The Clone Wars Season 6 Episode 12: "Destiny"
Yoda's experiences on Dagobah had launched him a journey of discovery and self-reflection, but nothing could prepare him -- or me -- for what was awaiting him in the next phase of his adventure. "Destiny" challenged Yoda like he had never been challenged before, which was part of what made it such a phenomenal episode. The other great thing about "Destiny" was that Yoda's trials offered lessons about the Jedi Order as a whole and the eternal conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force. In the span of twenty-two minutes, a visually and philosophically fascinating episode that took place in the birthplace of Force energy went farther than any previous Star Wars story in defining Yoda's evolution from a serious warrior to a mirthful hermit and from a confident master of the Force to a humbled student of it.
First of all, I liked the design of the priestesses, even if their drama masks were a bit hokey. The masks were clearly meant to represent different emotions, which in the context of the Force could refer to the different temperaments of the energy field itself. The priestesses embodied the joy, fear, worry, and anger that all living beings faced on a daily basis, and as we saw, Yoda's first few tasks involved surmounting those emotions. The priestesses referred to Luke Skywalker when they concluded that Yoda was going "to teach one that will save the universe from a great imbalance." That instruction would prove to be Yoda's final achievement, the capstone of a legacy lasting almost a millennium and an act of atonement for his failure to prevent the rise of the Sith.
At the end of the episode, we learned that the priestesses were not merely embodiments of the will of the Force, but rather, actual people who had attained what Yoda sought: the ability to survive in the Force after death. The way the priestess' robes fluttered to the ground when Yoda asked to see her face reminded me of the way Obi-Wan Kenobi died in A New Hope. His physical shell was gone, but his life essence would persist. When they first communed to discuss giving Yoda "the great gift" of life after death, the priestesses referred to their place in the Force by saying, "We are one and one is all." This statement perfectly described the unity and diversity of the Force. As Yoda would later tell Luke, it surrounds us and binds the galaxy together, residing in all living things while simultaneously drawing its strength from a common essence.
The priestesses cryptically described their planet as the "birthplace" of midi-chlorians and a place where the Living Force became the Cosmic Force. This explanation was suitably vague, intriguing without being overly precise, befitting the episode's incomprehensible setting and symbolic rituals. Both the planet and the priestesses benefitted from unusual and fascinating designs. I liked the way plants sprouted from the footprints of the first priestess that Yoda met, because it reflected the power of the Force to sustain and create life. Indeed, the whole planet was teeming with exotic flora and fauna. Whereas it appeared from space to be a barren, cracked planet inside the gas cloud, the bizarre jets of energy climbing out of it seemed to the lifeblood of the Force itself. Yoda apparently perceived this when he told R2, "From inside the planet, life emanates."
Yoda's challenges in this episode began on the island of fear. I loved the moment when the priestess told Yoda that mortals called fear "evil," because it dovetailed so perfectly with what Yoda said to a young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. Yoda's oft-quoted speech about fear leading to anger reflected a powerful truism: Fear makes people do horrible things. When the priestess said that "evil" was the mortal description of fear, what she really meant was that mortal beings acted on their fear in evil ways and used their fear to justify evil things. As Revenge of the Sith demonstrated, Anakin's fall was ultimately about his fear justifying his unthinkable betrayal.
I will admit that before I watched this episode, I couldn't fathom what Yoda's fears would be. I still saw Yoda as an infallible Jedi Master who had spent centuries embracing and conquering his emotions. I was unprepared for him to actually learn something profound about himself on the island of fear. Evidently, so was Yoda. He confidently told the priestess that he knew "all that dwells within." I recognized this as overconfidence -- he thought he had mastered all of his weaknesses -- but I still wasn't sure how the island would prove him wrong. As soon as the priestess disappeared, Yoda bounded off toward the island, eager to reach it and face his first task. In doing so, he actually reminded me of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back: so eager to "get this over with" and move on to the real challenges so he could go out and fulfill his mission.
The island was fascinating, understated, symbolic, vague, and spiritual. When Yoda first encountered the demonic, corrupting presence there, I didn't expect it to be, as the priestess later described it, "a recognition of your hubris in the shadow of your soul." But as his fight with the demon dragged on, I understood why overconfidence was his gravest flaw. After hundreds of years of training, studying, contemplating, meditating, and communing, Yoda had come to believe -- not all that unreasonably -- that he had reached a plateau of wisdom. He recognized that the universe always presented new challenges and new lessons, but he thought that he had achieved a mastery of the fundamentals of life.
