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Yoda's Backstory Explained

Of all the mysteries in the "Star Wars" series, Yoda is one of the oldest. The little green Jedi has one of the most recognizable faces in film, having made his first appearance in the swamps of Dagobah in "The Empire Strikes Back." His wrinkly mug has since adorned T-shirts, lunch boxes, posters, and, well, mugs. But despite his popularity and well-known quotes, not many fans can say they know all about Yoda's long, long history in a galaxy far, far away. What is Yoda? How did he become so wise? Why does he talk the way that he does? What happened to his hair?

Since his first appearance in 1980, voiced by famed puppeteer and actor Frank Oz, Yoda has appeared in six more "Star Wars" films, several animated series, and countless video games and amusement park attractions — which makes his mysterious backstory all the more worth exploring. Here's everything you need to know about the galaxy's "little green friend."

Yoda's mysterious species

What exactly is Yoda? The little green guru's species has never been officially named, and few members of his kind have ever been seen. To date, only three major "Star Wars" characters belong to the species: Yoda himself, the female Jedi Master Yaddle, who serves with him on the High Council during the events of "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," and Grogu, who survives an Order 66 attack on the Jedi Temple when he's just a baby.

We know from Yoda that his species can live to be at least 900 years old, and we know from Grogu that at least the first 50 of those years make up an extended infancy. All three characters have been incredibly strong with the Force, and given their impressive longevity, this might be a unifying trait amongst the whole species.

Where Yoda and his kin come from, however, is another question entirely — one that's still canonically unclear. According to the "Star Wars Character Encyclopedia," Yaddle is about half Yoda's age during the prequel era, making her several centuries younger. In "Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi," it's revealed that Yaddle speaks with what we humans consider normal syntax, rather than Yoda's famous backward-speak. In an interview with Nerdist, series creator Dave Filoni said that he believes the speaking pattern to be "a Yoda thing" and that Frank Oz — who originally played the character — once told him it's a sign of respect toward Yoda's own master.

Early days in the Jedi Order

Though he's a legendary figure by the time of "The Phantom Menace," Yoda began his time in the Jedi Order like anyone else — as a youngling. In Season 5 of "The Clone Wars," forge master Huyang (David Tennant), a droid who helps younglings construct their lightsabers, recalls the day when Yoda himself acquired his first kyber crystal. Despite how it might seem in the movies, there was indeed a long Jedi history before Yoda ever achieved the rank of Master.

In "The Empire Strikes Back," Yoda claims that he trained Jedi for 800 years. Since he's about 900 years old at the time, he would have begun working as a mentor around the age of 100 — assuming he's telling the truth, that is. Since Grogu is still basically a baby at 50, this suggests that the second half-century of the species' life sees them through to full maturation.

Yoda's fame and renown as one of the wisest and most powerful active Jedi earned him a place on the High Council and, eventually, the rank of Grand Master. He holds this prestigious position at the beginning of the High Republic era, which takes place about 200 years before the events of the "Star Wars" prequels.

Battles in the High Republic

The High Republic era sees the Republic expand its borders and operations significantly into the Outer Rim of the galaxy, but it also brings many challenges. As a leading member of the Jedi Council at the time, Yoda is at the center of many of these pivotal moments. After the so-called Great Hyperspace Disaster, which rains chaos and destruction across the galaxy, Yoda takes up arms with many other Jedi against the Nihil — a dangerous faction of pirates based in the far reaches of space.

Over the course of this conflict, Yoda battles the Nihil on several occasions, as well as the monstrous creatures they control known as the Nameless. His work at this time occasionally leads him far from the galactic core and the rest of the Jedi Order, but Yoda always returns with new wisdom and the conviction to move forward.

Of particular note during the High Republic era is Yoda's relationship with his padawan Kantam Sy. The two share many adventures before the battles with the Nihil, including a period when Sy steps away from the Order to explore other ways of life — though they eventually return and gain the rank of Master. Yoda's relationship with Sy is quite formative for the older Jedi, codifying many of his beliefs about the dangers of attachment and the nature of the Force.

