Your guide to everything Jewish about ‘Star Wars’
The temporally distant and far-flung galaxy of “Star Wars” is, like the Torah, a text touched by many hands over the years.
While creator George Lucas’ initial narrative impulse — relying on dull arcana like the “Journal of the Whills” — was Midrashic, the many Jews who worked on the script, and eventually assumed the directors’ chair, made the series into a beloved property. The now-complete Skywalker saga is a classic, if uneven, space opera that hints at a deep history while leaving much of its backstory to supplementary reads (your expanded universe Talmud).
This May the Fourth — dubbed “Star Wars” Day (“May the Fourth be with you”) — we’re providing a syllabus for what’s Jew-y about this epic of warrior monks, turbulent family dynamics and conspicuously anti-Semitic junk peddlers.
Seth Rogovoy provides a primer on the Jews behind the scenes and in front of the camera in the original trilogy and its prequels. Picking up on the Disney reboot, J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” Jay Michaelson finds a pervasive “anxiety of influence” a la late literary critic Harold Bloom in its yearning for the mythic past.
Probing another issue of history, Noah Berlatsky explains why the series’ use of Nazi and fascist aesthetics feels hollow without the engine of targetted hate, while cartoonist Eli Valley considers Darth Vader’s expectations as a half-Jewish father. Meanwhile, a hop, skip and a hyperdrive away, Michaelson asserts that Han Solo is the most Goyish “Star Wars” hero (ironic, given Harrison Ford’s assertion that he feels most Jewish when he’s acting.)
As Sam Kestenbaum reported, the divisive Disney-era films generated controversy among fans, with some in far-right corners believing that a push for diversity in the new trilogy was a “Jewish plot.” Meanwhile, yours truly held Lucas’ prequels to account for their uncomfortable alien minstrelsy and unimaginative nods to anti-Semitic tropes.
There’s much to read, discuss and debate about beyond Baby Yoda’s aggressive cuteness and the Mandolorian’s status crypto-space Jew. But, while you read, might we suggest listening to this cantina song take on Ma’oz Tzur or the shofar blasts used in “Return of the Jedi?”
May the fourth be with you this tenth of Iyar.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at Grisar@Forward.com.