In Star Wars canon, there are few people who could go toe-to-toe with Yoda in terms of their connection to the cosmic Force. In his prime, the Grand Master could easily take on the Chosen One and even defeat him. So, why did he flee from his duel with Palpatine at the end of Episode III – Revenge of the Sith?
In the climactic sequence of the last movie in the Prequel Trilogy, Yoda goes to face the Emperor as Obi-Wan Kenobi makes his way to Mustafar to take care of his apprentice. This was a significant clash between the light side of the Force and the dark, as the two adversaries represented the epitome of their respective orders. Yoda had been preparing for centuries to face off against the Sith and Palpatine had worked for years to bring his plans to fruition. Suffice it to say, the parallel duels would go on to determine the fate of the galaxy for years to come.
Alas, the newly anointed Emperor overwhelmed Yoda, forcing the Grand Master to flee the scene with Senator Organa. Over the years, a lot of fans have wondered how Palpatine could possibly overpower him. And while there isn’t a definitive answer to this question, the canon actually gives us some hints as to what really went down in Yoda’s mind in those defining moments.
Of course, the most reasonable explanation is what the Emperor himself claims before the fight ensues. “Your arrogance blinds you, Master Yoda. Now you’ll experience the full power of the Dark Side!” Palpatine announces before striking his opponent with Force Lightning.
But there may be more depth to this decision to run away than we originally thought. In the official novelization for Revenge of the Sith, written by Matthew Stover, it’s revealed that Yoda suddenly realizes that the Sith have grown stronger since the days of the last war. In fact, he understands that at this point, there was no defeating Palpatine due to his growing strength in the ways of the dark side, not to mention that the light side had also weakened thanks to Order 66.
Here’s an excerpt from the novel that explores Yoda’s thoughts at that moment:
“Finally, he saw the truth. This truth: that he, the avatar of light, Supreme Master of the Jedi Order, the fiercest, most implacable, most devastatingly powerful foe the darkness had ever known… just didn’t have it. He had never had it. He had lost before he started… before he was born. The Sith had changed. They had grown, had adapted, had invested a thousand years’ intensive study into every aspect of not only the Force but Jedi lore itself, in preparation for this exact day. The Sith had remade themselves. They had become new… The Jedi had spent the same millennium trying to re-fight the last war. The new Sith could not be destroyed by a lightsaber; they could not be burned away by any torch of the Force.”
Within the Star Wars lore, though, the twist actually fits well into the prophecy of the Chosen One, as Yoda was never meant to defeat Palpatine. That was always Anakin’s destiny. Or at least, whomever the living Force chose to fulfill it, as was revealed in The Rise of Skywalker.