Star Wars movies, from 1977 to the present, dramatise the conflict between good and evil. Drawing on themes from various religions and locating fictional events in an imaginary galaxy ‘long ago and far away’, Star Wars feature alien creatures, robots and the now famous Jedi who represent good, versus the Sith who are evil. An omnipresent energy, known as the ‘Force’ is said to bind the galaxy together.
Some people are so hooked on Star Wars that a number actually declare their religion to be ‘Jedi’. 176,632 people in England and Wales did that on their 2011 Census forms.
So, when the latest in the Star Wars pop-culture series was scheduled for screening just before Christmas last year, it offered an ideal opportunity to remind cinema audiences of the importance of prayer in the real world, by drawing their attention to a brand new website www.justpray.uk.
A one-minute advertisement was made by the Church of England, with a wide range of people simply saying or singing the words of the Lord’s Prayer, leading to the website. The video was paid for by the Allchurches Trust and approved by the British Board of Film Classification. The company selling the cinema advertising space, Digital Cinema Media, actually said they would give a discount of 55% on their standard advertising rate. Months later, with no explanation for their change of mind, they issued rules which would exclude religious advertising on the grounds that it might offend.
News of this extraordinary ban hit the UK headlines, then went round the world. Within days, more than a million people had seen the video on YouTube, justpray and other websites.
Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England, the Revd Arun Arora, said: “the Church of England is absolutely full of people like me who make mistakes, but who have a change of heart or who are led to repentance and forgiveness. I hope the next step would be for the people who run DCM: Odeon, Vue and Cineworld, to show the strength of leadership, to recognise they’ve made a mistake, have a change of heart and reconsider their decision”.
Unknown opponents then attempted to bring down the website and fill it with spam messages. They failed. So in spite of everything, people who want to pray can still learn the ‘Our Father’ by visiting www.justpray.uk.