Training Count Dooku

One of the more important pieces of Yoda's later life — though still before the beginning of the Skywalker Saga — is the training of Count Dooku. Then just Dooku, the young Jedi was chosen by Yoda to be his padawan in 86 BBY, according to the canonical audiobook "Dooku: Jedi Lost." Though it is rare for a grand master to take on a direct apprentice, Yoda sees promise in Dooku and takes it upon himself to refine it.

Of course, that effort winds up having questionable results. Through the years, Dooku becomes disillusioned with what he sees as corruption within the Republic and complacency within the Jedi Order. This leads him to find a new master — the Sith Lord Darth Sidious — and he eventually leaves the order to rule his home planet of Serenno. From that seat of power, Dooku becomes Sidious' primary tool in organizing the Separatist Alliance and starting the Clone Wars — an event that leads to the destruction of the Jedi.

Perhaps most painful of all, "Tales of the Jedi" reveals that Dooku (voiced by Corey Burton) himself kills Yaddle (Bryce Dallas Howard) after she discovers his secret plotting. This act brings the total known number of Yoda's species down to just two, though it's unclear if the grand master ever discovered the truth behind Yaddle's disappearance.

Yoda, Defender of the Home Tree

During our first encounter with Yoda in "The Empire Strikes Back," he seems like an eccentric, cranky, yet incredibly wise creature. However, in his heyday, as depicted in the prequel trilogy and the "Clone Wars" series, Yoda is a straight-up badass. There's a reason why he's so revered, and it's not just because of his wisdom.

Yoda is a skilled negotiator and combatant alongside his skills as a teacher and sage. On Kashyyyk, the Wookie homeworld, we learn Yoda and Dooku once faced off against a rancor-like beast known as a terentatek. He also helps the Wookies in their disputes with their system neighbors, the lizardlike Trandoshans. This, combined with his combat skills in felling the terentatek, earns Yoda the title "Defender of the Home Tree." Yoda is also adopted into the families of many Wookiee leaders to boot — because who wouldn't want to have a monster-slaying uncle? Yoda later capitalizes on this relationship during the Clone Wars, overseeing the defense of Kashyyyk against a Separatist invasion. Several Wookies, including Chewbacca, help Yoda escape the planet during Order 66.

Grand Master of the Jedi Council

As grand master of the Jedi High Council, Yoda leads the order through one of its darkest times — the rise of Sheev Palpatine (secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious), the Clone Wars, and the Jedi Purge. As early as "The Phantom Menace," Yoda confesses that his ability to see the future through the Force is clouded. This is a direct result of Palpatine's growing strength, but it also speaks to the rigid dogma that the Jedi came to be ruled by under Yoda. The grand master is hesitant at first to allow Anakin Skywalker (Anakin Skywalker) to be trained for fear that he'd become dangerous, but after the death of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), he allows Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) to take the boy as his padawan.

When Obi-Wan later discovers the existence of a secret clone army on Kamino, which had been commissioned by a former member of the Jedi Order, Yoda probably should have had some doubts. And yet, he seems to fall victim to the very thing he warns his younglings about: fear. Knowing that the Separatists are growing in power and that the Sith are lurking in the shadows, Yoda willingly leads the Jedi into a new role as soldiers of the government. In the end, this decision leads to the eradication of all but a few of the order.

His duel with Dooku

As the head of state of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, Count Dooku is essentially the leader of the Separatist movement that fights against the Republic and the Jedi Order during the Clone Wars. Yoda faces his former Padawan head-on when he and a strike team go to rescue Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, who are defeated and captured by Dooku.

Despite Count Dooku's claims that the dark side allows him to become more powerful than any Jedi, Yoda quickly proves that his power is much greater than his diminutive size suggests — the same lesson Luke (Mark Hamill) learns about the Jedi in "The Empire Strikes Back." Yoda hobbles into the Geonosis hangar with a cane, but he turns Dooku's Force lightning against him with ease. When lightsabers are drawn, it's clear that Yoda is still the master in this fight and that Dooku still has much to learn. Dooku only escapes because he distracts Yoda by nearly squashing Anakin and Obi-Wan, allowing him the chance to jump on a ship and fly away from his former master.

