In December 1982, Uncle Larry and Uncle Ira gave my sister and me a nearly two-foot tall, plastic Death Star play set. Rachel and I fell instantly in love with its elevator, extendable bridge, and garbage compactor (complete with fake trash). It was the greatest Hanukkah gift of our childhood.
When we lugged our loot home at the end of that evening, the Death Star joined our 12-inch Luke and Leia dolls, our Cantina Adventure play set, and numerous other items of Star Wars paraphernalia. Our love for Star Wars was not exclusive—we also loved Star Trek and Indiana Jones and Wonder Woman—but it was profound.
Rachel and I had been 2 years old when the original Star Wars film, now known as A New Hope, hit theaters in 1977, but we’d seen it countless times on VHS. By the time we got that wonderful Hanukkah present in 1982, we’d seen the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, both in the theaters and also, repeatedly, on VHS. The following year, we would see Return of the Jedi during the opening weekend and insisted on multiple visits to Burger King so we could collect all the commemorative glasses. Outside at school, we played Star Wars. Due to my name—and height—my classmates usually demanded that I play Chewbecca.
As our childhood passed, Star Wars remained dear to me, even as I expanded my interests to include Duran Duran, Doctor Who (available in the United States on PBS), Depeche Mode, and boys who actually attended school with me. When Timothy Zahn’s Expanded Universe novels came out, I borrowed them from the library and devoured them.
Whenever I learned that a friend or classmate—once, memorably, a teacher—hadn’t seen the original Star Wars film, I demanded they watch it. I fondly remember introducing it to Cousin Josh when he was 10 years old.
I was 24 when Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out. Rachel was spending that summer in Israel, and I waited impatiently to see it, expecting we’d watch it together. Our mutual friend Melissa agreed to wait, too. When we picked Rachel up from LAX in the middle of the summer, I asked her when she wanted to see The Phantom Menace.
“You haven’t seen it yet? I saw it in Israel.”
“What!?!” I squealed.
Melissa frowned. “We told you we’d wait for you.”
“Friends were going, so I went,” Rachel explained. “I didn’t think you could wait.”
Biting back a nasty retort, I asked, “So, how was it?”
“Yeah. It was pretty good.” (When I recently reminded my sister of her comment, she said, “I can’t possibly have said The Phantom Menace was ‘pretty good.’ It sucks. I refuse to show it to my children.”)
Although I’d heard some negative reviews earlier that summer, I’d brushed them aside. But now, I started to worry.
Melissa and I went to see the movie at a theater in Westwood the following Sunday, sans Rachel. About 15 minutes in, I looked at Melissa. She looked at me.
“Are you bored?” I whispered.
“Yes. It’s … it’s … ” Despite the theater’s darkness, I could see disappointment there.
“It’s got to get better!” I insisted.
Melissa nodded vigorously. “I’m sure it will.”
But it didn’t.
When Attack of the Clones came out, the reviews reported that it was better than The Phantom Menace. By then, I was married. My husband and I went to the theater hoping for a miracle, but left feeling demoralized.
Not long before, I had become observant. I kept Shabbos, ate only kosher food, wore skirts, and covered my hair. I owned no TV, but I went to the movies all the time.
On a rainy Sunday, back when I’d been single, I could watch three movies on video and another on the big screen. There were a couple vacations when I saw two films in two different theaters, on the same day. If life was frustrating or I felt overwhelmed, or blue, or lonely, I escaped by watching movies.
I cut back after I got married, largely because I felt less need to escape real life. But I still watched a lot of movies.
When the Star Wars prequels let me down, I started noticing other ways movies let me down: the bad language, the gratuitous violence, the glorification of promiscuity, the objectification of women, and the preoccupation with an almost unattainable standard of living. Films romanticized adultery and promoted shallow relationships based on “love at first sight.” Movies peddled many of the values I’d turned away from in becoming an Orthodox Jew. Many offended me as a feminist. And movies’ entertaining, immersive quality led viewers to swallow their worldview whole.
My husband shared my concerns. “I’m not going to movies anymore,” he declared not long after the Attack of the Clones debacle.
“But … but … ” I wracked my brain for movies we’d seen recently that had been decent. “Memento was good! And Spider-Man!”
“It’s OK,” he said. “You keep going. I just have other ways I’d rather spend two hours.”
A few weeks after that conversation, I had our first baby. My husband babysat when I went to the movies with friends—or even alone—at least once a month for over a year.
After sitting though The Last Samurai, which had been diverting but nothing special, I made the decision to call it quits, too. The high I felt upon leaving a good movie didn’t last long enough to justify sitting through all the mediocre ones. The time I wasted in front of a movie screen could be better spent interacting with live human beings.
But the major deciding factor was this: If I didn’t want my little boy to grow up absorbing Hollywood morality—complete with its materialism and anti-feminist viewpoint—I had to set an example.
I’ve felt a few twinges of regret over the years. The release of Revenge of the Sith did not trigger one. The Hobbit was hard for me to miss, and a nifty billboard for a science-fiction movie will sometimes send me to the Internet to watch the trailer or read the book version.
In the last 11 years, I’ve seen a few movies. Last year, I watched Fill the Void on DVD while home with pneumonia. I saw The Heart That Sings with friends, and every Agent Emes film with my kids. We watch documentaries every once and a while. Traveling on airplanes, I’ve caught a few films, which will remain nameless because they were so bad.
Occasionally, a friend tells me they pity me, but there’s no need. I have better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon or a Saturday night: hiking, painting with my kids, visiting my mother-in-law, checking out books from the library, or taking a long walk with my husband. And I feel powerful resisting my inclination to watch movies.
Now, though, the hype for The Force Awakens is everywhere. I find myself watching trailers and scanning sci-fi sites like Tor.com and i09 for the latest speculation about the movie. My friends and relatives—who know what a sci-fi fanatic I am and that Star Wars was the movie that set it all off—tell me about the tickets for The Force Awakens that they bought online for opening weekend. My mother asked me if I’d bought any.
“I don’t go to the movies, Mom,” I told her.
“But you love Star Wars!” she said.
“I know, Mom,” I sighed. “But I’m not going.”
And really, I’m not going, even if the reviews are fantastic. I do want to see The Force Awakens. But what I need is different. I know that seeing it would push me down a slippery slope. And I don’t want to end up at the bottom of it.
I’ll console myself by reading the novelization.
Rebecca Klempner is a wife, mother, and writer in Los Angeles.