Israelis rally to celebrate the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Fans of franchise use occasion of new film's release to raise money for a good cause.

Princess Leia, a.k.a. Fleur Hassan-Nachum, and a Stormtrooper at the VIP screening of ‘Star Wars’ in Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
Princess Leia, a.k.a. Fleur Hassan-Nachum, and a Stormtrooper at the VIP screening of ‘Star Wars’ in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As show time approaches, the lobby at the Cinema City movie theater complex in Jerusalem begins to fill with Star Wars fans: men, women and children dressed as their favorite characters: Darth Vader, and Jedi Knights, Stormtroopers, an Ewok, a tiny Jawa, and more than one Princess Leia.
While they might not have arrived from a galaxy far, far away, 154 die-hard fans of the science fiction franchise from all over the country convened last Thursday to fill every seat in two VIP theaters for an opening- day private screening of the blockbuster 7th film in the epic series: Star Wars: the Force Awakens.
The event was organized by two long-time friends and Jerusalem residents, Adam Nahoum and Isaac Hassan, both with strong passions (to put it mildly) for the series.
Nahoum would surely be classified as a Star Wars fanatic.
His fervor began back in 1977, he recalls vividly, while growing up in England, when his mother took him to see the original film (Episode IV), in a London theater.
From that point, he became obsessed with purchasing Star Wars merchandise: action figurines, spaceships and other toys, at every opportunity. He smiles that it was always a no-brainer for his parents to decide what to get him for his birthdays and Hanukka – something related to Star Wars.
He didn’t necessarily play with these toys, but kept them as collectibles in their original packaging. Now in his 40s with kids of his own, Nahoum – wanting to share his love for Star Wars with his children – allowed them to open the packages and play with some of his collection, but stresses, “I do have some key pieces hidden away.”
One of those unique pieces in his collection is a life-sized version, about 2.5 meters high, of Han Solo frozen in carbonate (featured in Episode V and Episode VI), which is on display in his home, hanging from the wall of his basement. Nahoum bought the item on eBay from a seller in California and managed to ship it across the world.
It was only natural then that several months before the release of the latest film Nahoum opened a WhatsApp group for friends with the hope of renting out an entire theater for a costume-themed movie party.
Hassan contacted Cinema City with the idea and they were happy to accommodate.
Nahoum says, “When Episode III came out [in 2005], a few of us went to see the movie in costume at Rav Chen [in Talpiot], but [this time] I wanted to rent out the theater to have a showing dedicated to real fans.
Nowadays, with so many theaters opening simultaneously, even within the same cinema complex, it is difficult to get that buzz from a real fan base all together in one room or at one event.”
Within just two days, enough of Nahoum and Hassan’s friends had committed to attending the festivities to fill a 77-seat VIP theater. Hassan contacted Cinema City again and arranged for a second hall to be earmarked for the group. Within a week, the buzz spread to friends of friends and another 77 fans reserved spots, thus maxing out two full theater halls.
Kenny Zwiebel was one of those fans. He drove in to see the film from Mazkeret Batya, near Rehovot, with three of his children – all four of them in full costume.
Dressed as Darth Vader, Zwiebel says that “Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw in a theater when I was seven [years old] back in 1977 with my mother in Worcester, Massachusetts.” He relates that he has passed down the “passion” of the movies to his children.
In fact, this past Purim the family celebrated a costume-themed bat mitzva for their daughter Eliana, with the family all dressed as different characters from the Star Wars movies. Following the VIP all-you-can-eat buffet, the group gathers their light-sabers and blasters and heads into the movie halls.
IRONICALLY, WITH all of the terrorism in Israel in recent months, Cinema City in Jerusalem had no problem with moviegoers arriving in costumes and with mock weapons, but other theater companies around the world placed restrictions on fans due to looming threats in their countries.
In the United States, the AMC movie chain, the second-largest in that country, posted the following message on their website alerting fans about the restrictions: “AMC does not permit weapons or items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the movie-going experience. Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks or face paint. In short, bring your lightsaber, turn it off during the movie, and leave the blaster and Darth Vader mask at home.”
The Cinemark theater chain, with hundreds of screens across the US, also disallowed face coverings and makeup, and even went a step further, banning lightsabers as well.
But the terrorism that has been plaguing Israel also served to make the event more than just a party for a movie release. Nahoum and Hassan decided to charge all attendees a little bit more than ticket price, with proceeds going to benefit the Jerusalem-based Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin, which was founded in 2009 and is concerned with the needs and struggles of the more than 6,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF.
Nahoum explains, “with all the nasty stuff going on from a security perspective, we decided to add NIS 10 to each ticket, which will be given to a charity that helps lone soldiers. After all, it is thanks to the men and women in the IDF and police that we are able to go out in safety to these types of events and live normal lives.”
Not only was money raised for the center, but several lone soldiers were invited to attend the screening free of charge.
Josh Flaster, the center’s national director who was contacted by Nahoum, was grateful to participate. “It was a beautiful thought, and nice to see such a large group that wanted to include us in the evening,” he says. “The lone soldiers greatly appreciate the support for them at this event.”
FINALLY, AFTER much anticipation, the lights are dimmed and the moment of truth has arrived. The movie itself is action-packed from start to finish, with the crowd clapping and cheering loudly each time one of the characters from the original trilogy appears on screen.
Despite the unlimited refills of popcorn, drinks and more, included as part of the VIP experience, not many leave the theater in fear of missing a single moment of the film.
The two-hour-and-15-minute movie seems to pass at the speed of light. The audience gives a rousing round of applause with the closing credits. Most of those who exit the theater tell this reporter that they feel the movie is “amazing,” on a par with the original three films – or at the very least, certainly better than what many felt were the disappointing three prequels released beginning in 1999.
Exiting the movie with her Princess Leia hair in two tight buns in the style of the original films, Jerusalem resident Stephanie Strauch can’t hold back the tears.
This mother of four says that the movie was “great” and that she was full of emotion. Without giving away any spoilers, she says that she was in “shock” by some of the unanticipated surprises in the film.
Her husband Ari, who maintained his composure, affirms the feelings expressed by others that the film is better than the prequels, but said he doesn’t believe it compares to the originals.
Nahoum, however disagrees, and says that it does compare. Either way, he says emphatically that “the Force lives on.”
The morning after the film, Nahoum posts a screen shot on the WhatsApp group – a promo for Star Wars VIII, preliminarily titled Rogue One, a Star Wars Story, set for release on December 16, 2016. “Only 364 days to go! Who’s with me?” It seems that the Force certainly does live on.