Throughout his six Star Wars movies, George Lucas demonstrated an immediate talent for creating instantly iconic characters. It’s these characters, rather than the plot, who have fostered an obsessive love for the franchise over the years, and this is partly the reason why it’s so fixated on its own past. The franchise simply can’t seem to move past the legacies of Han Solo, Darth Vader, Palpatine, and Yoda.
Yoda, in particular, has become one of the most iconic symbols of Star Wars. But while the little green puppet was integral to The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas’s original intention was never to bring him back for Return of the Jedi. Thankfully, psychologists convinced him that the Star Wars character was absolutely necessary, and they were right.
As revealed by Lucas himself on the 2004 DVD release of Return of the Jedi [via GamesRadar], Yoda wasn’t included in the original script for the third movie. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t have returned to Dagobah in an attempt to complete his training, and we wouldn’t have seen Yoda again, with his role in the story having concluded in Empire. However, there was a hitch: unnamed child psychologists told Lucas that younger audiences wouldn’t believe that Darth Vader was really the father of Luke.
The rationale is that, because Darth Vader had been shown to be the ultimate Star Wars villain, children would be inclined to not trust him, and not believe what he was telling Luke. Instead, they’d assume that Vader had just lied to Luke about being his father because, well, he’s a baddie! This isn’t something that Lucas himself had considered, and it forced him to reconsider his plans for Return of the Jedi, and Yoda’s involvement.
Thanks to the advice of the psychologists, the filmmaker decided that the audience would need to hear confirmation of Vader’s reveal from a benevolent figure who children knew they could trust: enter Yoda.
In Return of the Jedi, after rescuing Han Solo from Jabba the Hut, Luke returns to Yoda on Dagobah to resume the training that he abandoned to save his friends on Cloud City. But, instead of clambering onto Luke’s back while the young Jedi runs through marshes again, Yoda curls up onto his bed and dies, telling Luke that he already has everything he needs to defeat Vader.
Before Yoda’s death, Luke manages to ask Yoda if Vader is telling the truth about being his father, and Yoda reluctantly responds, “Your father he is.”
The scene is a great one, full of atmosphere and foreboding, but from the perspective of the progression of the plot, its only purpose is to confirm to Luke that which he’s already been told. Once you know the advice that Lucas received, it’s easy to see how and why it was inserted into the story.
From a broader perspective, it also helped to cement Yoda’s influence over Star Wars, which would extend into the prequel and sequel trilogies and tie up what would have been an unresolved mystery. If Luke had never returned to Dagobah, the fate of Yoda would have been a subject of immense speculation for decades.
Either way, since the release of the original trilogy, Star Wars has never quite been able to recapture the mysterious, enigmatic magic of Yoda. The prequel trilogy portrayed him as a stressed-out boss, and his appearance in The Last Jedi seemed to ignore the true, darker nature of the character, instead focusing on his more rambunctious side.
In the end, even with his scene in Return of the Jedi, Yoda only gets 16 minutes of screen time in the original trilogy. But every second counts, and his presence is a primary factor behind what makes the Star Wars universe feel so magnetic and fantastical.
For more on Yoda, you can read about how his original names would have ruined him. Or, you can follow Yoda’s full journey with our guide on the best way to watch the Star Wars movies in order. If you want more, check out what’s going on with the new Star Wars movies too.