Star Wars Sermon

Unless you have managed to avoid all media for the past few weeks, you will be aware that the seventh Star Wars film was released in December. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry, I won’t give anything away. But watching the film on the big screen brought all kinds of thoughts and feelings flooding into my mind.
Over the years, since the very first film was released in 1977, there have been theories and connections made between the epic tale and Judaism. Not least because many of the cast and crew were/are Jewish, but also because it is ultimately a story of survival, which resonates clearly with the history of our people. In a 1999 Time Magazine article, George Lucas conceded that there were religious overtones in the films. If you are unfamiliar with Star Wars, perhaps the following nerdy rhetoric will whet your appetite.
Where to begin? Once you start looking closely at the story, there are a plethora of links to find. If nothing else, the score from the genius that is John Williams is incredibly moving. Rather like the Kol Nidre melody, it pulls at us even if we have not heard it from one year or decade, to the next.
The original film, episode IV, is subtitled ‘A New Hope’, which in Hebrew is Tikvah Chadasha, the name of our community. Aside from that, the drama begins in a period of civil war. A new government has declared the practice of the old faith a crime punishable by death, disbanding an ancient order of sages and sending many into exile. Rebel fighters, striking from a hidden base, have won their first major victory against the evil Empire, stirring a spirit of defiance among the common people. Out armed and immensely outnumbered the band of rebels, aided by an all-powerful, all-permeating Force that binds together all life in the universe, remains the only hope for restoring peace and freedom to their people. Sound familiar? This could be the story of Chanukah without doubt, or Pesach or Purim…the list goes on.
And, it is credible to consider that The Force is the ultimate power of the universe: G-d. The Jedi Knight strives to perfect his awareness that G-d is always watching and teaching us through the events of life. The Jedi never allows his mind to lose focus of the message the Force seeks to convey. At every step, G-d tests our discipline and determination. A Jedi Knight must be confident and sincere in conviction. He must be certain that the Force is with him.
Are the Jedi in fact the Kohenim? Jedi are trained to focus their minds on the Light, turning away from the want of material and physical pleasures – they are even supposed to remain celibate, as were the Priests at the time of The Temple.
Master Yoda teaches a wisdom that is uncomplicated and insightful. The Jedi clears away previously learned layers of fabrication, in order to connect with his internal compass. This opens a passage of innate goodness and allows a flow from the Light Side. There is conjecture that even the name Yoda, voiced by Jewish actor-director Frank Oz, translates as “the one who knows” in Hebrew. It is believed that the name originates from the Sanskrit word “Yoddha” which means warrior or the Hebrew name “Yodea” meaning “One who knows.”
Kenobi, a prophet-like character explains “the force” to Luke: “The force is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it binds the galaxy together, it penetrates us.” Is it purely coincidence that the Hebrew word k’nahvi sounds similar to its English, Kenobi, and means “like a prophet.”
The force of energy that Kenobi speaks sounds like Chasidic teaching. Replace “energy field” with “entity” or “consciousness,” and “created by,” with “that creates,” and what you have starts to echo an introduction to Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism.
Continuing with the theme of names, Chewbacca is similar to tse’va chah meaning to scream or growl, which is pretty apt let’s be honest. Vader is not so straightforward. Whilst the general consensus is that Vader signifies ‘Father’ as it is the literal translation from Dutch and pretty close from the German ‘vater’, as he is indeed Luke’s, the word in Hebrew could be l’vater which translates to the verb to give up. We know that Darth Vader “gave up” the good to join the dark side. The dark side is the yetzer ha’ra or evil inclination and Darth’s ultimate redemption at the end of Episode VI is his teshuvah, his repentance, a return to the path of good in Judaism.
And then of course there’s Leia from the Hebrew name Le’ah, which was probably derived from the Hebrew word meaning “weary”. Alternatively it might derive from a Chaldean name meaning “mistress” or “ruler” in Akkadian. Either way, the name fits. She would have grown weary of the continual struggles, both personal and national, but fought against the many difficulties to become a great leader.
Over the High Holidays, which seem so far away now, I spoke about people being composed of two essential halves; body and soul. The body seeks temporal pleasures of admiration, food, sensory pleasures, whilst the soul seeks deeper eternal pleasures, such as love, meaning and connection. Judaism also teaches that the source of Light and Darkness are One and the same, as it says in Isaiah 45:7: “Who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates evil; I am the Lord, who makes all these.”
Throughout the films and books, Jedis know that while physical pleasures are an important part of life, they are merely a steppingstone to something far more meaningful. By making the choice of soul over body, they are able to connect with the galaxy and become one with the Force.
As with all good narratives, there must be an opposing side in order to create a struggle worth fighting for. The path of the Sith Warrior is very different from that of the Jedi. Seduced by greed and power, he follows the temptations of the Dark Side. Judaism calls this the Yetzer Hara – the self-destructive bodily forces that pull us away from G-d. The tempting illusion of victory that the Dark Side provides is a powerful entity. Although it could be said that Darth Vader’s reign of terror is a nothing more than a miserable delusion, his actions still destroy lives, society, self nonetheless.
Is Vader all bad though? In Episode IV, a lieutenant of the imperial battleship scorns Darth Vader on the loss of vital information, “Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tape.” Vader responds, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” He has a faith, albeit warped to his own selfish means; the faith in the Force itself prevails. This is a concept of universal balance; the similarity between the force and G-d, is that both encompass the communal consciousness and the greater physical force that binds all of nature together.
Did you know that part of Darth Vader’s original chest plate features three lines of Hebrew, one of which appears to be upside down? As you can imagine, what the lines say is a matter of much online debate among avid Star Wars fans. Interestingly though, one theory is that 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.”
Of course, there are also many counter arguments that the whole thing is nonsense, as the script is incredibly small – difficult to read at all unless you are looking for it and upside down in places. Who knows, perhaps the costume designers just liked the aesthetics of the Hebrew font and nothing more? After all you can make links between almost any two subjects if you look hard enough.
We attain this confidence through knowledge, not faith. G-d knows that through sincere investigation, His existence is abundantly clear. We observe the wonders of nature. We cry out and are rescued from difficulty. In our own way, we have seen seas split and mountains move.
There are two forces that exist within each one of us: The Yetzer Ha-Tov and the Yetzer Ha-Rah The good inclination and the evil inclination. It is the Yetzer Ha-Rah, the evil inclination that motivates each of us to find a partner, to go to work each day, to procure food, to take care of our families. And it is the good inclination, the Yetzer Ha-tov that makes sure that we don’t do anything to excess, and that we take care of the stranger and feed the hungry. We need each one of these inclinations to balance the other. We need each to have a healthy existence on this earth.
So there it is a fraction of the theories and thoughts that connect Star Wars to Judaism. Even if Star Wars is not for you, it is interesting to see that such parallels exist and that the power of the good remains something, as intangible as it may be, that we strive for.
Shabbat Shalom…May the force be with you and keep you safe.

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