It’s three in the morning, and I’ve just come back from watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ll resist the urge to nerd out and discuss the film’s plot, which is tight and intricate and surprising. But moved by the force of a decades-long anticipation for a fitting rekindling of my favorite mythology—discarding, of course, the embarrassment of the three ill-conceived prequels—I’ve two observations to share: The first is that The Force Awakens is among the best films in the series, second only, maybe, to The Empire Strikes Back. The second is that it is likely to resonate particularly strongly with Jews.
The Star Wars movies have always been greater than the sum of their parts. Immediately upon their release, they were adored and dissected for their spiritual and religious mysteries, which is understandable in a story about a small monastic sect that must learn to exercise self-control over a great but mercurial inner force in order to save itself and the galaxy. This, in part, is why the series inspires such fanatical devotion, and why 176,632 people replied to the most recent census of England and Wales by affirming that Jedi was their religion. But resist such flights of fancy, and the new movie offers a sobering parable to the adherents of another ancient religion followed by the few. To put it bluntly—which is all I’m capable of doing at my current state of exhaustion and bliss—the new Star Wars is a call to arms for Jews the world over.
Without spoiling the plot too much, The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi. The small and courageous rebel army that had defeated a far mightier enemy and asserted its independence has grown up. It’s no longer universally inspiring. Even some of its own reject it, and the faith that had once guided it to victory is now forgotten, practiced by none and regarded as a burdensome anachronism. The heroes who had once gathered to fight evil have now scattered to all corners of the galaxy, and in their disunity, a new evil has risen, more menacing than ever before. Sound familiar?
Of course, this being Star Wars, the good guys rise, but not before they make a few realizations: that the old religion still matters; that the enemy is still out for blood; that the world and its governments offer little sympathy and no protection; that there’s no greater peril than self-hate and doubt; that there’s no other engine of survival save for love and brotherhood; that it’s time now to sober up and fight.
Here on earth, we lack much of the magic they’ve got in that galaxy far, far away. We’ve no light sabers, Millennium Falcon, or Wookies. But like the heroes of the new Star Wars movie, many of us, when chilled by the shadow of an approaching universal threat, feel the Force awakening. May it be with us.
Previous: The Saga Continues
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.