Jerusalem gets the 'Star Wars' treatment

The similarities of Star Wars to the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over a larger and more powerful empire was noted by many.

'The Last Jedi’ on opening night in Jerusalem (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
'The Last Jedi’ on opening night in Jerusalem
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Star Wars was a part of my childhood. I had toys and coloring books and my friends discussed the movies in school. I clearly remember being at the Jewish Community Center when another boy told me the surprise ending of The Empire Strikes Back and not believing him. Recently I even found a small notebook from early childhood on which I had written my own name and the words “Star Wars,” accompanied with a rudimentary drawing of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Does this mean that my own name and the words “Star Wars” were among my first personal journal entries? However, despite its status in my own youth, I am no longer surprised to find acquaintances who have never seen any of the films due to their age, either too young or too old, or because of where they grew up or their religious status. Being born in Jerusalem to a hassidic family means your parents may not have taken you to a movie theater as a child.
But seeing the latest Star Wars film in Jerusalem on opening night was a different story. There were plenty of people with kippot and tzitzit – in one case, with tzitzit hanging out of a homemade Jedi costume. Going to the movies in Israel is always an experience and Star Wars is no exception. I, of course, went on opening night in order to view the film before encountering any spoilers online or among friends eager to ruin the surprise plot twists the films are known for.
I got to see the last of the three prequels in Jerusalem as well, Star Wars III – Revenge of the Sith way back in 2005 at the old Malha Mall movie theater. I went with a group of friends from ulpan, one being an older man from a European country. I tried to explain to him why Star Wars was part of my childhood and why it was important to see the final installment of the prequel trilogy. But as the almost two-and-a-half-hour movie progressed, my friend finally couldn’t take it any longer. It was during one of the long sequences between Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala when he declared, “I came for an action movie, not for a love story! I have work tomorrow.” With that, he left, never having found out the end of the movie. Ironically, those familiar with Star Wars didn’t need to see the end to know what happens to Anakin Skywalker anyway, so maybe my friend had the right idea.
But the audience at the latest film, The Last Jedi, was much more enthusiastic. As I waited in the lobby at YES Planet in Talpiot, I noticed some people having trouble explaining their attire to the security guard at the entrance. Two moviegoers dressed as Darth Vader and Jar Jar Binks were asked to remove their masks, lift up their long black robes and walk through the metal detector before being allowed in.
I thought maybe their prop light sabers would be confiscated as weapons, but they were eventually let through and gave an impromptu light saber sparring demonstration in the lobby.
They weren’t the only ones in costume. I saw a Princess Leia and several unidentifiable Jedis roaming the hallway eating popcorn. As it was the second night of Hanukka, a hanukkia was lit – right next to a display of Star Wars souvenirs.
THE SIMILARITIES of Star Wars to the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over a larger and more powerful empire was noted by many.
Even the president of the United States made a mention of the similarities back in 2015 when the first of the new trilogy was released. Several articles came out the week of the new movie discussing the “Jedi religion” and its connection to Judaism, but if the message sounds familiar, that’s because the universal appeal of the films is its ability to dramatize the themes of fighting for freedom and searching for identity.
It’s hard to make broad generalizations about Israelis, since this is a country of many immigrants from different backgrounds – the ingathering of the exiles. But theaters in Israel are always fun because Israelis are enthusiastic. Unlike in certain Asian countries where a respectful silence is a compliment, in Israel, audiences at both movies and concerts are generally loud and proud. I have been to many musical performances where the audience quickly leaves their seats and gravitates toward the front of the stage to dance. Once I saw a special outdoor showing of the original Wizard of Oz. In the end, when the Wicked Witch of the West melted, a significant portion of the audience applauded and cheered.

Star Wars
on opening night in Israel was no exception.
The audience cheered when the opening theme music came on. They cheered when specific familiar characters appeared on screen; they cheered when the good guys scored a victory and several people even cheered and whistled when (spoiler alert) the bad guy Kylo Ren is shown shirtless.
So what was my conclusion regarding The Last Jedi? I may be showing my age, but it was too long and too violent. Unlike some previous movies, it was rated PG-13. Although newer movies also received a PG-13 rating, the original trilogy did not.
However, they were released before the PG-13 rating was created.
But it was a well-made movie with good acting and good special effects. The many plot twists were almost reminiscent of parts of the Bible, such as the books of Samuel and Kings, in which fathers and sons, students and mentors vie for power and dodge treachery. The Gemara expounds on King Hezekiah’s reluctance to have children because he foresaw that his son would go on commit great evil. However, the prophet Elijah tells him he must have children regardless because it is not his place to try to preempt future events. Such a theme is prevalent in The Last Jedi and in previous movies in which Jedi students turn on their masters and future masters are reluctant to train a new generation. But just as the Bible predicts a return to Zion, we know that we have one more movie to look forward to after this dark second act of the trilogy.
Like many, I felt an obligation to see the film, simply because it is Star Wars. That’s how they hook you in, my friend derisively told me. But it was Hanukka, on opening night. An outing with people you care about for an event that’s much talked about all over the world is well worth it.