So you’re engaged in a Star Wars trivia game, and you pull a card from the deck which reads: “Answer you must why backwards Yoda speaks.” So you think, “Wait. Yoda is always straightforward and has his act together. He’s not backwards at all.” Then you realize, slapping your forehead, that the card is asking you to say why Yoda’s speech pattern is backwards.
Why does backwards Yoda speak? Yoda speaks backwards because that’s how his species speaks. We know virtually nothing of Yoda’s species because only two representatives of the peculiar species appear in the Star Wars film series. There is a baby (50 years old) of the species that appears in The Mandalorian, a Star Wars spinoff on The Disney Channel, so we know the species was still valid at least 10 years before The Phantom Menace.
Yoda made his debut in The Empire Strikes Back – the second Star Wars film to be released, but the fifth in terms of the story’s chronological order. He came across as a very bizarre but very wise person with an odd speech pattern that often began a sentence with the predicate preceding the subject or sometimes with the modifier preceding the object. As in: “Powerful you have become. The dark side, I sense in you.”
Is Yoda’s Speech Grammatically Correct?
Yoda’s speech is grammatically correct. You should expect no less from a Jedi master and sage mentor who was entrusted with teaching the galaxy’s new hope – Luke Skywalker. When Yoda’s sentences are broken down and diagrammed (Remember diagramming from school? You went to the board and of yourself, you made a fool?) his grammar is spot-on.
We’re taught in English class that every sentence has a subject and a verb, or predicate. The subject is what the sentence is about, and the predicate modifies the subject with a form of action. So in the sentence “Solo vaporized Greedo,” Solo is the subject and vaporized is the past tense predicate.
The inclusion of additional (compound) subjects and predicates does not change the basics of sentence structure. You must have a subject that performs some sort of action or adheres to some state of being, and a predicate that explains what that action or state of being is. All of Yoda’s quotes follow that rule, but some of them rearrange the order of the parts of speech.
Things get more complicated when prepositional phrases and objects/modifiers are added, but even there, Yoda is grammatically correct, albeit weird, and often contrived.
Why are Some of Yoda’s Sentences Backwards and Others Not?
Yoda seemed to randomly rearrange the order of the parts of speech in his sentences. Often, he spoke just, everyone else, and at other times, he played the backwards speech card. Why? We don’t know. No one ever asked him.
Yoda Quotes That Are in Normal Order
- Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.
- Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
- Always pass on what you have learned.
- That is why you fail.
- A Jedi’s force flows from The Force.
- If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.
Yoda Quotes That Are Backwards
- Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of The Force are they.
- If you start down the dark path,
forever it will dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it
did Obi-wan’s apprentice.
- Note that he starts with his parts of speech in normal order and then switches to a backwards order.
- Ready, are you? What know you of ready?”
- This one a long time I have watched.
- When you look at the dark side, careful you must be.
- Through The Force, things you will see.
Establishing Eccentricity for Eccentricty’s Sake
The best guess for Yoda’s oddball speech patterns is that Star Wars writer George Lucas wanted to impart an air of eccentricity to this pint-sized prophet. Writing lines for Yoda that were awkwardly stiff, yet simultaneously elegant was a challenge. Some occasions simply didn’t lend themselves to dialogue that ran on a different train of thought.
The Life and Times of Yoda the Jedi
“Found Someone, You Have.”
When we first meet Yoda, he is 900 years old but didn’t look a day over 750. Luke Skywalker had just splash-landed his X-wing fighter into a slimy swamp on the planet Dagobah in a quest to find the hermit Jedi Yoda. Luke was having a chat and a particularly unappetizing picnic lunch with R2D2 when he felt a sense of being watched.
Luke spins around with his blaster pistol and sees Yoda, crouching, cowering like a pathetic forest creature. But it was a forest creature who spoke in Luke’s language. After persuading Luke to not blast him to kingdom come, Yoda asks why Luke came to such a forsaken planet, and Luke explains to Yoda he was looking for someone. Yoda, of course, already knew who Luke was looking for.
“Looking? Yoda says. “Found someone you have.” (And there is our first appearance of Yoda backwards-speak.) What follows is a comedic charade where Yoda pretends to be a silly, possibly demented old hermit and throws Luke off the trail that he is actually Yoda.
