Sometimes you'll be watching a movie and an old wise man will appear on the screen. He will say little, but those few words will be full of sage advice that will guide the hero on his journey. You may even find yourself quoting him later.
What is easy to forget is that behind that wise old man is just a hack Hollywood screenwriter, and that those ancient words of wisdom were thrown in on the third draft, at four in the morning, after half a pound of cocaine.
Hollywood loves it when wisdom comes from unexpected places. There is always a homeless man around to teach an uppity grad student about love or janitor or limo driver to offer some folksy homespun wisdom.
More often than not, Morgan Freeman is involved.
That's why The Empire Strikes Back introduces Yoda as a rubbery little nuisance, seeming at first to be the comic relief, until we realize this wacky little gremlin is the spiritual and philosophical heart of the trilogy. The wisdom that comes from this troll sets the foundation for a creed which is more adored and revered today than many religions.
And it's pretty much all shit.
Take Yoda's chilling warning to Luke about the consequences of his decision to go to Cloud City:
"If you go now, help them you could, but you would destroy ALL for which they have fought and suffered..."
Set aside that this is vague to the point of incoherence, it consists of two separate clauses which are both proven completely untrue within minutes of Yoda saying them.
You're full of shit, old man!
The marginal "help" Luke provides to his friends consists in absorbing a Washington Generals-level beatdown from Vader, thus creating a painful and humiliating diversion to distract the Sith Lord from his friends' escape. Luke showing up at Cloud City has NO negative consequences for anything the Rebellion was fighting for or anything else we can see for that matter.
And let's not forget that Luke also "helped" them pick up Lando Calrissian, the guy who eventually joined the Rebellion and BLEW UP THE SPACE STATION CARRYING THE EMPEROR. In other words, the guy who ended up winning them the war.
Great call, Yoda. With those predictive skills, you must have spent many a long, hard day at the race track.
But even this comes after Luke's training, which largely consisted of slogans like:
"Do, or do not. There is no try."
Nonsensical lines like that one make Yoda the Yogi Berra of the galaxy. He seems to have picked up an incorrect definition of the word "try" at whatever community college he attended. You cannot do without trying first. It is impossible. If he'd said "get drunk, or do not, there is no drinking" it would have made as much sense.
"WOOOOO! Pride or no pride, I will get drunk."
Or was he just telling Luke to believe in himself, to plunge ahead against all odds, regardless of appearances? After all, Yoda said the line after Luke expressed doubt in his abilities. Well, we're all for self-confidence, but Luke's whole problem was that he overestimated his own abilities, and was charging into the situation without stopping to train first. The entire rest of Luke's training revolved around breaking him of that.
Which brings us right back to the trip to Cloud City that Yoda tries to talk him out of. Wasn't that just Luke trying to seize the initiative and "do" instead of hiding on a planet with the swamp rats and doubting himself?
Despite being generally the least useless of the forces of good, Gandalf is not immune to delivering little wisdom turds like these:
Frodo: It's a pity Bilbo didn't kill [Gollum] when he had the chance.
Gandalf: Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo's hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.
No, someone should have really, really killed Gollum. It's precious that Gandalf wants a little Hobbit to keep his innocence, but the price of that innocence is thousands of other beings dying in a war over The Ring. Gollum is the one who told the bad guys where to find the ring, and later it's his betrayal that gets the ring within inches of being captured by Sauron (thanks to him feeding Frodo to a giant spider).
Though, we may have done the same thing.
Also, why is Gandalf so uptight about killing people, when according to his own words:
"End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path... One that we all must take. The gray rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass... And then you see it. White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."
Hell, you'd be doing him a favor! Only we see just minutes later that Gandalf and the good guys are delivered from their fate by, well, dead people. Dead people who have not actually been resting in beautiful fields, as much as trapped in a dark, dank cave for millennia.
It turned out they had been trapped there due to an old curse. So, no, Gandalf. In the Lord of the Rings universe you don't get to see those "white shores" if some third party, without your knowledge, casts the right spell. Better hope you never pissed off any powerful wizards when you were alive!
#4. Mr. Miyagi
It was the 1980s and American spirits were at a nadir. We were still heavily ensconced in the Cold War, and recovering from a recession. Skinny, vaguely ethnic kids across the country were getting their asses kick by blond alpha-douches. America needed something to believe in.
America, circa 1985.
Then a man with crazy moves and ancient wisdom emerged from the most unlikely of places (Happy Days) and taught America how to believe in itself again. That man was the Fonz.
But we were also introduced to Mr. Miyagi, the mentor every hapless kid dreamed of. He gives you a classic car, beats up high schoolers for you and speaks in a broken English that alternately sounds hilarious and wise. Between Miyagi and Yoda, we want to know what it is about clearly spoken English that interferes with sage pontificating. Quote:
"No such thing bad student only bad teacher."
No. That's not even sort of right, Mr. Miyagi. We are not blaming bad teachers for Hitler, Timothy McVeigh and Spencer Pratt. Each of these guys had probably dozens of teachers in their life and we highly doubt they were all assholes.
And kids, whatever classes or karate trainings you try in your life, you'll only get out of it what you're willing to put in, even if your teacher is a cyborg with Bruce Lee's resurrected brain.
All Rights Reserved on that idea.
Do not write off your failure to a bad teacher.
The thing is, Miyagi knows this from his own life experience. In Karate Kid 2 we meet Miyagi's nemesis, Sato, the guy who drove Miyagi out of Japan. How does Miyagi know Sato? They were both students of the same teacher, Miyagi's father! In what must be the most telling statement in the Karate Kid franchise, Miyagi essentially says that his father was a miserable prick, and apparently so is Miyagi.
And while we're here, we'd like to point out another piece of wisdom that doesn't sit well. Upon Daniel finding his Medal of Honor, Miyagi tells him:
"Daniel-san, this [points to heart] say you brave, this [points to Medal of Honor] say you lucky."
The Medal of Honor is apparently the same as a four leaf clover.
This is one of the real bad habits of movie wise men. It's not enough for Miyagi to say he won a medal due to sheer luck. No, he has to phrase it as an inarguable law of the universe: Every Medal of Honor recipient who put their life on the line in defense of their beloved country is just a lucky asshole.
But, we guess Mr. Miyagi is a fictional character who made fictional heroic sacrifices so he's entitled to his fictional opinion.