One of the ways in which the profundity of this episode was understated, leaving lots of room for interpretation and discussion, was in the portrayal of the demon. The spirit said that he grew inside Yoda as the Jedi Master spent time fighting the Clone Wars. I interpreted this to mean that, as Yoda continued to lead armies and take events one day at a time, his confidence in his understanding of the Force deceived him and blinded him to the path of galactic events. The longer the war lasted, the more energy Yoda devoted to it and the less energy he had for contemplation and open-minded submergence in the Force. The demon of hubris was the chief cause of Yoda's inability to prevent Palpatine's brutal ascent to unlimited power.
At first, Yoda didn't realize the powerful truth of all of this. His confrontation with the demon began in the flawed way that Jedi often confront their weaknesses: by ignoring the threat and hoping that doing so will rob it of its power. Yoda thought that he could just ignore the demon, suppressing his hubris rather than confronting it. His declaration, "I choose not to give you power," may have sounded powerful, but this episode revealed that conscious intent was not enough to vanquish one's most serious flaws. As Yoda continued to deny that the demon was a part of him, the demon responded by saying that he was a part of "all that lives." In essence, Yoda was trying to claim that he had done what no one could: eliminate his hubris.
Only when Yoda finally recognized what the demon represented was he able to eradicate it. Perversely, his defeat of the demon symbolized his embrace of it. In a sense, he was unlearning what he had learned. "Through patience and training," he said, "it is I who control you." Yoda went from denying that he had hubris to asserting his ability to reject and defuse it. He recognized his fallibility but pledged to remain vigilant so that it didn't corrupt him. Sadly, it was too late for this lesson to save the galaxy in the short term.
Eliminating his hubris had been the first stage of Yoda's training. The priestess was right that Yoda didn't think he had more to learn when he first arrived on their planet. "You thought that we had nothing to teach you," she said sternly. Yoda, like so many Padawans who had come under his tutelage, acknowledged his hubris and said that he was ready to open his mind and embrace new lessons.
The island of fear was interesting enough, but the best part of this episode was Yoda's journey through the valley of extinction. I absolutely loved his vision of the ruined Jedi Temple and the bodies of slain Jedi, and the use of the Battle of the Heroes theme was deliciously ominous. Reflecting the fact that this scene manifested his fear and anxiety, Yoda the wreckage and death around him with an aghast expression that made it seem as if his worst nightmares had been realized. In a sense, they had. As the de facto leader of the Jedi Order, Yoda was responsible for every Padawan, Knight, and Master in the galaxy, as well as the sanctity of the Temple that they called home. Seeing it and its occupants ravaged by an unknown foe, he must have felt an acute sense of both pain and shame.
No interaction in this episode better reflected the emotional turbulence inside Yoda than his conversation with a spirit that took the form of Ahsoka Tano. I'm sure I wasn't alone in letting out a gasp of surprise when I first saw Ahsoka lying on the ground in the devastated Temple. Even if she was only a Force vision, her presence was a welcome addition to the episode, because she was real enough to trigger a strong response from Yoda. His special relationship with her and with her Master forced him to confront the disappointment of her rejecting the Jedi Order. As he saw her life essence fade away, he called her by her first name -- a rare and intimate gesture from such a formal man. This urgent, almost plaintive gesture reflected both grief and humiliation: grief at the sight of her death and humiliation due to his failure to help her reach Knighthood. Even though this was a spiritual embodiment of the Togrutan exile, Yoda clearly experienced a resurgence of guilt that he had not been able to right the wrong that had pushed Ahsoka away from the Order.
Yoda bemoaned his failure to protect the Order and its sanctuary from the Sith, saying to himself, "Not strong enough, I was." It was thus not surprising that the next emotion to tempt him was joy. Katooni, the youngling who had starred in a previous story arc, took his hand and led him to a joyful representation of the Jedi Order. The tranquil, idyllic setting that he encountered was everything that the Clone Wars had prevented, and it was fascinating, in a "road not taken" sort of way, to watch Yoda's interactions with it. In a sense, the peaceful scene in the Temple garden showed Yoda everything that he wished he could have -- including Count Dooku as a friendly, collegial Jedi Master and Qui-Gon Jinn as a living member of the Order.
