In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, as Luke Skywalker prematurely ends his training on Dagobah to rescue his friends on Cloud City and confront Darth Vader despite the warnings of his teachers, we get our only moment in the entire trilogy between the two Jedi masters who have seen it all to this point: Yoda, and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Told you, I did,” Yoda laments. “Reckless is he. Now, matters are worse.”
“That boy is our last hope,” Obi-Wan reminds his former master and friend.
Yoda stares into the distance, resolute as a puppet can be.
“No,” the ancient Jedi says. “There is another.”
In 1980, this intonation was a mystery left for the viewer to ponder as they watched the rest of the film, and left the theater after its unresolved ending to imagine just what might come to pass in the sequel to come. Who was this other Yoda was speaking of? How would they factor into this drama between father and son?
With the new Ahsoka series coming to Disney+ , the question seems worth revisiting. Surely we don’t mean to suggest that the creative team behind Empire Strikes Back had a character who would make her first appearance in 2008’s The Clone Wars CGI film in the back of their minds. But Star Wars stories have always delighted in revisiting old stories and presenting them with new context. When Yoda looked through The Force to see who else might be that last hope, could he have been thinking of Anakin Skywalker’s lost apprentice?
Why he didn’t mean Ahsoka
Let’s set aside the very reasonable argument that Ahsoka had not even existed as an idea in 1980, and consider this from a story perspective. To address the nature of Yoda’s “there is another,” we must also question what Obi-Wan meant by “last hope.” Last hope for what, precisely? To defeat Darth Vader? To redeem him? To dismantle the Empire? To restore the Jedi Order? If it’s the last one, then Ahsoka certainly wouldn’t qualify. Yoda would know Ahsoka had made a decision to leave the Jedi Order behind her, and find her own path in the Light. There are more ways than Jedi and Sith, after all, to be one with The Force.
If he meant confronting Vader, either to turn him or defeat him, well… Ahsoka had already tried that. At the conclusion of season 2 of Star Wars: Rebels, Ahsoka finally got the chance to confront her old master, now Vader, three years before A New Hope. And she had failed - and would have perished, if not for the intervention of time travel (more on that in a future piece, perhaps). But it was clear from that point that triumphing over Vader was not Ahsoka’s destiny.
The obvious answer
When Luke returns to Yoda in Return of the Jedi, Yoda seems to finish his sentence from the previous film. His last words, as he passes on into The Force: “There is… another… Skywalker.”
In the following scene, a weary ghost of Obi-Wan lets Luke in on what Yoda meant this time right away: Princess Leia, his companion for the past 4 years of Galactic civil war, had been his sister all along. Clearly, this must be what Yoda had meant back in the last movie, right? If Luke blew it, then his sister could pick up where he left off.
Well, we’ve got a hard time believing that too. Or at least that it’s what George Lucas and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan meant at the time. I mean, just think about it for a second. If they really intended Yoda to be talking about Leia, Luke’s own sister, then… why did we just see them make out with each other like an hour earlier in the same movie? Seems like something they would have avoided, if that’s what they knew what their connection was at the time. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.
The other survivors
The survival of Ahsoka into the time of The Mandalorian, 5 years after Return of the Jedi, has been a talking point recently about how the current direction of the Star Wars franchise has allowed for too many survivors of the Great Jedi Purge. The truth, though, is that Lucas has always been consistent that of the original Jedi Order’s 10,000 members, there were a hundred or so Jedi out there surviving in secret, and still more who had never been Jedi discovering their own aptitude with The Force. Wookieepedia lists 138 survivors of the Purge (discounting duplicate entries) through the Star Wars expanded universe. Reviewing them individually, 4 of those are from non-canon material, such as the LEGO Star Wars franchise and the Star Wars: Visions series. 111 are now considered “Legends,” predating Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and of dubious canonicity. Which means Star Wars’ stewards under the Disney administration have actually reduced the number of surviving Jedi in the Galaxy quite gradually.
But even if we went through the 23 remaining candidates one by one, there wouldn’t be much point. Ten thousand Jedi couldn’t stand up to one surprise attack by the Emperor. What chance did the straggling remainders have, surviving only through withdrawal? Yoda wasn’t talking about a Jedi; he was talking about someone with a personal connection to Vader who could get through to him emotionally. Taking Ahsoka off the table- she had her chance- that leaves Luke, and… another.
The sibling, and suspense
Conversations with the creators behind The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi suggest that even if Leia wasn’t always intended to be Luke’s sister, the intention was always for there to be, at least as of The Empire Strikes Back, another Skywalker. Someone who could potentially walk into Luke’s Chanel boots, should he fail, and one day redeem Darth Vader.
But… why? Why set up this undeveloped, unseen character for an undefined role, when Luke himself would ultimately be the one to make Vader see the light in the end after all?
The answer, as George Lucas himself once shared, is cinematic storytelling. In the moment of the movie, when the viewer is in the theater, experiencing the film for the first time, you have to keep them in suspense. So when decades of cinema have taught them that the hero is going to be okay in the end, your job as a storyteller going into that perilous climax is finding a way to suspend that confidence that good will triumph and the hero is going to make it.
“If you’ve got a hero, what you want to do is make him vulnerable,” Lucas explained in an interview. “You wanna say, ‘We could kill this guy.’ So, invest in his struggle. Because it’s not one of these movies where he’s just gonna walk away. And when I said ‘There is another,’ it basically signaled to the audience that I could kill Luke. And, I killed Obi-Wan. So, it makes it more exciting for the movie, to say ‘Well, let’s watch, because he may die in the end.’ But if you’ve convinced everybody of the nature of the movie, in the way it works, that he’s Superman, he’s never gonna die, then it’s much less interesting.”
We see here that by telling Obi-Wan, and specifically the audience, that “there is another,” Yoda isn’t suggesting another hero’s existence so much as he is suggesting that Luke is expendable. His loss will be regrettable, but the story can go on without him. Yoda and Obi-Wan’s warnings to the impetuous young Skywalker may be true after all: he may not be ready, and he may not survive this. It’s a credit to the film, and the reason many still regard it 43 years later as the best in the franchise, that the revelation waiting for Luke in Cloud City was even more shocking than his demise might have been.
“Skywalker” was always how Yoda was going to finish that sentence. But that feeling of doubt and fear for their hero, the three year pregnant pause before the next films, dancing in the minds of millions of viewers who now knew with the revelation of Luke’s parentage that anything was possible, was the whole idea.
Get re-acquianted with the whole saga with our Star Wars watch order.