The Dark Side of Saudi Arabia: Education Official Fired After Picture of Yoda Appears in Textbook

A bronze statue of 'Star Wars' character Yoda is on display after being unveiled at the Imagination Park on June 20, 2013 in San Anselmo, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty

A Saudi education official no longer has the force with him after losing his job because of an altered version of a historic photograph which showed Yoda, the Jedi master from the Star Wars franchise, next to a Saudi king in a school textbook.

In a class on the United Nations, the textbook showed King Faisal, then foreign minister, signing the global body's charter in 1945 with the famous green character sitting next to him.

A coup for Saudi artist @Shaweesh_: His image of Yoda next to King Faisal was accidentally printed in a new Saudi social studies textbook.

— Ben 😷 Hubbard (@NYTBen) September 21, 2017

Saudi Education Minister Ahmad Bin Mohammad El Aisa dismissed the ministry's undersecretary for curricula and education programmes, Mohammad Bin Atiyah Al Harithi, over the mishap, Gulf News reported Tuesday.

The inclusion of Yoda embarrassed Saudi's conservative ruling elite, who moved quickly to remove the picture and those responsible for it from their positions.

"The Ministry of Education regrets the inadvertent error," El Aisa tweeted.

"The ministry has began printing a corrected copy of the decision and withdrawing the previous versions, and has formed a legal committee to determine the source of the error and to take appropriate action."

تأسف وزارة التعليم على الخطأ غير المقصود الذي ظهر في صورة التوقيع على ميثاق هيئة الأمم المتحدة في مقرر الدراسات الاجتماعيات والوطنية..

— د. أحمد العيسى (@aleissaahmed) September 21, 2017

He added that a review of the printing of school books would be carried out by an unidentified company that would seek to develop education services in the Gulf Kingdom.

The artist behind the picture, 26-year-old Saudi national Abdullah Al Sheri, said his only motivation was to alter important images from Arab history to include film characters. He did not know that his photo was to be used in the textbook. It remains unclear how it ended up in the textbook.

"I am the one who designed it, but I am not the one who put it in the book," Al Shehri, also known as Shaweesh, told the New York Times. "All the pictures were very sad, you know, refugees and war."

Other images in his series include Darth Vader standing alongside the King of Iraq and Lawrence of Arabia on the steps of the 1919 Paris peace conference. Another photo shows an Arab refugee looking down from a truck at Captain America.

Al Shehri said he included Yoda next to the king because of the Jedi master's intelligence, and because he is the same color as the Saudi national flag.

"He was wise and was always strong in his speeches," Mr. Shehri said of the king. "So I found that Yoda was the closest character to the king. And also Yoda and his light saber—it's all green."

The photo was met with mixed reaction in the conservative kingdom, with social media users criticizing the education ministry but also praising the artist for his work. But Shaweesh said he had meant no harm with the altered image. "I meant no offense to the king at all," he told The Times.

Faisal ruled Saudi Arabia for 11 years until 1975 and is most known for banishing slavery from the country and being a modernizer, by Saudi standards.