screen. Most good actors will tell you that acting is much more than reciting your lines and actions. Truly great actors take a memorized script and turn it into something that seems fresh, spontaneous and real-you feel it with them. Mark Hamill's initial disregard of Yoda is hilarious. The way he smells his food and throws it away because Yoda took a bite that kills me every time I see it, lol. His incredulity when he realizes that this little creature is Yoda, the Jedi Master he seeks. His intensity as he tries to convince Yoda to train him. I will ignore the fact that I love Mark Hamill and Luke's character. While Luke does not revere Yoda when he initially appears, he respects him as a being.
In A New Hope when C3PO and R2D2 first come into his service, Luke does not look down on them as droids. He tells C3PO not to call him Sir and speaks with the two as equals. He shows Yoda the same initial respect as another creature when he meets him on Dagobah. After lowering his weapon, he rises to let Yoda explore the campsite and ruin his dinner. During training, Yoda's oratim does not appear preachy but is rather the answer to Luke's inquisitive nature and eventual questioning "Is the Dark side stronger?"
Luke's faith in his new found beliefs are tempted when Yoda asks him to move his ship from the "puddle". The Force is strong with Luke and Yoda is amazed when Luke begins to move the ship, but it is Luke's failure to move it that allows us to see not only Yoda, but the Power of the Force. Yoda tells us that it is the Force that makes him powerful not him or his size.
This scene was my spiritual baptism into all things Star Wars. The culmination of great acting by Mark Hamill, Frank Oz and Kenny Baker; the design team, puppeteers, John Williams' score and Irvin Kershner's directing and finally George Lucas' vision create my seminal moment of conversion. Luke's astonishment mirrors our own, is there anything so incredible in the universe. As Luke learns from Yoda, his and our faith grows.
I am amazed by fans that watch these scenes with Luke and Yoda and are upset that Luke does not show Yoda the homage that they feel he deserves. Remember Luke did not see the Jedi during their golden age, he does not know that Yoda has been addressed as Master for over 800 years and has a best friend, Han Solo, who tells him that his beliefs are a lot of hocus pocus. But that is the topic of another blog, lol.
Mark Hamill's ability to portray Luke's wide-eyed innocence, make Yoda believable and express all of our Freudian issues with our parents as he screams “Noooooo!” makes me feel every scene each time I see this movie. Yoda, Mace and Obi Wan are the Jedi of the Grand Republic but for those of us born on Earth Luke is our arch type of a Jedi. One born realized during a time of hardship and skepticism and Mark Hamill does it with humility and grace.
May the Force Be With You, Mark, Always!