I watched The Empire Strikes Back again recently, though this time it was on a big screen with the Cleveland Orchestra accompanying it live–that experience is always a pleasure. We had left our toddler at home, but it felt like he was there with us as I watched the scene where Luke meets Yoda on Dagobah. If you are a parent or have spent any length of time around a toddler, you will likely recognize these attributes:
- Likes sticks
- Likes hitting things with sticks
- Picky about food
- Likes flashlights and will indiscriminately shine them in his own eyes
- Short and cute
- Speaks non-standard English that can be hard to parse
- Yells “MINE” a lot, even for things that are not actually his
Yes, that’s correct: Yoda is a toddler.
In the scene where Yoda is introduced, he behaves exactly like a three-year-old. This had never occurred to me until I rewatched it as the parent of a toddler. It is interesting how being a parent sometimes gives you a new perspective on familiar things. I was immediately reminded of my kid, who this morning screamed “MINEEEEE” about a toy car and a banana peel.
But Yoda doesn’t maintain the toddler behavior for long. He begins to speak and act (more) normally in his hut when conversing with Obi-Wan’s spirit, and we don’t see Toddler Yoda at any other point in the movie, or any other Star Wars movie (though he does still have his quirks). So why the act?
I had never really thought about Yoda’s extra-peculiar behavior in this scene before. One theory is that Yoda’s quirks have become exaggerated after so many years of living in isolation on Dagobah. But I don’t think Yoda has gone completely around the bend. I think it’s strategy.
As many parents will probably agree, I find toddlers to be the world’s greatest test of patience. So upon meeting Luke for the first time, what better way to take his measure than go full on toddler and try to push all his buttons? I guess I wouldn’t advise this strategy when meeting new people in real life, but I would think you can learn a lot about someone’s temperament by seeing how they interact with misbehaving children. I’m certainly learning a lot about myself as I figure out this parenting thing.
Therefore, as soon as he concludes Luke is unsuitable (no patience, reckless, too old, as he says to Obi-Wan in the hut), he drops the act. The test is over, and Luke has failed. Although he does change his mind and agrees to train Luke, he was correct about Luke’s temperament, which is shown when Luke rashly abandons his training to save his friends on Cloud City, only to walk into a trap.
Yoda is shown in the prequels to be an excellent teacher of younglings and clearly has great respect for children. “Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is,” he says when one young student provides an answer that the adults could not see. So is it really any surprise to see him try to figure something out from the perspective of a child?
And you know he totally had fun doing it, too.
If you want to watch the antics of Toddler Yoda set to a catchy tune, please enjoy the Bad Lip Reading video “Seagulls!” which I wrote about previously here.