For all of the sci-fi-loving Jews out there, happy Star Wars Day! It may seem odd that a Jewish blog would produce a post for this secular (ok, cult) holiday, but the reality is that the names, story lines and even vocabulary of the “Star Wars” universe have important connections to Judaism and to its teachings. Recall C3PO’s dissatisfaction as he proclaims, “We seem to be made to suffer. That’s our lot in life.” Apparently this protocol droid fluent in over 6 million forms of communication is most comfortable conversing in Jewish guilt.
For those of you who have not taken a few hours to immerse yourself in the universe of Star Wars, let me give you a brief synopsis. The two trilogies follow Anakin Skywalker’s life from a young child to Jedi Knight and keeper of the peace to Sith Lord bent on Galactic domination. The heart of the story line is the struggle of good vs. evil. In Episodes I, II and III we witness the internal struggle between Anakin’s noble aspirations to be a keeper of the peace within the republic, a Jedi Knight, and his own desires and ambitions. The latter eventually wins out, and Anakin leads an army of storm troopers, loosely based on the storm troopers of Nazi Germany, on a tirade to replace the republic with a dictatorship. The culmination of this effort is the virtual annihilation of the Jedi Order. In Episodes IV, V and VI, a scrappy coalition of resistance fighters led by Anakin’s son, Luke, seek to overthrow the newly established empire and resurrect the republic. In the final chapter, Luke becomes the only surviving Jedi and is, presumably, the founder of a new Jedi Order.
The term “Jedi,” some have argued, is based on the German word “Jude” meaning Jew. The Jedi are portrayed as being somewhere between UN peacekeepers and monks dedicated to achieving a greater intellectual and spiritual understanding of the universe. In essence, Jedi Knights are the embodiment of Jewish philosophy; they study and work to achieve universal peace and prosperity and stand up to fight for the little guy. Indeed, as the Galactic Storm Troopers destroy the Jedi’s temple and massacre its residents, you can even see parallels to our people’s storied history as the quintessential victims of persecution.
Moreover, when the wise Jedi Master Yoda, a 900 year old Jedi with a bald head and a propensity to talk about the antics of youth and lament how old he feels welcomes a stranger, Luke Skywalker, into his home, he may not be serving matzah-ball soup, but it is not hard to imagine that he could. In fact Yoda’s name is close to the Hebrew root “yeda,” which translates to “knowing.” It is not hard to imagine him telling tails of days gone by around the Jedi Council table. Does that describe any Jewish grandfathers you know? If you need further proof, the name of the mentor of both Anakin and Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, bares a striking resemblance to the Hebrew “k’nah vi,” which translates to “like a prophet.” Obi Wan undergoes a transformation into some kind of non-corporeal being gently exerting influence on events as they unfold. Sounds profit-esque to me.
As Star Wars Day falls on Shabbat this year, there are even more important themes to reflect on. In both our “real” world and in the Star Wars universe, the rise of evil is and was facilitated by the indignation and inaction of those who are not directly affected.
We should all strive to be like Yoda. We want to live to a ripe old age, accumulate knowledge, achieve great wisdom and stand up and fight evil and hatred when it stares us right in the face.
Shabbat Shalom and may the force be with you!