Yoda starts hearing voices

Toward the end of the Clone Wars, Yoda (voiced by Tom Kane) begins to hear voices. Is the old Jedi going senile? As it turns out, in the "Clone Wars" episode "Voices," Yoda is capable of hearing voices from beyond the grave. In the episode, the ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn contacts him during a meditation session. When he tells the Council, they're skeptical, wondering if perhaps Sith are attempting to attack Yoda's mind. This contact with the dead is unheard of, after all, since the Jedi teach that individuals do not retain their identities after death, and the other Council members prove unable to hear anything or anyone while meditating.

This leads Yoda to undergo a procedure that would bring him as close to death — and by extension, the Force — as possible. Inches away from dying, Yoda hears Qui-Gon again, who tells him to go to Dagobah. On Dagobah, Yoda is led by Jinn to a cave strong with the dark side — the very same cave Luke ventures into when he meets Yoda.

Achieving life after death

After Yoda sees a vision of a Sith lord slaughtering Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn directs him to go to the Wellspring of Life, a nexus of Force energy. There, Yoda meets with a Force priestess (Jaime King) who wants to help him to achieve life after death, which is easier said than done. First, Yoda is forced to fight a sharp-toothed shadow-version of himself — his dark side motivated by hubris. He is only able to defeat this wraith when he accepts that he does have a dark side but that it's a part of himself he refuses to give into.

He then undergoes some trippy vision training to learn how to appear as a Force spirit after his eventual death. This ordeal has him fighting Darth Sidious, witnessing his own death, and being taunted with visions of everyone as one big, happy Jedi family (Dooku included), but he eventually overcomes these trials. Upon returning to Coruscant, he decides to downplay things and says that his little trip had been entirely uneventful.

Yoda's role in Anakin's fall to the dark side

Whether or not Anakin could have been saved from the dark side is a matter of eternal debate, but one thing's for sure: Yoda's ideology of no attachments certainly doesn't help. In "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" and numerous times during the "Clone Wars" series, Anakin seeks guidance from the wise Jedi, only to be met with unfeeling advice to abandon his emotional ties. This coldness plays a pivotal role in Anakin's seeking help from Palpatine instead, as he's the only one who seems to actually want to aid him.

In "The Clone Wars," we see how Yoda helps make Anakin (voiced by Matt Lanter) even more jaded against the Jedi. The Season 5 finale arc follows Anakin's padawan, Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), as she's framed for a bombing at the Jedi Temple. Though Yoda's the one who assigned Ahsoka to Anakin, he's quick to accept her guilt after a little pressure from Wilhuff Tarkin (voiced by Stephen Stanton). For Ahsoka to be tried by a military tribunal, Yoda agrees to oust her from the Jedi Order. When she's later offered reentry after Anakin proves her innocence, she refuses.

This once again shows just far, in the end, Yoda allows himself and the order as a whole to fall. There was a time when the grand master would have stood up against external pressure and trusted his own instincts. But in a time of war, when the Jedi are little more than weapons of the ruling class, he crumbles.

Yoda vs. Palpatine

The Jedi are pretty uncomfortable when Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) appoints a fearful Anakin Skywalker to be his representative on the Council. Thanks to some Sith-level manipulations and creepy visions of Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) dying in childbirth, this relationship between Anakin and Palpatine leads to the creation of Darth Vader, the Sith lord Yoda had feared would come in the future.

As Jedi are being slaughtered under Palpatine's Order 66, Yoda and Obi-Wan conspire to take down Darth Sidious and Darth Vader. At the Galactic Senate, Yoda faces off with the yellow-eyed Palpatine and finds his opponent super-charged with Force lightning. Given that Palpatine had been clouding Yoda's mind — and the minds of all the Jedi — for years, maybe even decades, to avoid detection, it's satisfying to see Yoda give it his all, flipping around the Senate chambers while Palpatine laughs like a maniac. It's his one last chance to stop Palpatine. At first, they seem evenly matched, but Yoda soon concedes defeat, accepts his failure, and flees for his life.

