Yoda, friends, is long gone from cinemas. No longer can we rely on his sage advice to keep us on the straight and narrow. No longer can we expect the small green one to appear on the big screen (although you can in Clone Wars, to be fair), dishing out critical, incisive advice for us to live our lives by.
And thus, to fill the gap, we’ve been hunting for the people we can look up to, the more modern day screen Yodas. Or, at the very least, the people who can calm us through the trials of life, just by us reaching for a DVD off the shelf.
Without further ado…
CHIEF (Roger Moore)Spice World
Truthfully, much like Richard E Grant’s character in this oddly entertaining movie, we don’t understand any of what Roger Moore is going on about here. He plays Chief, the mysterious string-puller behind the success of the Spice Girls, and his role in the film is to dispense words of wisdom whenever Richard E comes calling.
Those words, however, come across as if they’re written with a fridge magnet poetry set. “When the rabbit of chaos is pursued by the ferret of disorder through the fields of anarchy, it is time to hang your pants on the hook of darkness. Whether they’re clean or not,” says The Chief. “WTF?”, says the audience. “Brilliant”, says Grant. “The headless chicken can only know where he’s been. He can’t see where he’s going,” adds The Chief.
When Yoda’s not around, you simply sometimes have to make do.
FIN RAZIEL (Patricia Hayes)Willow
Despite having to suffer the indignity of being transformed first into a rodent and then a raven, and finally a goat, benign sorceress Fin Raziel is nevertheless a helpful guide to hapless Nelwyn dwarf, Willow, in Ron Howard’s 1988 movie of the same name.
When Willow’s asked to protect an orphaned infant from the cruel sorceress Bavmorda, it’s up to Fin Raziel (played by Hayes while in human form) to teach the dwarf how to protect himself using the power of magic.
While Raziel doesn’t benefit from the unique turns of phrase that were Yoda’s trademark (she says things like, “I have Cherlindrea’s wand, Bavmorda,” and “You idiot!”), she’s still an indispensable mentor to Willow, and the kingdom of Nockmaar probably wouldn’t have been saved without her necromantic abilities.
MORPHEUS (Laurence Fishburne)The Matrix movies
The news that the entire world as you know it is a computer-generated simulation would be difficult for even the most robust individual to digest, so it’s lucky that Neo (Keanu Reeves) has sturdy mentor Morpheus to take him gently by the hand.
Carefully explaining that the year is, in fact, 2199 and not 1999, and that humans are little more than batteries for the floating squid robots that now rule the Earth, Morpheus teaches Neo how to suspend himself in the air and kick Hugo Weaving square in the face, how to fire a machine gun, and how to look cool while wearing sunglasses at night. What a guy.
THE SPHINX (Wes Studi)Mystery Men
The ragtag group of disorganised do-gooders had little more than fine intentions before The Sphinx arrived to hone their skills.
In addition to being a dab hand at costume creation and owning a pair of pinking shears, The Sphinx spouted wise sayings liberally, to instil a sense of confidence in the heroic team.
Among the knowledge he imparted were insightful phrases such as “To learn my teachings, I must first teach you how to learn.” “When you care what is outside, what is inside cares for you.” “He who questions training only trains himself at asking questions.”
When loose cannon, Mr Furious, spots a suspicious formula to almost all of The Sphinx’s wise words, it does little to dissuade the other heroes from the obvious leadership and sewing skills of their mentor and the team go on to defeat the evil Casanova Frankenstein in some very natty kit.
SPLINTER (Kevin Clash)The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies
In the words of the Turtles animated series’ catchy theme tune, he’s a “radical rat”. Acting as both martial arts trainer and surrogate father to a quartet of pizza-obsessed reptiles, sewer rat Splinter is the franchise’s furry Yoda analogue.
Full of sage words like, “Anger clouds the mind. Turned inward it is an unconquerable enemy,” Splinter gained his fighting abilities from a Japanese master in jinjitsu, before winding up in the New York underground as the Turtles’ unlikely patriarch.
Under his guidance, the Turtles not only prevent the evil Foot Clan from taking over the city, but also learn to utter catchphrases like “Cowabunga”. Oh, and how to do awful impressions of Sylvester Stallone, presumably.
Sadly, Splinter’s attempts to ween the Turtles off their pizza addiction and on to something a little healthier, like kedgeree, perhaps, or a few spears of asparagus, were all in vain. Rumour has it that the Turtles are now entering middle age and morbidly obese.
JIM’S DAD (Eugene Levy)The American Pie movies. Every last one of them.
Forgive the fact that Eugene Levy stuck with the American Pie series even after the original cast, crew, and any semblance of quality had long gone. And just remember that, in the role of Jim’s dad, he’s about the closest cinema has come to a paternal Yoda.
For Noah Levenstein, to give him his full name, is a master tutor in the ways of growing up. And, he’s not a man afraid of the difficult conversations. Take the moment where he talks to his son about the art of, er, ‘making oneself happy’. “It’s like banging a tennis ball against a brick wall, which can be fun. It can be fun, but it’s not a game,” he explains. “What you want is a partner to return the ball.”
Seriously, try it in Yoda’s voice. And then imagine Yoda guiding young Luke through the pages of a few top shelf publications, or the “more exotic, risqué magazine”. He just couldn’t do it. Eugene Levy can. The man is, simply, Yoda 1.5.
