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By B.C. Wallin

With more than 300 playable characters and 23 planets to discover, Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is an expansive game.

Developed by TT Games and published by Warner Bros. Interactive, it’s bursting with deep cuts and sly jokes from the world’s most popular sci-fi franchise. It’s clear that loads of love went into making this game — so it’s pretty baffling that one widely disliked and criticized minor character made it in at all.

You remember Watto — he’s the long-nosed, money-grubbing, slave-owning merchant who speaks with an accent that’s widely perceived as sounding Yiddish. He owned Anakin and Shmi Skywalker, and once told Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace that, “mind tricks don’t work on me; only money.” The Skywalker Saga sees Watto shift from merchant to loan shark — sending players on a quest called “Wupiupi Whoopee” to forcibly collect his money back. (Wupiupi is a form of currency on Tattooine, in case you hadn’t already figured out that Watto likes money.)

In The Skywalker Saga, Watto, once described as a “hook-nosed merchant insect” by The Village Voice back in 1999, enlists players to become his enforcers.

“Ehhh! You come at good time, eh? Got some deadbeats who owe me money,” he says. “I was just looking for somebody… ‘persuasive’ to go collect from them!”

On one planet, you sneak your way into someone’s home to force them to pay up. On another, you trash a debtor’s place, finding and stealing her diary to locate the hidden money. When players arrive at the third planet, they must beat up a “Defiant Deadbeat” until she finally relents and pays up. It’s brutal, in a strangely family-friendly way.

“Thinks she can hide my money from me, does she? Turn that place upside down if you have to!” Watto says of one of these clients.

Watto has widely been interpreted as an antisemitic stereotype in a movie with several other caricaturish renderings of non-white people, including the Gungans and the Nemoidians of the Trade Federation. Watto isn’t explicitly a space Jew, since the Star Wars series takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” — but problematic depictions don’t have to be 1:1 copies.

Historically, propaganda has depicted Jews as dirty, grotesque creatures, with long noses and evil eyes. They were portrayed as schemers out to fatten their own bellies and get rich off an unwitting gentile population. To beat a Jew’s crooked schemes was a virtue, even if it meant avoiding paying off a debt that was rightfully owed. Consider the infamous Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice — he is a wicked, cruel, moneylender who uses looks to inflict pain on his non-Jewish debtor, even in place of making his money back.

In the end, Shylock loses all the money owed and more, and is forced to convert to Christianity. The triumph is echoed in The Phantom Menace, as Qui-Gon Jinn cheats at dice to win the freedom of the Christ-like Anakin, the son of a virgin mother and the Force itself.

When Anakin returns to Tattooine in Attack of the Clones, he finds Watto destitute, bearded, and wearing a hat that resembles a style worn by Hasidic Jews. The Jew has fallen.

It’s been 20 years since Watto last appeared in a Star Wars movie, and instead of being a greedy merchant and slaver, he’s now a greedy moneylender who sends players to beat up women and vandalize their homes. This “new” occupation is no less troubling or problematic than the old one. Historically, many Jews held positions as moneylenders because usury was prohibited by Christian law (per the Torah, Jews may not charge interest, but only to other Jews). These roles bolstered antisemitic stereotypes of greedy, cruel Jews, and led to forced expulsions of Jewish populations in England, France, Germany, and Portugal, to name a few.

To put it simply: casting a Jew — or a notoriously Jew-like character — as a predatory moneylender is a problem.

Watto is a cruel, Jew-like loan shark. This is a new choice from TT Games and Warner Bros. Interactive, not a holdover from past canon. The “Wupiupi Whoopee” side mission sees you reenacting depictions of vicious lenders hounding debtors who Watto says “need more convincing than others.”

Watto could have easily been a playable character available to purchase for 50,000 studs, no mission needed. If the developers wanted to avoid his role as a slaver, they could have still given him a new profession that wasn’t tied to centuries of antisemitism. The lack of sensitivity is astounding.

He’s not a descendant of Abraham, but Watto still resembles the worst vision of a Jew. Antisemitic hate is growing, and some of it was even shared by a member of the Star Wars family (her character is available as part of DLC). In 2022, there is no need to perpetuate these harmful stereotypes, especially when harm is happening now in the real world.

TT Games and Warner Bros. Interactive should have put more thought into Watto. Instead, they have created a new Shylock, available for everyone 10 and up. Complete the quest, pay to unlock him, and you’ll be greeted by his cheery statement, “What a great day to make money, huh?”

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Dive Deeper:
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