Yoda In Saudi

Ratan Varghese - 2B Electrical
Posted on: October 13, 2017

A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabian high school students were delightfully surprised to find Yoda, the Jedi Master from Star Wars, depicted in one of their history textbooks. Apparently, when Saudi King Faisal (a prince at the time) was signing the UN charter in San Francisco back in 1945, Yoda was calmly watching over the affair. At least, that is what the textbook depicts. After this textbook page went viral on social media, the Saudi Minister of Education Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Issa fired the under-secretary of curricula Dr. Mohammed bin Attia Al-Harthi. The minister also tweeted an apology for the “unintentional mistake” and set up a committee to investigate this mind trick.

This remarkable image of the role of the Jedi in diplomacy is the brainchild of the artist Abdullah Al Shehri, also known as “Shaweesh”. Once upon a time, Mr. Shehri was looking through a photo archive of the modern history of the Middle East. After looking through many heartbreaking pages of soldiers, wars, refugees and desolation, he encountered something a little more flippant. It was a picture of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated in 1981), standing with Mickey Mouse during a trip to Disneyland. “This is what the archive needs. Something fun, something that makes it less depressing,” Mr. Shehri later said in an interview with the New York Times. He was inspired to create a series of artwork where American pop culture was edited into historical photos, available at http://edgeofarabia.com/artists/Shaweesh. These works were showcased in galleries around the world.

The photo was not made out of disrespect for King Faisal, who outlawed slavery and spread public education during his 11 year reign over Saudi Arabia. Mr. Shehri made the particular image of Yoda at the UN because he thought the king and Yoda shared many good qualities. He described them both as being “wise, strong and always calm.” Yoda and the king were both known for their intelligence. Furthermore, Yoda and his lightsaber are both green, just like the flag of Saudi Arabia. Interestingly enough while the colors might be fitting, the original photo and the version from a galaxy far, far away are both black and white.

While we know about the artist behind the photo and under-secretary fired for it, the process by which the photo ended up in textbooks in the first place remains unknown. “I am the one who designed it, but I am not the one who put it in the book,” said Mr. Shehri. He only found out about this debacle when his mother, a biology teacher, texted him about it. It could have been a simple error by the layout editors: Yoda is ultimately a very small part of the image, and the image is only a small part of the textbook page. Maybe it was some sort of elaborate prank. Or perhaps the textbook makers, like Mr. Shehri, were fatigued by seeing so much of history swallowed up by the Dark Side of the Force.