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