This perfect scene was not just insidiously tempting; it was also a reflection of the fact that Yoda had unrealistic yearnings for a different life. This alone was startling to consider. I was so used to thinking of Yoda as a go-with-the-flow, accept-what-you-have Jedi Master that his desires and frustrations didn't even occur to me. Thinking about it now, of course it makes sense that Yoda would want, for example, better relations between himself and Dooku, his former Padawan, so that Dooku would not want to abandon the Order and join the Sith. How could Yoda not entertain these private fantasies? He was sentient, mortal, and imperfect, and he had seen a lot more death, destruction, corruption, and ruin than the other, shorter-lived members of the Order. It was only natural that a scene like this one in the valley of extinction would tempt him.
As soon as Yoda realized and affirmed to himself that the people he saw were lies, he gained power over his desires. Up until then, as much as he told himself that he was a servant of the Force and a conduit of its will, he had continued to wish that the Force had directed the course of events differently -- that the Sith had not returned, that Dooku had not joined them, that they had not engineered the secession of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Yoda was tested as never before in that idyllic garden outside the Jedi Temple, but he proved stronger than his desires and his regrets. He was only able to banish the "illusion," as he called it, by acknowledging its impossibility. In this episode, Yoda had to embrace the futility of longing for what might have been but now could not be.
Yoda underwent a fascinating transition in this episode. Dave Filoni noted in an interview with StarWars.com that this story arc was about bridging the personality gap between the Yoda of the prequel movies and The Clone Wars and the Yoda of the original films. "Destiny" went a long way toward bridging that gap. I began to see how the Jedi general would become the "Wars not make one great" hermit. I understood that the contemplative "knowledge and defense, never attack" instructor on Dagobah was the product of the failures and weaknesses of the man who had dueled Count Dooku and routed an entire Separatist garrison in The Clone Wars' first episode, "Ambush." "Certain things in life you cannot defeat through conflict," Dave Filoni said in the StarWars.com interview. "You can only defeat them through being selfless and giving of yourself for others." By letting go of his fantasy vision of the Jedi Order, accepting the impossibility of saving Ahsoka, and rejecting the hubris that had haunted him, Yoda took the first few steps of a journey that would radically change his personality and his outlook on life. By the time Luke met him in The Empire Strikes Back, this journey was all but complete.
"Destiny" was a powerful reminder of the limits of all mortal beings in comparison to the omniscience of the Force. It underscored the fact that even a Jedi as powerful as Yoda still had a lot to learn about the Force and his place in it. The Force priestesses were unusual, but they their role as guides fairly well. They showed Yoda that the Force demanded a lot of him in order for him to outlast death. Through Yoda, the audience gained a slightly better understanding of the Force, but in keeping with the classic storytelling tenets of the original trilogy, "Destiny" didn't pull back the curtain too far. Like the previous episode, it mentioned midi-chlorians, but it wove that biological concept into an ethereal tapestry of flora, fauna, and energy on the priestesses' planet. This episode painted a picture of the Force that was too complicated for anyone to comprehend, and that's just the way I like my depictions of the Force.
Yoda's final test would be to journey to Moraband and face everything that haunted his soul. He had acknowledged his hubris and rejected the temptations of grief and tranquility, and now he had to confront a place that was strong in the dark side and resist its active embrace. Before we even see what lies in store for him on Moraband, we can safely say that this penultimate episode of The Clone Wars: The Lost Missions left a mark on Yoda's personality by showing him that all of his efforts during the Clone Wars were in vain. A new era was dawning in the galaxy, and the Jedi would be its first victims. Yoda's struggle to guide the Order through these turbulent years was both insufficient to prevent the New Order and a contributing factor in its success. What Yoda had seen in the Dagobah cave, what he had sensed with dread in the valley of extinction, was the Jedi Order's destiny.
5/12 - Domhnall Gleeson
5/13 - Milton Johns
5/14 - George Lucas
5/16 - Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones (2002)
5/19 - Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith (2005)
5/19 - Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (1999)
5/19 - Peter Mayhew
5/19 - Claudia Karvan
5/21 - Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (1980)