A Strategist, Yoda Was Not: A Re-evaluation

By William Treuting

As an admitted fan of the Star Wars Clone War Era, I enjoyed ML Cavanaugh’s evaluation of Yoda as a strategist. I agree with many aspects the argument: Yoda’s intelligence failed to detect the nature of the Sith and their role in the rising threat of the Trade Federation, the Confederacy of Independent Systems, and the transition into the Galactic Empire. Without proper intelligence, Yoda was subsequently outmaneuvered and his institution was destroyed beneath him. 

The issue that I have with this chapter was how it chose to contextualize Yoda’s actions, his role as the leader of the Jedi Order, and the nature of the enemy. Both political and military strategies are presented in unison. The author states, “If Yoda had performed relatively better than Palpatine as a strategist, then the Jedi and Republic would have at least survived and not fallen to the Empire.” However, Palpatine was not a military opponent, but a political threat to the Galactic Republic. The author portrays Yoda’s political ineptness as intertwined with his military abilities, which distorts the analysis of him as a military strategist. Additionally, the chapter opens up a potential debate into the nature of a civil-military relationship that is not addressed.

Although the Sith were the sworn enemy of the Jedi Order, the purpose of the Jedi was not solely to battle the Sith; rather, it was to preserve and defend the Galactic Republic. The Jedi were bound to defend a democratic institution in the same manner in which members of the United States military swear to uphold and defend the Constitution. While not a military order, the Jedi were trained in military tactics and strategies to be employed when necessary (this is why many Jedi are referred to as “General” by the clone-troopers). Given this understanding, the role of the Jedi can be equated to that of an officer corps in our society (although a very hands on, “lead from the front,” officer corps). Thus, while it was the Jedi’s personal mission to destroy the Sith, Yoda was still bound to serve the whims of a democratic institution. It was this democratic institution that appointed Palpatine as the Supreme Chancellor and later gave him the emergency power to raise an army. Palpatine did not become emperor by force; the democratic institution surrendered its power to him. Under these circumstance, how was Yoda—a servant to the Galactic Republic—supposed to defend an institution that was entirely willing to destroy itself.

Furthermore, the author notes how Yoda failed to prevent the destruction of the Jedi after Palpatine issued the infamous Order 66. If we accept the notion that the Jedi were members of the Galactic Republic’s officer corps, then Order 66 is more akin to an internal military purge—reminiscent of Stalin’s purge of the Red Army—rather than an attack from an external enemy. Again, under these circumstances, how was Yoda—a servant to the Galactic Republic—supposed to defend the Jedi Order from the same institution they were sworn to protect. This begs the questions: how was Yoda supposed to defend the Republic under these circumstances? How are military leaders, sworn to defend democratic principles, supposed to act when the democratic institution begins to subvert itself? The implications behind these questions brings up a discussion of the civil-military relationship in a democracy that the author fails to properly address. 

This chapter would be better served if it oriented itself toward examining Yoda as a military strategist. The author’s comment regarding Yoda’s failure to capture Count Dooku in Episode II brings up an interesting argument regarding the moral dilemma that commanders face in life-and-death situations. Additionally, the Clone Wars television series offers a plethora of case studies to examine Yoda’s abilities as a military strategist. While I can agree that Yoda failed as a political strategist, there is more to be discussed regarding his ability as a military leader. 

  1. This should be in the book. One, I understood everything you said, and two, it makes complete sense, and I have near zero the understanding you have on the topic. Awesome analysis!

  2. This should be in the book. One, I understood everything you said, and two, it makes complete sense, and I have near zero the understanding you have on the topic. Awesome analysis!

  3. I find it quite amazing that an analysis of a fictional saga can generate great discussions and ideas very applicable to present realities. Your analysis would fit nicely as a counterpoint to the vignettes in SSB. Solid points clearly stated, William.

  4. William – I appreciate your review of this essay / chapter and the way in which you draw attention to civil-military aspects of the conversation that are missed in the base chapter. Of course a substantial theme within the Star Wars universe, and particularly the prequels, was failure of an empire and a parallel with the Roman empire. Thus the setting brings up a host of issues related to how a civilian-controlled military works when the civilian leadership itself is failing to point of corruption … issues that (Lord Willing) will not have to deal with ourselves. However, we should also note that U.S. officers swear an allegiance to defend the constitution, not a party, institution, person or billet; even as individuals may seek to subvert the constitutional institutions civilian control of the military does not mean that the military is obligated to follow any individual as he does this.

    Further, we ought to be careful that we don’t draw too fine a line between “political” and “military” strategy. While that may be consistent with a Samuel Huntington model of civil-military relations, it has been heavily criticized (see, for example, Hew Strachan’s Direction of War or Bill Rapp’s Civil-Military Relations https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/issues/Autumn_2015/5_rapp.pdf). Military strategists needs to be aware of the political implications of their operations, to include the force structure they are employing and at time may need to constrain the (in isolation) military effective operation in order to address political goals. To the example at hand, the choice to employ a clone army (without any apparent debate over the implications or risk of this choice) and the apparent willingness to enable the Jedi Order to serve as its leaders are all questionable decisions by military AND political standards.