We all know the line by now: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
But… what if that was the wrong thing to tell Luke? Actually, that may not be the right question, but bear with me. Because there’s a lot we don’t know about how long Luke trained on Dagobah, other than it wasn’t very long. It certainly not long enough for everything Yoda taught Luke to sink in.
I’ve seen this in my own martial arts journey. My teacher will tell me something. Then tell me again. And again. She may try to say it in a different way or speak to my training partner, instead. One night, she may get fed up and bark at me (or at someone else). And then… one day, I might hear the exact same words from someone else. Or something just clicks. A light will blink on and suddenly it’s “why didn’t you say this before?” Well, of course, my teacher has said it before. I just wasn’t ready to hear it.
Part of the problem with Yoda’s advise to Luke isn’t in the way Yoda said it. This isn’t a dig at the way Yoda talks. I would never complain about that. No, the problem may be in how Luke appears to have interpreted it, by the time we find him on Ahch-To.
When I’m on the mat and my teacher demonstrates a technique, especially if the application is a bit out of the box, she doesn’t just tell us to do it. She tells us to try it. That’s all she can really ask of us. Because not everyone will get a technique the first time around. Or even the hundredth. Or the thousandth.
The point is not that you don’t try. You do. And then you try again. And again. You do it over and over again. And yes, even when I think I’ve gotten a technique down, I will screw it up again. Or maybe it works fine with lower ranked students but falls apart when I work with one of my sempais. It’s when I give up, for whatever reason, (and I’ve given up plenty of times) that my teacher wants to know why.
That seems to be what Yoda was getting at, when he appears to Luke, on Ahch-To. The problem with “Do or do not” is what if you “do it” and you fail? Then what? Unfortunately, this is where Luke suffers from not having access to a teacher. Sadly, the nature of the Star Wars galaxy is such that, as far as we know, there isn’t anyone Luke can go to, for advice. Or, worse, anyone to make suggestions or point to a different way of doing things. There’s no one he can go to, to deepen his training in the Force.
Obi-wan, Yoda and Anakin may have become Force Ghosts, after “Return of the Jedi”, but from what I can tell, from “The Last Jedi”, they hadn’t been around much. Or… maybe they were around and Luke wasn’t ready to hear them, before he cut himself off from the Force.
This is not to suggest that Luke feels as if he’s learned everything he needed to know, from Obi-wan and Yoda. We know he didn’t. He couldn’t have, given the short amount of time he trained. Unfortunately Fate-of-the-Galaxy-type time constraints are bad for any sort of life practice. Which is what learning the ways of the Force is, in a way.
My teacher’s teacher is fond of saying that there is no graduation from aikido. “Except, maybe, when you die,” is something akin to the phrase he uses. But in Star Wars, we know that even death doesn’t lead to true mastery of the Force. Even in death, there are things for a Jedi to learn, if he or she is open to them. We can hope that, in death, Luke finds a way to continue trying to learn as much as he can. Especially since he appears to have left Rey in a similar predicament.