Why ‘Rogue One’ Is the Ultimate Chanukah Story

On December 16, Lucasfilm takes us back to a galaxy far, far away in a prequel of Biblical proportion. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story shares the untold journey of the resistance fighters who played a crucial role in the rebellion that started the saga.

Finally, fans of all ages will get the chance to see the origin of the franchise unfold. If you ask me, the connections between Rogue One and the upcoming holiday of Chanukah are plentiful. Of course, that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I’m a rabbi. See for yourself some of the striking similarities:

Rogue One: The film tells the story of a band of rebels who aim to steal the plans for the Death Star — the event that sets into motion the plot of the original 1977 Star Wars. After the formation of the Greek – wait — I mean Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to work with a team including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to steal the design schematics of the of the Empire’s new super weapon, the Death Star.

Chanukah: Abolished Jedi –wait—change that to Jews — under the evil Syrian tyrant Antiochus, the observance of Shabbos and the Festivals, as well as circumcision were all outlawed.  Altars and idols were set up for the worship of Greek gods and Antiochus offered Jews two options: conversion or death.

Rogue One: The film’s heroes were an unlikely, out-manned, outnumbered ragtag alliance of rebels who would face down an evil empire to bring freedom to their oppressed people.

Chanukah: Antiochus sent his storm troopers to Jerusalem and desecrated the holy Temple. A similarly slipshod resistance movement of simple farmers (the Maccabees, as Matisyahu’s (Mattathias) sons, particularly Yehuda (Judah) Maccabee), armed only with spears, rocks, and bows and arrows, fought a guerrilla war against the well-trained, well-equipped, seemingly endless forces.

Spoiler alert, both rebel armies are successful. Whilst the Maccabees knew little from a Death Star, they did re-dedicate the Holy Temple. The group of believers lit the Menorah and were rewarded with a small jar of oil that burned for eight days.

Rogue One: Promises a new heroine Jyn Erso, a key member of the Rebel Alliance.

Chanukah: Our Chanukah heroine? Yehudit (Judith), a daughter of Yochanan the high priest, father of the Hasmonean family. Judith went into the enemy camp to meet with their leader, Holofernes, a general for Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians. Holofernes was so charmed by Yehudit, that he got hugely fershnikit (drunk) on wine. Judith took his sword and cut off his head. The severed head proved an inspiration for the Israelites to attack and the Assyrians ran to save their necks. Yehudit defeated the Darth Vader of her time — not with a light saber but with a sword.

Okay… so maybe I’m stretching it a bit, but hey, what do expect from a rabbi who chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Brooklyn’s mecca of geekdom, Pratt Institute?

I’m reminded of world-renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, who identified the universal themes and archetypes in good storytelling (including the most compelling one to us, the story of the Jewish people). His seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, outlined what Campbell called the Hero’s Journey, a motif of adventure and personal transformation that is used in nearly every culture’s mythical framework. George Lucas was an avid admirer of Campbell’s writings, and used them as a direct reference in his creation of Star Wars.

Did Campbell and Lucas, (if not Lucasfilm’s Story Development Team and Rogue One‘s writers) take a page from our humble Maccabees? In both Rogue One and the Chanukah story, during a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes – an overwhelmed, under-armed, band of rebels — take on an evil empire to bring freedom to their oppressed people. And the true miracle is that ordinary human beings choose to do extraordinary things, thus becoming part of something greater than themselves.

The universal theme of “good conquers evil through the might of the humble, bound together in principle,” is true to this day. The Talmud, and the African Masai both teach a simple truth: “Sticks alone can be broken by a child, but sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” If we Jews stick together, we are unbreakable and we shall do far more than merely survive; we shall overcome. The heroes of Rogue One, like the Maccabees, teach that each of us, be a force for light, and for right.

So, this Chanukah, let us remember the words of the heroine of Rogue One: “rebellions are built on Hope” … and of course, Sufganiot!

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