What the hero of Star Wars has­in­com­mon­with­Moses


THE STAR Wars film se­ries is a global phe­nom­e­non that has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of mil­lions, young and old, the world over (in­clud­ing me). But what have a space smug­gler, a walk­ing car­pet, a lit­tle green guru, a princess with stylised hair and a wideeyed hero got to do with Ju­daism? The web is clut­tered with ten­u­ous links of Star Wars char­ac­ters to bi­b­li­cal He­brew — Yoda/ Yodeya, Ben Kenobi/ BenK’Navi, Jedi/ Ye­hudi, and the script on Darth Vader’s breast­plate. Ge­orge Lu­cas, the cre­ator of the se­ries, is cer­tainly not Jewish, but like many film­mak­ers he draws in­spi­ra­tion from the clas­sics of faith and fic­tion.

“The Force” is the enig­matic re­li­gious power at the heart of the movies that “binds the galaxy to­gether”. This no­tion of God is doubted by the prag­ma­tist Han Solo: “I’ve never seen any­thing to make me be­lieve there’s one all-pow­er­ful force controlling ev­ery­thing.” How­ever, be­liev­ers in the force al­ways ut­ter the same phrase when part­ing: “May the Force be with you.” In the Bible, this is a re­li­gious greet­ing. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz greets his work­ers say­ing, Hashem imachem, “May the Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4). An an­gel greets Gideon in a sim­i­lar way (Judges 6:12).

There is, how­ever, a deeper story that speaks to us to­day and draws a direct line from the To­rah to the mod­ern myth that is Star Wars. Lu­cas spent years try­ing to write his sci-fi fairy-tale but kept get­ting stuck un­til he stum­bled on a cer­tain book. “It was the first time that I really be­gan to fo­cus,” he said in 1985. “Once I read that book I said to my­self, this is what I’ve been do­ing. This is it…”

The book was Joseph Camp­bell’ s, The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces (1949) in which he de­scribes a three-stage jour­ney of the hero that is com­mon to the lit­er­a­ture of nu­mer­ous an­cient cul­tures:

First, sep­a­ra­tion, in which the hero is sum­moned to face a sur­pris­ing ad­ven­ture;

Sec­ond, ini­ti­a­tion, in which the hero must sur­vive a suc­ces­sion of life and self-threat­en­ing tri­als;

And fi­nally, re­turn, in which the hero comes back for­ever changed, restor­ing life to the world.

Lu­cas, like Spiel­berg, ad­mits a great debt to Camp­bell. The three stages be­came the struc­ture of the ini­tial first Star Wars tril­ogy and the jour­ney of its hero, Luke Sky­walker. First there is the thrilling ad­ven­ture, A New Hope; then a dark in­ner strug­gle for iden­tity, The Em­pire Strikes Back, and fi­nally a lit­eral Re­turn (of the Jedi) in which Luke over­comes ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenges. Note the par­al­lels with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954), also a tril­ogy end­ing with Re­turn (of the King).

Camp­bell cites this pat­tern in Chi­nese, Egyp­tian, Greek, English, Bud­dhist and Hindu mytholo­gies, as well as in Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam. On Mount Si­nai, our hero, Moses, typ­i­fies the three-stage jour­ney. Ac­cord­ing to Mid rash each lasted forty days (Tanchuma, Ki Tissa 31 and Seder Olam Rabb ah 6:1). First fend­ing off an­gels to re­ceive To­rah( Tal­mud, Shab­bat 88b); then, a sec­ond forty days af­ter the Golden Calf in which he smashes the Tablets and speaks in­ti­mately with God( Ex­o­dus 33:12-23), and fi­nally, af­ter a third forty, he re­turns with two new Tablets on Yom Kip­pur, herald­ing the Day of Divine For­give­ness for ev­er­more.

Re­mark­ably, the life­span of Moses also fol­lows this pat­tern. Forty years a promis­ing Prince of Egypt, forty years an ex­iled shep­herd, and forty our re­deemer-teacher, Moshe Rabbenu (Midrash, Ge­n­e­sis Rab­bah 100:10).

So Star Wars taps into an­cient dra­matic cur­rents re­flected in To­rah. The lat­est in­stal­ment, The Force Awak­ens, par­al­lels the re­turn of faith to our post-mod­ern em­bat­tled world; maybe even the “re­turn to history” of the Jewish peo­ple since 1948. “It’s true, all of it,” ad­mits the now more ma­ture Han Solo.

Like ev­ery eter­nal bat­tle, the Force has two sides: Light (good) and Dark (evil). This is rem­i­nis­cent of an an­cient man­u­script en­ti­tled, The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Dark­ness found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem.

Says Mas­ter Yoda ,“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suf­fer­ing.” I found an in­trigu­ing cor­rec­tive to this dark pro­gres­sion in techelet, the blue thread in tz­itzit (Num­bers 15:38), which af­ter many cen­turies can be worn again( see www.tekhelet.com).

Why blue? Says the Tal­mud (Chullin 89a), “Be­cause blue re­sem­ble st he colour of th­ese a, and th­ese a re­sem­bles the colour of the sky, and the sky re­sem­bles the colour of sap­phire, and sap­phire re­sem­bles the colour of the Throne of Glory, as it says, ‘And they saw the God of Is­rael and un­der His feet it was like a lat­tice of sap­phire stone’” (Ex­o­dus 24:10).

When I look at my tz­itzit, I am meant to “re­mem­ber all of God’s com­mand­ments and do them” (Num­bers 15:39). The “light” pro­gres­sion leads back to God, com­bat­ing the “dark side” of our na­ture. Each of us, says Camp­bell, are mod­ern he­roes who must heed the call, cast off pride and fear, over­come per­sonal de­spair and achieve a mean­ing­ful life. May the Lord be with you, al­ways.

Star Wars taps into an­cient dra­matic cur­rents re­flected in To­rah

Rabbi Zarum is Dean of the Lon­don School of Jewish Stud­ies


Back in ac­tion: the new Star Wars film, The Force Awak­ens

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