Pretty sure it’s this guy…
Let’s review his resume, shall we?
1. Presides over the complete and utter collapse of the Jedi order (with remarkable speed and thoroughness)
At the beginning of the PT, the Jedi order is essentially at their zenith of power and influence. I’m not sure how many they actually are – I’d guess they number somewhere in the triple digits. And this force of a few hundred people represents the complete and entire security force for the whole Republic (note that at the beginning of the story – the Republic has no standing army whatsoever, the Jedi are tasked with handling any and all threats). They are highly respected and esteemed, with their reputation for discipline, morality, and heroic achievement reaching even to actual slaves on non-Republic worlds in the outer rim (child slave Anakin is familiar with the Jedi and their traditions and reputation, despite being in circumstances which should make him among the galaxy’s most ignorant people).
As grand master of the Jedi order, Yoda is personally quite likely the single most powerful and influential person in the whole galaxy. Maybe one could say the chancellor of the Senate holds more nominal power – except that the Senate is seen as so overcome with bureaucratic stifling and its freedom of action presumed to be so limited that the second any trouble kicks up – the vote to invest all power into the hands of a dictator is nearly unanimous. Maybe one could argue that even at the kick-off of PM, Sidious has already surpassed Yoda in terms of raw force power and ability (as evidenced by his ability to keep himself and his conspiracy hidden from the Jedi’s perception) – except that he’s still undercover and nobody knows who he is as of the beginning of the films.
And what did he do with this power and influence? Lose it all, in quick and spectacular fashion. In the span of less than 10 years, his order is disgraced and in shambles – publicly reviled. His own former apprentice turned on him and joined the Sith (more on this below). Of the hundreds of Jedi whose lives he was responsible for, all are murdered except two (himself and Obi-Wan) and two potential trainees (Luke and Leia), all of whom are forced into hiding (this is a level of utterly thorough extermination that would make Genghis Khan jealous). He personally has to flee for his life to a remote, desolate swamp, where he will spend his remaining years in solitude, only seeing one other sentient being in person for the rest of his life (Luke).
I’m not sure any protagonist has ever been more soundly defeated than this. He (and his hundreds of Jedi) were completely out-maneuvered at every turn by literally one dude – a politician of no particular notoriety and reputation from a backwater nowhere system, who at any given time had exactly one single apprentice (who was always just taking orders and not contributing anything meaningful on the planning/scheming front). Sidious engineered a massive conspiracy at every level, including corrupting the Jedi order’s most notable and strongest potential recruit (whom Yoda himself identified as a risk and was keeping a close eye on – but more on that later), and it all passed right under Yoda’s nose without notice. Despite some vague senses that something may be up, he doesn’t put the pieces together until literally seconds before he is about to be executed. So much for the Jedi and their precognition. When it does occur to him that shit is hitting the fan, it’s already too late. He has no backup or contingency plan (despite the aforementioned foreboding sense of doom he previously expressed, it doesn’t seem that he ever considered any attempt to preserve or protect or obscure Jedi and/or Jedi assets from the Sith/Republic/Empire). During the “escape” at the end of RotS, it certainly appears that he and Obi-Wan and Organa are making shit up on the fly. Contrast this to Sidious who has backup plans for his backup plans for his backup plans. He always has a new apprentice in mind (Dooku after Maul, Anakin after him, Luke after him, Leia if that doesn’t work out, etc.), he has everything in place to execute Order 66 once he is discovered (which works basically flawlessly), he has a plan to then parlay the Jedi attempting to arrest him into a PR gain for himself at their expense… and oh, even after his own death in ROTJ, he has an elaborate cloning/preservation system in place to set up all of the events in the NT. Never has a villain more conclusively owned a hero than this.
2. Fails to notice/prevent his own apprentice from participating in the Sith conspiracy
As mentioned above, one of the key actors in the Sith conspiracy was his own former apprentice. As much as Yoda, just for the sake of being a Jedi master, should be able to recognize a potential defector in his ranks, he should especially see it coming from his own trainee. The apprentice/master relationship is repeatedly shown to be very close. Obi-Wan and Anakin, despite having a clear personality conflict and severe emotional baggage, are as close as brothers. Presumably it was similar for Yoda and Dooku, and yet, he still doesn’t see it coming. It’s one thing to be betrayed by an unknown entity you don’t see coming at all (Sidious). It’s slightly worse to be betrayed by a random nobody within your own organization. But it’s embarrassing as hell to be betrayed by your own former apprentice. There is literally nobody in the entire galaxy better equipped to sense something funny going on with Dooku, and he still doesn’t.
3. Fails to prevent Anakin from being turned to the dark side (despite having correctly predicted it would happen)
Above, we discussed a certain type of failure that might be summarized as “failure to detect, prevent, and prepare for various problems.” That’s a failure mode that most of us can somewhat relate to, and potentially excuse. Adequately preparing for every conceivable problem is hard – who among us hasn’t occasionally been blindsided or surprised by a horrible thing we never saw coming? Sometimes you step out into the street and out of nowhere you get hit by a bus – such is life.
