Jedi Master Yoda, Star Wars’ favorite puppet and the character whose performance could have made or broken The Empire Strikes Back, has a long history. In the real world, he’s a pop culture legend. In the Star Wars saga, he’s a 900-year old font of wisdom, strongly devoted to the light side of the Force but sometimes short-sighted. He’s Star Wars incarnate–but does he need to be in every Star Wars story?
Now that the Skywalker Saga has come to an end on the big screen, the next big Star Wars story will take place on the page in the form of The High Republic, a new series set 200 years before the start of the film saga we know and love. The High Republic includes books and comics that follow Jedi who are at the height of their powers during a time of peace for the Republic. The setting means that all of the characters we meet in The High Republic are going to be brand-new Jedi Knights and Masters.
But the series won’t skip the obvious cameo, either. The High Republic will feature a “younger,” 700-year-old Yoda to tie these new books and comics to the big-screen trilogies. Concept artists Iain McCaig, Jeff R. Thomas, Grant Griffin, and others adapted Yoda, giving him a slightly less wrinkled face and slightly more colorful robes.
Take a look for yourself:
“The High Republic Yoda is a journeyman out in the galaxy,” said author Daniel José Older, whose comic The High Republic Adventures will bring Yoda to the new era in 2021. Visually, that means Yoda looks a bit younger and tougher. His Jedi robes were changed to reflect the High Republic style, including gold robes and a cloth lightsaber holster.
The iconic character is going to play a “prominent” role, according to StarWars.com, but it doesn’t sound like Yoda will be on a battlefield or sitting in a Jedi Council chamber this time around.
“While he’s already a respected member of the Jedi Council at this point, we meet Yoda in IDW’s The High Republic Adventures series doing what he loves best: looking out for the young folks — in this case, a group of Padawans traveling around the galaxy to learn the ways of the Jedi with a hands-on approach,” Older said. “The Force study abroad program, basically.”
Yoda’s involvement in The High Republic does sound like it could be a lot of fun, but with the Disney era’s track record with cameos, I also have some reservations. Could Yoda’s role in The High Republic undermine this new era of Star Wars as a whole?
Star Wars’ Cameo Problems
Two recent Star Wars stories show the pros and cons of including cameos from established characters: Star Wars Rebels and The Mandalorian. Darth Vader, Ahsoka Tano, Princess Leia, and other characters connected Rebels to other parts of the story the way Yoda could evoke the movies in The High Republic. But Vader and Ahsoka were given so much screen time that they became a distraction at times from what was initially a story about young Ezra’s self-discovery and coming-of-age. While Vader and Ahsoka’s storyline and eventual confrontation in an ancient Sith temple certainly affected Ezra in a big way, he was sort of pushed to the side during that storyline — and that’s not even mentioning the rest of the show’s original cast of characters.
The Mandalorian’s “toy box” approach results in a lot of characters who look similar to established ones but aren’t quite the same. Imagine a kid who has a Yoda figure but doesn’t know the character’s name or what he does in the movies. The toy is small, so maybe he’s a baby. But he’s wizened, so maybe he’s 50 years old. Of course, Baby Yoda a.k.a. The Child has been a wild example of this approach’s success. But it’s also different from a cameo character appearing in the flesh.
Yoda in the High Republic sounds like it could be more like the former: a well-known character appearing to take time away from new ones. The Yoda scenes will undoubtedly be spectacular and draw in fans who otherwise don’t have any connection to or interest in the pre-Prequel era or the books and comics. But it’s also possible that Yoda’s scenes will produce middling wink-and-nod references that dilute the overall story. Will Yoda be a vehicle for cutting comments about how exactly the Jedi have changed or cutesy references for the sake of the easter eggs?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate cameos, and I definitely don’t hate Yoda. Maul’s brief cameo in Solo: A Star Wars Story? Loved it. A familiar character appeared briefly to do basically the same thing he did in the movies (ignite a lightsaber and look cool) and fill in a blank about his life. But Yoda’s role in The High Republic doesn’t sound like it will be light or brief. So I have to hope instead that it’ll be meaningful and carry significant weight. The High Republic will have to give Yoda the space to actually say something about Star Wars and the galaxy in which its set.
He’s poised to be a great character with which to examine the politics of the Republic and the culture of the Jedi. With hundreds of years under his belt, Yoda has seen first-hand how the Jedi Order has changed. In the High Republic era, Jedi are focused more on effectively helping people than on following dogmatic rules. In the Prequel era, that changes. The fall of the Republic itself involves the moral degradation of the Jedi as much as it involves the Separatists’ military attacks.
Through Darth Sidious’ schemes, the Jedi slowly erode their former ethical lines, becoming enforcers instead of peacekeepers. Cloistered in their temple, they aren’t in touch with the people literally beneath their feet on the city-planet pf Coruscant, as the excellent middle arc of The Clone Wars season 7 showed. The Republic assigns them to missions that require power, and so they become less aware of the consequences of using that power. In The Clone Wars, we see how a Jedi’s attempt to catch a bounty hunter resulted in the death of civilians: deaths the Jedi knew about but took no responsibility for.
The Prequels show how great Jedi like Yoda ultimately failed to see the bigger picture until it was too late. Will Yoda’s adventures 200 years before The Phantom Menace set the stage for his inevitable failure?
In Attack of the Clones, Yoda mourns the presence of “the shroud of the dark side” in the lives of the Jedi, but does not hesitate to turn the warrior-monks he heads into generals in the Clone Army. Could something in the High Republic explain why this didn’t bother him? Or is Darth Sidious just that…insidious?
It isn’t all about the movies, of course. The High Republic could explore aspects of Yoda’s past from even before 232 BBY (the date in which the series is set). We know a couple other canon characters who were also alive even this early in the timeline. Professor Huyang, an ancient droid who appears in The Clone Wars voiced by Doctor Who star David Tennant, helped Yoda forge his very first lightsaber. We also know of two other Jedi Masters who taught Yoda, named K’ungfu and Chuang, who are likely too campy to appear in The High Republic, but learning more about the teachers who taught Yoda the wisdom he passes on in the movie could be interesting.
If I had a voice in a boardroom for this project, here’s what I’d suggest: Yoda should not be just a cameo character. If he’s present in The High Republic, give him a role that illustrates how he changes in 200 years. Use the fact that the audience knows this character’s future not for dramatic irony but to actually say something new about him.
The first two parts of The High Republic, the adult novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule and the middle-grade novel A Test of Courage by Justina Ireland, will release on Jan. 5. The young adult novel Into the Dark by Claudia Gray will hit shelves on Feb. 2. Dates have yet to be set for the new comics series from Marvel and IDW.