As part of #BlogElul, the amazing Rabbi Phyllis Sommer suggested I take each day’s theme and connect it to a movie. I am not sure I am up to it – or if that’s really the procrastination device I want use in these 30 days before Rosh Hashanah – but here we go anyway. (Suggestions for movies fitting any of the above themes MOST welcome).
Lots of movie characters “return”: Superman, Batman, the Mummy, the Living Dead, the King (Lord of the Rings), and the Jedi.
I’m going to use Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Partially because, as many people know it was going to be called Revenge of the Jedi, but Lucas realized that Jedis don’t take revenge, but it would have been a cooler name.
Return, in Judaism, is a central concept. Teshuvah, repentance, is about returning to a more complete state in your life. Sometimes that means trying to go back to where you were before. But that never happens. The experiences that drew you apart from another, from yourself, from health or wholeness or righteousness have forever influenced you. You are someone else and need to embrace who you are now, not who you once might have been.
In Jedi, Luke is not much like the farm boy we first met. Having seen his aunt and uncle murdered by Storm Troopers, his mentor and father figure cut own in a
lightsaber fight, learned his own father was alive and had killed Obi Wan Kenobi, that his father was now the embodiment of evil (I assume by now that statute of limitations has passed on needing a spoiler alert on who Luke’s father is), seen his new short green father figure and mentor die, lost his hand, and, at some point, learned his hot princess crush was actually his sister, Luke’s had a lot of reasons to change. He also spent the night in a Tauntaun, which alone is incredible trauma.
So when Luke walks around with deadly seriousness, a bit dull, and lacking the warmth and boyishness of his youth, it is no wonder. When he finally “returns” by movie’s end, he is even further changed. He has come to peace with his father and also with his own powers.
When we seek our opportunities to return this month, they may not have the fate of the universe attached. But it sure feels that way sometime. And changing ourselves – returning to a sense of wholeness – seems impossible. Yoda said, “Remember, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” Dominate but not control. We can always turn around. We can always return to strength.
In teach synagogue High School classes we used to have a discussion on whether Darth Vader truly did teshuvah at the end of the movie (Leave your thoughts in the comments). While Luke Skywalker being the last trained Jedi is the meaning of the name of the film, for Jews, the return is really that of Darth Vader. However you might have wandered or struggled, you haven’t “force choked” anyone lately. So if Vader can make an effort return, so can you.