Jews and Jedis
We celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Wars by looking for Jewish themes
It has garnered more attention in the past two decades than most of the greatest films. The Star Wars series has been studied and dissected by film buffs – but few have noted the similarities between Judaism and the movies.
A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away – in the first few minutes of the original Star Wars (1977), C-3PO and R2D2 are wandering aimlessly through the desert of Tatooine. C-3PO laments, with seemingly Jewish guilt, "We seem to be made to suffer. That's our lot in life." They are soon caught by little brown-cloaked creatures called Jawa. Upon meeting these Jawas, C-3PO exclaims to R2D2, "Thank the Maker!" Little did he know that the desert tribe would capture him and sell him into slavery – a subtle metaphor of a popular biblical story.
Luke Skywalker redeems the droids and intercepts a holographic message from Princess Leia via R2D2 that was intended for Ben Kenobi. Kenobi, the prophet-like character in Star Wars, meets up with Luke to receive this message. In the process, Kenobi 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." Does it sound a little like you-know-Who? Here is the concept of universal balance; the similarity between the force and the Jewish God – both the communal consciousness and the mastermind physical force that links and binds all of nature together.
Who else would God be speaking through, other than a prophet-like character? How else could one explain a prophet who has supernatural powers? Take notice that the Hebrew word k'nah vi sounds similar to its English, Kenobi, and means "like a prophet." This is not the only Star Wars name that has a Hebrew similarity.
Not everything can be transferred into Hebrew, but the word Jedi is surprisingly close to Jude, the notorious German word for Jew. Its appropriateness is seen if the evil dictator Darth Vader is a metaphor for Hitler, and the Stormtroopers as Nazi SS men, bent on destroying the small band of Jedi. Those Jedi happen to also have some genetic similarities with each other and a belief in a universal force larger than themselves.
Yoda, the "all-knowing" wise character, is the same in Hebrew – the root for "knowing," is pronounced "yeda." Chewbacca is similar to tse'va chah (to scream or growl).
Vader is a bit trickier. The word in Hebrew could be l'vater (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 (repentence, a return to the path of good in Judaism).
In Episode I, we meet Shmi Skywalker, Anakin's (aka Darth Vader before he was Darth Vader) mother. Shmi in Hebrew is "My name is." We later learn in Episode II that Shmi, too, is sold into slavery and, much like her name, has gone missing. So too, Anakin Skywalker will invariably join the dark side and make his real name invisible, as well, by changing it.
Anakin Skywalker's future love, Princess Amidala, can be translated as "My nation has risen," from the Hebrew Ami ala.
Not only are there Hebrew/ Jewish connections, but faith and religion are discussed a number of times in the original Star Wars. In Episode IV, as an example, 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." Even Han Solo complains about his uncertainty of a Supreme Being: "I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything."
As most viewers know from seeing Episode II, there is another piece of information for the Star Wars mythos: Jedi are forbidden to love. But why? Perhaps it is because of the risk of intermarriage, of diminishing the tribe and its connection to the traditions of the Jedi.
Critics of this thesis might ask where the name Luke came about, but that is all too obvious: George Lucas named the hero after himself. Not every name in Star Wars has a Hebrew doppelganger, but one thing's for sure: the resemblance of Star Wars character names to Hebrew ones doesn't appear to be an accident. In a 1999 Time magazine article, Lucas admitted there were religious overtones in the movies. And there are almost certainly further Jewish references in Episode III – but that's for another article.