Perseverance and stamina – a lesson 40 years after The Empire Strikes Back

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
-Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

One of the things that distinguishes a classic from a random highly successful book or movie is that one can return to a classic decades after it was created and still find it engaging and relevant. The Empire Strikes Back (TESB) was a huge success when it was released in May 1980. According to Wikipedia, “The Empire Strikes Back had a significant impact on filmmaking and popular culture, being regarded as a rare example of a sequel that transcends the original. The climax, in which Vader reveals to Luke that he is his father, is often cited as one of the greatest plot twists in cinematic history.”
In retrospect, TESB turned out to be a classic.

We have seen many plot twists inspired by TESB, but its impact goes far beyond the movies it inspired. For example, Yoda is more than a movie character. In fact, the noun Yoda and the adjective Yoda-like were added to Oxford English Dictionary’s “New words list September 2016

The prequels diminished Yoda’s wisdom, but let’s forget them for a moment (or longer) and focus on the Yoda’s worldview in TESB, and compare it with Luke’s.

Yoda is very old (in Return of the Jedi we learn that he’s nine hundred years old). He saw it all, and he had some time to contemplate and draw conclusions. He lives alone, and apparently neither wants nor is in need of company. Luke, on the other hand, is very young, a farm boy with a lot of innate talent and scantly any education. He isn’t used to being alone. Before his aunt and uncle were murdered, he lived with them, and he had friends. When his world was shattered, Luke had the protection and guidance of Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi, then he teamed with Han Solo and Chewbacca, and later with Princess Leia. Every time, he was a part of a group that shared clear-cut goals. In A New Hope, Luke’s life was dedicated to survival after escaping from Tatooine, and every effort was directed toward escaping death while destroying the Death Star.

In TESB, Luke’s life isn’t in danger after he crashed his X-wing on Dagobah. He is on his own, but he has what it takes to survive and as far as he knows no one is chasing after him. Marooned on the planet, he tries to make the most of the situation, and does what he can by taking care of himself and looking for the legendary Jedi Master. When Yoda agrees to instruct him, Luke goes through a long, intensive training course. He is challenged physically and mentally, but as days and weeks pass without a clear-cut goal on the horizon, he struggles to keep on with the unglamorous, exhausting training that offers little in the short term except more sweat and grit. He wants to save Han and Leia, but that is impossible – he is stuck with Yoda as long as his X-wing is submerged in the swamp.

Then comes a watershed moment when Yoda admonishes, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Luke cannot focus and gather what it takes to lift an entire X-wing. He gives up, and then watches astounded as Yoda does the deed.

Finally, Luke has a choice – either to take off and abandon his training for a “heroic” attempt to rescue Leia and Han, or to keep working until he learns what is needed to be actually helpful. We all know what Luke chose and what were the consequences.

An interesting piece of trivia is that not only did Luke struggle with separation from his friends, but also Mark Hamill endured isolation from other cast members while he filmed the Dagobah scenes. “Hamill later expressed his dismay at being the only human character on set for months; he felt like a trivial element on a set of animals, machines, and moving props. Kershner commended Hamill for his performance with the puppet.” (Wikipedia)

To sum it up: The Empire Strikes Back isn’t as optimistic and positive as The New Hope, and yet it’s a great movie. Grit, consistency, and stamina are not glorious, but even in a galaxy far, far away, mastery of these qualities was a prerequisite to become a Jedi, even if you’ve already blasted a Death Star.

May the Force be with everyone who works to add something good to this world.

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