MR MIYAGI (Pat Morita)The Karate Kid
Like Yoda, Mr Miyagi’s not much taller than the bonsai trees he carefully prunes in his spare time, but he can still kick posterior when he needs to.
A solemn mentor to awkward teenager Daniel, Mr Miyagi’s teaching methods involve painting walls, sanding floors and waxing cars.
We’re convinced, in fact, that there’s an alternate cut of The Karate Kid lurking in a broom cupboard somewhere, in which Mr Miyagi admits, shortly before Daniel’s final fight, that he knows absolutely nothing about martial arts at all.
But while Daniel’s only slightly better at karate than he was at the start of the film, Mr Miyagi teaches the boy plenty of important life lessons: bravery, patience, and the most efficient way to creosote a fence.
MIKE BRADY (Gary Cole)The Brady Bunch Movie/A Very Brady Sequel
No matter what crisis befalls The Brady Bunch in the first two movies bearing their name, there’s one rock onto which they can always fall. There’s one man whose words can cut through the chaff. And some very bright spark cast the peerless Gary Cole to play him.
At the height of family tension, what does he say? Well, he chooses the obvious words: “A deck consists of 52 cards, and if the hearts didn’t work with the diamonds and the spades with the clubs, then how the heck would we ever play a game of Gin Rummy? So, in keeping with the spirit of togetherness, I’m sure you kids know the right thing to do.”
Wise words, friends.
He’s no shrift for liars, either: “You know by tattling on your friends, you’re really just tattling on yourself. By tattling on your friends, you’re just telling them that you’re a tattletale. Now is that the tale you want to tell?”
And he has considered advice, too, for recipients of a present from someone who may not be all they seem: “A gift is only a good thing when the giver has given thought to that gift. But when the gift the giver gives gives grief, then that gift should give the givee regrets.”
No wonder so many of the Brady clan are left uttering “Gee, I never thought of it that way” after he spoke. The man is, clearly, a legend. And Gary Cole’s delivery? Let’s see anyone else on the planet pitch it just so perfectly…
Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush)The King’s Speech
Perhaps the most surprising entry, this pairing actually has a few parallels with those early Master Jedi teaching scenes. Yoda is to Luke as Lionel is to his Padawan Prince.
In the future king we have a petulant student who doubts his teacher’s training and, at first, fights against it. Like others on this list, he questions the methods his mentor employs and can’t see the correlation between bouncing up and down, reciting nursery rhymes while rolling across the floor, and the desired outcome he sought out.
Even Lionel’s consultation rooms are as foreign to the Prince as Dagobah would be.
But once the pupil capitulates to the ways of the wise one, who has believed in his student from the start, he’s able to banish his fears and doubts, unleash his inner greatness, and brandish his words with lilting skill.
Lionel: his castle, his rules, his results.
THE DUDE (Jeff Bridges)The Big Lebowski
He’s lazy, and he spends much of the day shuffling around in a dressing gown while drinking White Russian cocktails. Keeping his head while everyone else is losing theirs, the Dude is a zen-like figure of calm in a chaotic world.
As a war rages in the Middle East and his best friend Walter waves a gun around in a bowling alley, the Dude takes every outrageous turn of fortune in his stride.
Even the threats of a gang of nihilists and the theft of his luckless automobile fail to faze the Dude, and let’s face it, we could all learn something from his relaxed attitude to modern life.
As the Stranger (a perfectly cast Sam Elliott) puts it, “The Dude abides. I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that. It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.”
JOHNNY (William Duell)Police Squad!
If you work in law enforcement and you’re after the crucial piece of the jigsaw to unlock a crime, then there’s only one Yoda for you. And it’s Johnny, the shoe-shining snitch, from Police Squad! Granted, he never made the transfer to the big screen Naked Gun movies, but his help in shaping the crime-fighting exploits of Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin can’t be understated.
For Johnny was always the go-to man for Drebin, the man with the vital piece of information. The person whose mere words could suddenly turn a case around. The man who seemed to know anything, provided you crossed his palm with paper.
Oh, and he shined shoes far better than Yoda ever could…
RON BURGUNDY (Will Ferrell)Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
There’s really no other choice to end the list, is there? No man in the movies is so self-assured. None is so on top of his game. And none is so willing to dish out pertinent lines of teaching at the exact moment they’re required. Just getting it down to two or three examples for the purposes of this article was something of a challenge, as the wisdom of The Burgundy could fill a website in its entirety.
But who can resist pearls of wisdom such as “You all kept your head on a swivel, and that’s what you gotta do when you find yourself thrust into the middle of vicious cockfight.” Or his unrivalled ability to romance, and to paint idyllic pictures. “I know that one day we will be married on top of a mountain,” he says of his supposed wife to be, “and there’s going to be flutes playing and trombones and flowers and garlands of fresh herbs. And we will dance… until the sun rises! And then our children will form a family band, and we will tour the countryside and you won’t be invited!”
Even canines aren’t overlooked where the zen of Burgundy is concerned. “You’re so wise,” he says to a pooch. “You’re like a miniature Buddha, covered in hair.”
There’s surely not a human being on the planet that couldn’t learn something from the man.
With thanks to @JamieHailstone and a bit of Buffy for the inspiration for this piece…
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