Cobra Kai Does Star Wars Better Than Star Wars
“The greatest teacher failure is,” Master Yoda said to Luke. The Jedi Temple was burning down behind them. All seemed lost and Luke was defeated. “We are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.”
When The Last Jedi came out, the world was divided. Had Star Wars gone off the edge? Or did Ryan Johnson build a story everyone could relate to? The perfect Star Wars movie. No matter what side you are on, the scene on Ahch-To with Grand Master Yoda was emotional.
Yoda passes on one final lesson to his student: Mistakes are the greatest lesson a teacher can pass to their student. They will advance beyond the limitations of their masters.
The theme of The Last Jedi is poignant in the scene, but the rest of the film falls short of delivering it. In 3 minutes the story is told, and the other 2 hours are overgrown hedges needed to be trimmed.
Spoiler Warning for (Light) spoilers for Seasons 1–3 of Cobra Kai
Starting and finishing Cobra Kai season 3 in a single day was the best way to start my new year. Meaningful fan service, epic fight scenes, and emotional stake risen to the level of great television. Even better, the story was captivating from beginning to end. Why? The themes were present throughout each episode, building characters that learn Yoda’s lesson.
Johnny Lawrence is far from flawless and Daniel LaRusso isn’t much better. Their teaching styles were off the rails in the first two seasons, and they created students who made mistakes just like them. Bad mistakes. Mistakes that cost some their normalcy, others their freedom, and for one- his ability to fight.
Season 3 does not shy away from our flawed teachers. Johnny and Daniel learn what it takes to become the sensei’s they need to be to destroy Kreese once and for all. Johnny impacts his student’s lives, not because he was perfect and passes that perfection along, but because he can admit his defeats.
Defeat does (occasionally) exist in this dojo.
Those defeats give us a reason to stand up and fight harder. Miguel has to stand up and fight once again. Sam has to face her fear. Hawk has to reject his new self in order to save his soul. Each character plays a pivotal role in building the theme of Cobra Kai. This is true storytelling.
Although his intensions were good, Ryan Johnson failed to build his movie around the central theme. He destroyed characters and the transformations they made throughout previous films. He developed inconsistencies for the sake of his vision. There was a lack of truth to the Galaxy Far Far Away.
Failure was always a large part of Star Wars. Obi-Wan failed Anakin in the Prequels, but he rectified it when he taught Luke. These themes are present in the original films, and yet Ryan Johnson fails to utilize them. There is a lack of focus in the 8th Skywalker film and the sequel trilogy as a whole.
Cobra Kai, however, uses every storytelling method at their disposal to build a theme. Season 3 concludes our 3-season journey of teachers learning to teach. Students learning to learn. The season finishes incredible journeys that represent true martial arts and human character. Even parents must learn to use their mistakes and ensure their children do not fall down the same rabbit holes. Sure, they’ll fall down different rabbit holes, but those failures will only serve them later on.
What I love most about Cobra Kai is that despite building on the originals, they do not shy away from them. Mr. Miyagi and his own flaws help Daniel learn what’s important. Ali helps Johnny realize who he is and has to be for his son, for Miguel, and for his future with Carmen. The movies are the cornerstone of Cobra Kai. The writers embrace their parentage and captivated me with scenes that brought me back to my old home in the original trilogy while adding new stories and lessons.
The sequel trilogy in Star Wars fails in this light. The new trilogy neglects the old characters and the transformations they made. They do this while failing to create new, exciting characters that can learn from the mistakes of their teachers. There is a reason fans are divided. While simple Star Wars tropes are followed, the essence of Star Wars is lost. Thankfully, The Mandalorian rectifies this with two incredible seasons, but we can’t ignore the failure of Episode VII, VIII, and IX.
What can we learn from this? Well, just like Johnny and Daniel learn from their mistakes, writers can learn from the successes and failures of contemporary storytelling.
Cobra Kai succeeds because each individual arc has merits and lessons in themselves while still developing the central themes of the series. Johnny and Daniel are true teachers because they continue to learn. They impart wisdom, sure, but no teacher’s job is done. They will always be learning. Kreese also has an arc of his own, and we learn about his backstory. It serves as a reminder that not all teachers do what they have to do to better themselves and therefore their students. Again, storytelling must serve the larger purpose of the piece. Every piece of Cobra Kai serves the whole.
Star Wars is disconnected. Whereas the original trilogy, and yes, even the prequel trilogy finds their grooves and stick to them, the sequel trilogy looses itself in every subsequent film. There is a lack of a whole. When the final credits rolled on The Rise of Skywalker, no audience member felt truly completed. The last episode of Cobra Kai season 3, however, is a revelation.
This doesn’t mean Star Wars is finished. As we learn from Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso, our two Karate Kids:
No one is defined by their mistakes. We are defined by our willingness to learn from them.