May 26, 2005
‘Star Wars’ for Jews
I was out communing with the nerds last weekend, contributing to the $158.5 million record four-day opening for "Revenge of the Sith." Now that the series is over and done with (at least until George Lucas launches his live-action "Star Wars" television series), I began reflecting on all things Jewish in the saga set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Even though Lucas considers himself a "Buddhist Methodist," and many of the themes from the series are inspired by the universal mythic structure explored by writer Joseph Campbell, there are some elements in the series that are undeniably Jewish.
Is Darth Vader a Kohen?
Even though it's too small to see on screen, part of Darth Vader's chestplate features three lines of Hebrew, one of which appears to be upside down. What the lines say is a matter of much online debate among Jewish "Star Wars" fans. On TheForce.net, which features photos of the Hebrew script in question, one blogger believes it's a play on a section from Exodus 16 about repentance, while another thinks the lines read: "His actions/deeds will not be forgiven until he is proven innocent" and "One shall be regarded innocent until he is proven guilty."
May the Fast Be With You
Much like nonpracticing Jews, many of the folks in the "Star Wars" universe invoke their belief in the Force, a God-like energy that permeates every living thing, typically when a situation seems dire or when luck is needed. And even though there aren't that many Jedi, the only people who seem to practice this faith on a day-to-day basis, the Order has an opulent temple.
Once Anakin Skywalker was done offing the Jedi order in "Sith," I pondered why they would have bothered to construct such an obscenely large facility, especially considering that each time it's featured in the films the structure is obviously not being filled to capacity. Then it dawned on me: the High Holidays.
Shylock in Space
Lucas was criticized for being fairly politically incorrect with his aliens in "The Phantom Menace," from the Japanese-sounding Neimodians and the grammatically strained Jamaican gobbledygook of the Gungans. But the character most offensive to Jews was the flying alien Watto, the bearded, Eastern European-accented slave owner of the Skywalker family, who comes off as a greedy Jewish merchant. To paraphrase Jar Jar Binks: Mesa farklempt.
Yoda: In the 'Know'
The name of the pint-sized Jedi Muppet, voiced by Jewish actor-director Frank Oz, translates as "the one who knows" in Hebrew. Yes, but when that knowledge is delivered in a way that's reminiscent of a bad fortune cookie, it's difficult to take seriously.
Anakin Skywalker's story is quintessentially Jewish. He starts off as a cute kid everyone thinks will grow up to be the messiah. When he finishes studying with the rabbi (Obi-Wan Kenobi), he disappoints everyone by dropping out of the shul and falling in with the wrong crowd. In his old age he ends up a ba'al teshuvah.
C3PO, Bar Mitzvah Boy
After the Rebel Alliance landing party is captured by the Ewoks on Endor in "Return of the Jedi," Luke Skywalker levitates the chair C3PO is sitting in to convince the fuzzy creatures that the protocol droid is a god. The only thing missing from this scene: a round of "Hava Nagila" and Ewoks dancing in circles.
Jewish Chicks Kick Butt
In the prequels, we have Natalie Portman, an Israeli-born Jew, playing Luke and Leia's mother, Padmé Naberrie Amidala. While she fought beasties and looked fabulous doing it in a slinky white cat suit in "Attack of the Clones," Amidala never displayed the same feistiness that made Leia stand out in the original films.
Carrie Fisher, Jewish on her estranged father's side, played against the Jewish American Princess stereotype as the gun-toting, take-charge Princess Leia Organa. Never one to shy away from a fight, Leia, in a very Judith-like way, seizes on an opportunity and strangles Jabba the Hutt to save her own people in "Return of the Jedi."
Even if the "Star Wars" saga wasn't written specifically with Jews in mind, the theme of good versus evil set in an alien universe speaks to the American Jewish experience. Like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, we must often choose between the comfortable complacency of assimilation and the risks associated with membership in a noble but highly misunderstood path to repairing the universe.
May the tikkun olam be with you.