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The Schwartz Awakens

The Schwartz Awakens

A rabbi’s Jewish take on the latest Star Wars blockbuster.

by

On screen, the saga of Star Wars – the epic space opera – has always been rooted in family drama: relationships between fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, orphaned children and wise uncles.

My father owned a toy store, so we “ruled the galaxy" as father and son.

Off screen, the films provided real life families with multigenerational entertainment from the beginning.

I was a baby when the first film blasted into hyper drive, but I still remember my father taking me to see The Return of the Jedi (the one with the Ewoks) in 1983.

My father owned a toy store, so together we “ruled the galaxy" as father and son. Kenner's plastic 3¾-inch action figures were my best friends; I still remember playing endlessly with Luke, Leia, Han Solo and Darth Vader – recreating the planet Endor in my backyard in Manchester, England. Once I’d restored order to the Force, I’d put on my Jedi PJs and climb into bed. Obviously the blankets and sheets were Star Wars patterned, as were the curtains. (Sadly, I didn’t have the wallpaper. The kid across the street did, and I’m still jealous.)

Like me, many of yesterday's junior Jedi’s are today fathers. Some are even grandfathers. But I don't know how many of them are rabbis, like me.

In my books, I have drawn parallels between superheroes and Judaism, but I've never viewed the Star Wars franchise as particularly Jewish. The nebbish, nerdy quality of superheroes, coupled with their assimilation archetypes, always felt more Jewish to me. I wasn't surprised to find out that many comic book creators were Jewish and had imbued their creations with a particularly Jewish worldview.

The new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, does boast some Jewish genes: Writer? Check. Director? Check. Plus, the Empire’s latest incarnation, the First Order, has more than a passing resemblance to the Third Reich.

As a child, I thought the dark-haired Leia's name sounded Jew-ish, but her blond brother, Luke, definitely less so. From an adult perspective, the spirituality of Star Wars seemed closer to Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and the Samurai, while Darth Vader’s virginal-mother origin story echoes Christianity.

Indeed, George Lucas has long acknowledged the influence of academic favorite Joseph Campbell, who pointed out that all cultures have a "hero's journey" legend, or "monomyth." Whereas the Star Wars "hero's journey" has Western, biblical resonances, the Force seems to take a more "Eastern" route to saving the galaxy.

So if Star Wars isn't Jewish, why is a rabbi writing about it?

Because as I said earlier, I’m not just a rabbi. I’m a dad, too. It's not often these days that kids and parents can bond over a shared interest, creating memories that will last for a lifetime. Think about it: How can a generation raised on The Partridge Family connect to kids and their PewDiePie videos on YouTube? Star Wars and its cunning corporate conglomerate, Disney, have tapped into the cinematic fountain of youth.

As I get older, I wonder why football (that’s soccer, for you Americans) has become so important to me ever since I left England to live in America. (Believe me, my wife wonders about this even more.) Yet thinking about Star Wars, I think I get it now. Soccer takes me back to a place and a time when my father and I were together. I want to share similar experiences with my sons -- which is why my oldest boy, a yeshiva kid in Brooklyn, can’t name a single New York Yankee, but can easily rattle off all his soccer heroes from the north of England.

As I began to rediscover my faith as a young adult, the intergenerational power of Judaism drew me in. As a film student (as you might have guessed) in college I began attending services for the first time since my bar mitzvah and was inspired by the sight of children in the synagogue learning the same text as their parents. In fact, the kids’ enthusiasm was ignited by their parents' knowledge.

Every story in the Torah is a teaching from the past that can be applied to the present. Our sages called this, “Ma-aseh avot siman lebanim”: What happens in the lives of our forefathers serves as a lesson to us.

While it's not really Jewish, at least the Star Wars saga has awakened and forged bonds between generations. In today's fractured world, we need this more than ever.

This article originally appeared in The Forward

December 26, 2015

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Visitor Comments: 2

(2) tuvia, December 29, 2015 5:13 PM

Don't forget about educating the darkness - spread articles on the temple institute to the dark side - http://www.templeinstitute.org/

b'h
it is important this year to educate all media - journalists - newspaper media and television media personalities about the Future building of the temple (in thought first and then in action )
http://www.templeinstitute.org/

Education first - Then Action second -

Let all major newspapers know about the Temple via the temple institute. Let's make the front of the newspaper every day of this year!

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH ALL OF YOU.

Tuvia

(1) Ann-Marie Alvarado, December 29, 2015 3:56 PM

This comment is a little bit different

I see Jedis as Jews when they say that Jedis are the ones who can restore balance in the force, in the galaxy, like Jews we must be a light to the world. G-d says to us we shall not not let ourselves be seduced by other gods( or anything that's is not according to him) just like Anakin Skywalker who let himself be seduced by the dark side( because where there's is no G-d there's darkness) and that's an interesting thing happening with the new villain Kylo Ren. Both on the dark side because they were both promised great power ( of course evil won't tempt us with something ugly)

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