Improv Lessons from Yoda

What do you mean, Yoda was actually dead all along? First up, read this:


This is fun, but obviously nonsense. In order to seek out levels of symbolism and sophistication that the Star Wars story simply doesn’t need, the author of this list assumes that George Lucas wasn’t making the whole thing up as he went along, and even draws on aspects of the character of Yoda as he is presented in the offensively dire prequels – as a bouncy green retard.

But check out the penultimate paragraph: ‘Luke is actually helping Yoda’s spirit complete a crossover that Yoda’s body already had. This is an essential component to most any story?’ Wait, really? Most any story? The Sixth Sense and Ghost are the two most obvious examples of ‘spirits with unfinished business’ stories, and there are countless others, but I like the notion that most any story is about a bodily transition preceding a spiritual one.

Most stories can be described as ‘liminal’ – a word that comes from the Latin word for threshold – in that they describe a human transitioning from one state of being to another. The character undergoes an inner change. Often, of course, they go on a literal journey as well as a metaphorical one. They either physically move to a new environment, or they meet new people, or do new things. What I particularly like is the notion that the physical change precedes the spiritual one.

In Luke Skywalker’s story, he goes on a massive adventure, and destroys the Death Star, long before his spiritual journey – of confronting (and forgiving) his father – even begins. The non-equivalence of the physical change and the spiritual one sets up what in storytelling terms is called the ‘false conclusion’, when the protagonist appears to have achieved everything they set out to do, but has not yet changed as a human being.

This gives us a lot to think about. I believe this principle can help to improve both the stories we create and ourselves as performers of those stories. In improv, we are encouraged to act first, and justify afterwards. If we are prepared to make the physical change without knowing what the subsequent emotional changes will be, we are taking a massive and thrilling risk that will allow us to identify completely with the characters we have created. If we want to work in the moment, we cannot begin with the protagonist’s inner change and work backwards, the way actors and screenwriters are imagined to do. (Steve Roe talks about this way of working in his interview.)

We must the story become.


One Comment on “Improv Lessons from Yoda”

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