Yoda's exile

Upon defeat, Yoda places himself into exile, claiming that he had failed. Before he runs off to Dagobah, he witnesses the birth of Luke and Leia (both played by Aidan Barton as babies) and the death of Padmé. Sensing the twins' connection to the Force, Yoda helps to separate and hide the babies. Yoda also plans on training with the Force spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, and he passes this knowledge on to Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

Because of this, Obi-Wan uses his time hiding out on Tatooine to also learn how to maintain his identity after death, which means that like Qui-Gon and Yoda, he'sable to pass on wisdom long after he's gone. While Obi-Wan makes himself comfortable in the sandy desert of Tatooine, Yoda makes the swampy planet of Dagobah his home. He makes a modest house there among all the little creatures of the muck, waiting for the Skywalker twins to grow up and inevitably fix the mess he helped to create. Though he's physically stuck on the planet, Yoda is able to keep an eye on surviving Jedi throughout the galaxy, helping them to avoid the Inquisitors who seek to snuff them out.

Passing on what he knew and passing on

Around two decades after Yoda's defeat at the hands of Palpatine, a grown-up Luke Skywalker goes to Dagobah in search of a great warrior, the Jedi who'd taught his own mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). He finds Yoda, who doesn't appear to be much more than a senile hermit. But soon, Luke finds out that Yoda used to be the stuff of legend — powerful and wise, revered and feared. Plus, he could be pretty dang cryptic when he wants to be, but ultimately, he proves an excellent teacher for Luke, mentoring the young Jedi in the ways of the Force.

However, their relationship has its ups and downs. During his training, Luke ignores Yoda's advice and tries to confront Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) when he senses his friends are in danger. He doesn't return to Dagobah until a year later, when he finds Yoda ill and dying. With Yoda gone, Luke becomes the very last of the Jedi, so Yoda asks him to pass on what he knows to others and become a mentor as Yoda had been for centuries. With his final breath, Yoda also drops the bomb that there is another Skywalker.

Upon his death, Yoda becomes one with the Force. But he isn't gone, thanks to his training to maintain his identity after death. Yoda appears again, many years later, when Luke is at his lowest during his own exile in "Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi," and he uses his wisdom to help restore Luke Skywalker's faith in the Force.

Is Yoda Grogu's father?

Since Grogu was first revealed in "The Mandalorian" Season 1, a major question has lingered among fans: Is Yoda his father? In short, probably not? We don't know. However, that's in no way definitive, and there's a lot of evidence that suggests he may well be. Grogu was raised in the Jedi Temple in the days before the fall of the Republic, and if he is truly 50 at the start of "The Mandalorian" — which takes place in 9 ABY (After the Battle of Yavin) — then he would have been born about 41 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin). At that time, both Yoda and Yaddle would have been stationed at the Jedi Temple, making a relationship between the two entirely feasible. Unless Yoda's species reproduces with members who are not of their own species or reproduces in a very different way than humans do (which, in the "Star Wars" universe, is possible), it seems possible that the two masters are Grogu's parents.

However, this isn't a closed case. In his life as a grand master, Yoda beats the drum for the no-attachments dogma that defines the Jedi Order in the waning years of the Republic. As a champion of this ideology, it seems unlikely that he would want to start a family. There are documented cases in the non-canonical Legends timeline of Jedi having wives and children if their species is endangered, but in the modern canon, there's very little to suggest that's still a thing. Until we learn more about how Grogu escaped the Jedi Temple and where he went after, his parentage will likely remain a mystery.

A complicated legacy

All in all, Yoda leaves a complicated legacy in the "Star Wars" history books. On the one hand, he's one of the greatest Jedi who ever lived, guiding the order for hundreds of years and through numerous crises. According to the "Star Wars" encyclopedias, he's responsible for training approximately 20,000 Jedi in his lifetime.

At the same time, Yoda is the grand master who leads the Jedi Order to its doom. He willingly turns a religion ostensibly centered on peace and harmony into a weapon in a territorial war, and by the time he realizes how far off the path he'd strayed, he's too late.

Fortunately, Yoda is able to find some redemption in his twilight years and beyond. By training Luke Skywalker — both as a young man and an older, disillusioned Jedi — he helps set the galaxy back on the right path. When you really listen to Yoda's words on Dagobah in "The Empire Strikes Back," you can tell that he's rediscovered the true beauty of the Force. "Luminous beings are we," he tells Luke, with full reverence and not an ounce of hubris. "Not this crude matter."