Eventually, the truth comes out, and Yoda begins training, perhaps the one person who can save the galaxy from the clutches of the evil empire. It’s a testy relationship with many false starts and failures, but a lifelong relationship began in the swamps of Dagobah that would result in great triumphs later on.
Begin at the Beginning
The Yoda character was intentionally left as an enigma throughout the Star Wars series. Not much is known about his birth, other than it was in 896 BBY* on an unknown planet to an unknown species.
(*BBY stands for “Before the Battle of Yavin,” in which Luke Skywalker fired two photon beams into an exhaust port on the first Death Star and blew it to smithereens. This was such an important event that the system of years numbering was reordered across much of the galaxy. Therefore Yoda’s age at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back was roughly 900 years old.)
Yoda was still a child when his force-sensitivity was discovered. Force-sensitivity was the degree to which a person felt the energy and stirrings of The Force, a mysterious and fleeting spirit capable of moving inanimate objects about like toys, bestowing incredible strength and power, providing clairvoyance and confusing the weak-minded. The Force is borne of life, yet has the power to alter it.
Some were more sensitive to The Force than others. The Force was strong with young Yoda, and made him an excellent candidate for Jedi training.
Early Jedi Training
Yoda was trained in the ways of The Jedi by Jedi Master N’Kata Del Gormo, and by the age of 100, Yoda had become a Jedi Master himself.
Yoda proved to be a wise and exceptionally skilled Jedi, despite his diminutive size. He earned a place on the Jedi High Council. His wisdom and adherence to discipline was legendary, and until Jedi masters like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and later his son, Luke Skywalker came along, Yoda was considered the greatest Jedi of them all. In terms of wisdom and intelligence, he probably always will be the greatest.
The Chosen One?
In 41 BBY, Yoda – at this point over 850 years old – felt a disturbance in The Force, portending some event of great importance. Yoda did not know exactly what it was at the time, but he eventually realized that the disturbance had rippled on the occasion of the birth of Anakin Skywalker. Yet the moment held ominous overtones for Yoda.
Young Anakin Skywalker was a nine-year-old slave child on the remote planet of Tatooine who seemed to meet the prophecy of The Chosen One – a person who, as a Jedi Master, could bring balance to The Force and prosperity to the downtrodden people of the old Republic. But what Yoda felt was not confirmation that Anakin was The Chosen One. It turned out to be quite the opposite, but Yoda did not perceive the event with as much clarity as he would have liked.
Yoda urged against giving Jedi training to Anakin Skywalker. Yoda could sense the anger within the boy, but Obi-Wan Kenobi nevertheless undertook Skywalker’s training. It turned out to be a mistake. Anakin Skywalker eventually turned to the dark side and became Darth Vader.
Self-Exile in Dagobah
All Yoda could determine about Anakin Skywalker was that he had unresolved issues of anger within him. Later, Yoda was unable to lock in on a bigger issue – that Anakin had befriended an agent already given in to the dark side – Chancellor Palpatine, whose alter ego was that of a Sith Lord, Darth Sidious. Darth Sidious would some take command of the republic and destroy it to set himself up as emperor of a dark and frightening empire. This with Darth Vader at his side.
For reasons of self-preservation and self-examination, Yoda exiled himself to the Planet Dagobah, a swamp-riddled planet where he could live undetected and consider what must be done to save the galaxy from evil forces. This, of course, is where he met Luke Skywalker, the son of Anakin Skywalker, although Luke did not know it at that time.
Yoda soon realized it was Luke, and not his father, who was the Chosen One and took on the task of training him to be a Jedi. It was a tumultuous period, with Yoda time and again having to correct Luke on matters of impatience and impetuousness. Luke eventually bailed out on the training, feeling he had learned enough, yet he promised to return to Dagobah as soon as he could.
Yoda Sees Ghosts
Jedi, who are particularly force-sensitive and who master its mysterious properties, have the ability to live in perpetuity as ghosts. In his exile on Dagobah, Yoda communicated with Qui-Con, the Jedi, who had discovered the potential in Anakin Skywalker but died before the boy could begin training. Qui-Con helped Yoda learn ways of The Force that had previously been unattainable to him.