But there’s a different sort of failure mode that looks more like “failure to prevent a bad outcome that you absolutely, completely, totally, saw coming, many years in advance.” And sure enough, Yoda has one of these too! It takes him a couple minutes with Anakin to come to the very correct conclusion that this kid is too old, too undisciplined, too full of fear and hate, and has too much raw power for training him in the ways of the Jedi to even remotely be considered a good idea. And he gives his ruling, he makes his decree: the boy will not be trained. Whew – there’s one potential problem avoided, right? Except not, because everyone in his organization promptly ignores this order. It seems from context that Qui-Gon probably would have trained him in secret if necessary, but he ends up dying, and Yoda apparently then grants the ancient Jedi tradition of the “dying wish exemption” to throw all the rules and logic and reason out the window and allow Anakin to be trained, regardless of the potential future cost, because everyone is sad. So much for the stoic, disciplined, emotionless Jedi, right? (Note that this is a recurring theme… for all the talk and reputation about the discipline of the Jedi, contrasted to the supposed overly-emotional and self-interested Sith, Sidious’ apprentices and recruited soldiers obey him without question, to their deaths, including following orders such as “kill these children” and “betray your former best friend,” throughout the entire PT right up until the very end of the OT; whereas the Jedi are basically constantly breaking the rules, undermining each other, and refusing to follow simple instructions.) This ends… exactly as everyone expected it to end. Anakin is the key cog in Sidious’ conspiracy, saving him from likely death or defeat at the hands of Mace Windu, setting in motion everything else that ends up going down. This isn’t an unknown unknown – this is the known unknown. This isn’t stepping into the street and getting leveled by a bus – this is stepping into the street, looking to your left, seeing a bus very far away bearing down on you at high speed, and staring directly at it as it levels you. This is finding a whole new way to fail.
4. Botches Luke’s training, nearly allowing the Empire to win in the OT, and directly leading to the problems/events of the NT
OK, sure, he may have completely and totally blown it in the PT – but that’s what the OT is for, right? Sidious and Vader are ultimately defeated by Luke – who was trained by Yoda, so it all works out in the end… right?
I’m not so sure. As far as I can tell, Luke succeeds in his quest in spite of, not because of, Yoda’s training/guidance. Recall that midway through his training on Dagobah, Luke has a scary dream, and asks Yoda about it. Rather than assuaging his fears, telling him to ignore it, emphasizing that the dark side may be messing with him, he basically says “Oh yeah, that’s probably an accurate vision – your friends are totally about to get killed – but you should ignore that and stay here anyway, because if you fight Vader right now you’ll die too.” Of course, anyone who knows anything about Luke’s character should know that’s exactly the wrong thing to say if you don’t want him to leave.
Luke promptly ignores Yoda’s advice (the latest in a long line of Jedi whom Yoda is incapable of persuading or controlling), goes to Bespin anyway, and proves Yoda’s prediction was ultimately incorrect. Luke himself doesn’t die (through a mixture of good luck and Vader’s sympathy) nor do his friends (Han was going to be delivered to Jabba alive regardless, Leia and Lando escape independently from Luke’s actions). This also leads to Luke discovering the truth about Vader, which, although painful in the moment, is absolutely necessary to advance the ultimate aim of turning Vader back to the light. What effect might this have on Luke’s personality and temperament? Throughout ROTJ he comes across as overly confident bordering on arrogant. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s about to overthrow the entire empire, himself, without any particular help from any of his “trainers.” Ignoring Yoda’s advice and defying his instructions was absolutely necessary for Luke to win.
Or at least, for it to appear as if Luke won, at the end of ROTJ. But then we have the NT to reckon with – when, a couple decades after what appeared to be a thorough and complete victory of light over dark, we’re basically right back to where we started again, with a giant empire-esque organization dominating the galaxy and blowing up planets, complete with a well-trained dark Jedi leading ops, while the light side has basically nothing going for it whatsoever. Midway through TFA, the viewer is probably confused and asking two main questions – where did this new empire come from, exactly? And what’s the deal with this Kylo Ren guy?
Well, the First Order came from, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, another one of Sidious’ contingency plans that all the Jedi completely and totally missed. It never occurred to Yoda (or ghost Obi-Wan or Luke) that maybe he left something in place, somewhere far off, to rebuild and try again. This is related to the arrogance and hubris of the Jedi in general (of which Yoda is their leader). But the arrogance and hubris of Luke specifically comes back to bite everyone in the form of Ben Solo. Throughout the NT, Luke himself basically admits as such – he wasn’t actually ready to form a new Jedi Order, he didn’t have the skillset, he was overly confident, leading to having him end up in a scenario where he faced the choice between murdering his nephew in his sleep, or having him turn to the dark side. Perhaps a well trained and more disciplined Jedi would have found a better path – or not attempted such a difficult task in the first place. But that’s not Luke. Despite being burned himself multiple times by not properly anticipating Sith contingency plans, Yoda completely fails to pass this lesson on to Luke, who then repeats his same mistake.
5. Isn’t even all that good at personal combat
But perhaps all of this isn’t really Yoda’s fault. After all, he may be the leader of the Jedi – but that doesn’t necessarily make him personally responsible for any and all failures of the order itself, does it? We don’t know much about how he came to occupy that position (I know the EU probably has stuff on this, but I’m only considering the films for this analysis). Perhaps a flawed selection process is ultimately to blame here. Perhaps Yoda was an outstanding Jedi Knight who got peter-principled into upper management… promoted to the level of his own incompetence. Perhaps this was unavoidable.
But as far as I can tell, he isn’t even that good at doing basic front-line Jedi things. The Jedi are all about settling issues via personal combat, and he’s the only main character we see attempt this multiple times and never succeed. In AOTC, he fights Dooku (his own apprentice!) to a draw (after Dooku had already successfully prevailed over Anakin and Obi-Wan!). In ROTS, he attempts to take out Sidious, and fails, ultimately being forced to flee for his life and retreat from Coruscant entirely. Even at the basic Jedi task of killing dudes with a laser sword, he fails.
Overall, it’s hard to imagine any good-guy character failing any more spectacularly across a series of 9 films than Yoda does. He presides over the complete and total downfall of the Jedi order, from the most prestigious and powerful and respected organization in the galaxy, to a single girl hiding away from the world on a moisture farm in Tattooine. Billions of lives are lost in the struggle, the vast majority completely innocent. All of this rests at Yoda’s feet. He has a lot to answer for.