The Dark Side has come to Israel for Star Wars fans

“Making people happy, and spreading the joy of Star Wars, that’s what it’s all about.”

Adam Nahoum, dressed as a Stormtrooper, in Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Adam Nahoum, dressed as a Stormtrooper, in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Could thousands of white, armor-clad stormtroopers shouldering blaster rifles soon march in perfect unison through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv?
Indeed, these Star Wars stormtroopers are a sight in many cities around the world. However, they are not the army of some hostile foreign power, but a corps of a mighty interstellar empire from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
And now that this imperial army has established its first outpost in Israel, this future is certainly possible.The stormtroopers are members of the 501st Legion, one of the largest fandom organizations in the world.
Founded in 1997, the legion – also known as “Vader’s Fist” – is a staple of geek conventions and boasts 14,000 active members across 64 countries on six continents. For the Israeli outpost’s founder, Adam Nahoum, Star Wars has been a major part of his life since he was a child.
“My mom took me and two other friends to see Star Wars: A New Hope in 1978 in London,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “That’s when it started, with all the merchandizing. As I got older and started working, my budget increased and I got to purchase more high-end items.”
Nahoum, 46, had heard about the 501st from his friends in the UK, and first thought about joining in 2015 with the premier of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
However, life got in the way, and it wasn’t until 2019 that he formally applied.
“Seeing that the saga of Skywalker is coming to an end, I wanted to do it,” he explained.
The legion’s admission process and protocol is exacting. Applicants are required to have an approved costume of soldiers from the franchise, which must be up to the legion’s standard.
“They rejected me,” Nahoum admitted. “It’s like going through Rashi and Tosafot – you need to be very thorough. But they told me what I needed to fix.”
Today, Vader’s Fist has 14,000 active members, the majority of whom are stationed in the US, with groups of legionnaires in the UK, Spain and Germany.
“In Israel, there’s nothing like that – you have to learn everything online,” Nahoum said. “So I did. I tracked down different people and ordered everything. But there’s no one store you can shop at. You need to look through the legion’s website to find the exact things you need for your costumes. Different screw colors, differences between movies. There’s a lot.”
The sophistication and professionalism of the uniforms is remarkable, and exceeds the standards seen in most cosplay contests or organizations. The costumes also denote a member’s designation, which includes two letters – referring to the type of costume used – and five numbers of one’s own choosing.
Once he was finally approved last month, Nahoum chose the designation TK-51948, with TK referring to the group’s designation for stormtrooper (referencing the line from Star Wars “TK-421, why aren’t you at your post?”) and 51948 referring to May 1948, when Israel declared independence.
“There are a lot of stories about why some people choose their numbers,” he said. “They often have a lot of thought put into them.”
After being officially inducted into the ranks of the 501st Legion, Nahoum then applied to establish an outpost in Israel.
“An outpost has one to 24 members, and to apply, you need a logo with original art and a mission statement,” he said. “More than 24 members and you have a garrison. Some places, like the US, are so big that they’re even divided into units,” he said.
Nahoum had a logo designed by a graphic designer in Spain, wrote a mission statement, and applied to register the outpost, which was approved at the end of August. While its membership in Israel is small, the outpost is part of a global community. The Israeli outpost has received messages of support from troopers across the universe.
“It’s a bit like a fraternity,” Nahoum said. “When they launched us, we got all these beautiful comments from countries all over the world. There are others in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. I even received [messages of congratulations] from people as far away as Indonesia.”
The nature of the legion and its ability to bring fans all over the world together, regardless of politics or nationality, brings to mind a classic line from the franchise referring to the Force – “It binds the galaxy together.”
While Darth Vader may have said, “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant compared to the power of the Force” – and this may raise some eyebrows regarding the legion’s moral character – the group has proven itself to be a force for good, even if it is on the Dark Side.
A big part of the legion, and one of Nahoum’s personal goals for the outpost in Israel, is its charity initiatives. Best defined by the phrase “Bad Guys Doing Good,” the 501st Legion engages in numerous charity and fund-raising activities, including appearances at children’s hospitals and raising cancer awareness.
Since the legion is a volunteer organization and strictly nonprofit – indeed, Nahoum, when not fighting his way across the galaxy as a stormtrooper, works as a dentist – they do not accept payment for their charity appearances, but welcome donations to charities in their name, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Making people happy, and spreading the joy of Star Wars,” Nahoum surmised. “That’s what it’s all about.” Now all the legion needs is more stormtroopers.
“If you want to join, you need a costume,” he continued. “Right now, all these emails go directly to me.” Potential applicants should check the outpost’s pages on Facebook and Instagram, Nahoum said. “I’d love for us to grow into a garrison,” he added.
One can find the Israeli outpost’s mission statement on its Facebook page: “Our mission is to increase awareness of the Star Wars universe by the lifeforms of Israel & recruit said lifeforms to the 501st Legion. #BadGuysDoingGood.”
May the Force be with them.