During Luke’s interrupted Jedi training, Yoda also communicated with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who was now a ghost, having died at the hands of Darth Vader prior to the Battle of Yavin. True to his word, Luke Skywalker did indeed return to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training, and in so doing, fulfilled the prophecy of old.
Yoda died of old age in 4 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin) and became a Force ghost, living on to train and advise a new generation of Jedi after Luke Skywalker’s triumph over Emperor Palpatine.
Only two representatives of Yoda’s species are mentioned in the nine-film Star Wars series. Yoda, of course, is the most well-known, but there was another.
Yaddle, a female, was likewise force-sensitive and likewise became a Jedi Master and was appointed to the Jedi High Council. She trained a number of promising Jedi knights.
Yaddle was a respected ambassador and represented the Jedi High Council on a number of diplomatic missions. Not all of those diplomatic missions were well-received. Twice her traveling band of diplomats was attacked, but they escaped to complete their missions.
In 26 BBY, she accompanied Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Jedi trainee, Anakin Skywalker, to Mawan in an effort to restore justice to a lawless society. A terrible battle broke out, and a deadly chemical weapon was released against the innocent Mawans. Yaddle used The Force to redirect the weapon upon herself and died a heroine in the process.
Believe in Yoda; Wise You Shall Become
Even though Yoda was an entirely fictional character, his sayings have actual significance in the real world. Many observers have noticed a religious-like devotion to some of the truths mentioned in the Star Wars series, particularly those uttered by Yoda.
Star Wars creator George Lucas had a mission that went beyond mere entertainment. He said he wanted to stimulate thought among young moviegoers to possibilities of the spirit world. Throughout the series, Lucas kept the spiritual element mysterious and aloof and tried not to show his hand or lean toward one school of religious thought or another.
However, many felt that Yoda, in particular, leaned to Buddhism with his comments about mindfulness, patience, concentration, and meditation – all pillars of the Buddhist faith.
Time for You to Look Past a Pile of Old Books
In the Last Jedi, Luke, who, at that point, had himself become a hermit with a lot of baggage, was convinced that he needed to burn the tree that contained all of the old Jedi sacred texts. He was disillusioned with it all, and as the last Jedi left alive, he felt it was time to put an end to the Jedi Order once and for all.
Flaming torch in hand, he ascends a slope but does not at first notice the Force ghost of Yoda. After he turns around and sees his old mentor’s ghost, Luke explains his intentions, perhaps fully expecting Yoda to attempt to talk him out of it. But instead, Yoda summons the power of The Force to ignite the ancient tree with a lightning bolt, and then giggles as it burns.
Luke has a change of heart and rushes in to save the texts but is beaten back by the flames. “Time it is,” Yoda says, in classic backwards-speak, “For you to look past a pile of old books.”
When Luke protests, Yoda replies, “Read them, you have?” When Luke scrambles for an answer, Yoda interrupts with “Page-turners, they were not.”
Was Yoda in Favor of Letting the Jedi Order Die?
Yoda’s destruction of the ancient Jedi manuscripts is an iconic moment in the storyline of the Star Wars series. It would appear that he was in favor of Luke’s effort to wipe away the last vestiges of the Jedi Order, but as he had demonstrated frequently, eyes deceive.
Yoda was well aware that another potential Jedi existed, and that she represented the best hope for the survival of the Jedi Order. Rey (no surname) was a scavenger left on a deserted planet to fend for herself. She excelled at making the best of dire times, and went she got caught up in the conflict. She proved to be a tremendous asset.
Rey was force-sensitive and saw Luke in a vision. By a coincidence that probably wasn’t a coincidence at all, she had earlier come into the possession of Luke Skywalker’s lost lightsaber. She is intrigued by her vision, ramped up by the fact that she had Luke’s old lightsaber. She traveled to the ocean planet Ahch-To, where Luke lived in solitude. She eventually asked him to train her as a Jedi, but Luke declined.
Yoda’s burning of the Yedi texts paved the way for young Rey to become a Jedi, but one trained by faith and vision, and not by old texts.