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May 17, 2005

Jedi “Religion” Sees Dramatic Growth
(we’re not kidding)

by Jon M. Sweeney

Those adorable Wookiees are coming again to a theater near you. Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith, projected to be the final Star Wars film, was released in theaters nationwide on May 18. It has been exactly three years since the last film in the series, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (May 2002), and 28 years to the month since the first film, now titled Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (May 1977), were released.

What is startling about the George Lucas-inspired Star Wars phenomenon is not the advent of another movie, but the real ways in which people around the world appear to be forming a religion out of the Zen-like, Tao-like words and actions of the characters.

The Anglican Digest reported in its Lent 2005 issue that the first school to teach Jedi was recently opened in Romania. “Courses at the Star Wars Academy include the correct use of light saber swords, and lessons on how to speak Wookiee, the language of violent furry creatures in the films. The academy’s founder, Adrian Pavel, said he decided to open the school in response to requests from fans,” wrote The Anglican Digest editors.

The BBC reported three years ago, timed with the release of the last film in the Star Wars series, that at least 70,000 people in Australia declared themselves as followers of the Jedi “faith” in the last Australian census. They wrote-in “Jedi” as their response under the category of religion on the census form. Hard-core fans of the films have been trying to have Jedi declared an official religion around the English-speaking world for years now.

The same situation occurred in New Zealand in their census taking of 2001. Similarly, more than 390,000 people in England declared themselves Jedi in their census of the same year—a shocking number when you consider that only 260,000 people in England declared themselves to be Jewish. There are various Internet campaigns going on now that encourage voters in the U.S. to petition for Jedi as an official religion on the next U.S. census form.

George Lucas once said in an interview with Bill Moyers: “I put the Force into the movie in order to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people — more a belief in God than a belief in any particular religious system. I wanted to make it so that young people would begin to ask questions about the mystery.”

But perhaps Yoda and his gang are not just Zen-like, but Christian. Yes, says Dick Staub—radio commentator and Gordon-Conwell Seminary grad—in his March 2005 book, Christian Wisdom of the Jedi Masters. He highlights, by simulating the “voice” and manner of Yoda in his writing, how the behavior and concerns of a Jedi master are similar to the priorities of a Christian.

In his blog, Staub relates the process he went through in the writing of his book: “I reread all the Star Wars scripts and made a list of issues involved in the training of a Jedi. I looked at those themes through the lens of all the ancient religions, refreshing my reading in Lao-Tzu, Buddha and others. I focused on Christianity, the early Fathers and Christian Classics, because it is the spiritual tradition I know best and personally, and because just as Star Wars is a predominate filmic myth, Christianity is the myth most embraced in the West, and because I agree with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien that Christianity is ‘the one true myth’ that underlies all others.” (

Staub continues, “What I searched for were the consistent core beliefs and practices that should have been handed down from one generation to the next, but hadn’t been. I ended up with forty-one sayings from Star Wars with commentary on how they translate into radical wisdom in the Judeo-Christian tradition. An example would be when Yoda said to Luke, ‘Do or do not, there is no try.’”

George Lucas was baptized a Methodist, and raised in a Protestant home. Since that time, his views on spirituality have expanded greatly through study of Eastern religious traditions. The simple fact is that, through the Star Wars films, Lucas’ spiritual vision has had a profound effect on two generations of spiritual seekers.

Lucas also said, in that interview with Bill Moyers: “I would hesitate to call the Force God. It's designed primarily to make young people think about the mystery. Not to say, ‘Here's the answer.’ It’s to say, Think about this for a second. Is there a God? What does God look like? What does God sound like? What does God feel like? How do we relate to God? Just getting young people to think at that level is what I've been trying to do in the films. What eventual manifestation that takes place in terms of how they describe their God, what form their faith takes, is not the point of the movie.”

Star Wars: Episode III – The Revenge of the Sith, releasing this week, is the first of the Star Wars films to garner a PG-13 rating, for violence and dark themes. We see Anakin Skywalker transform into Darth Vader. There is a dark side to religion that Lucas understands, and this last film in the series makes it clear what can happen in a world where the Force is taken seriously.

Jon Sweeney is an author and editor living in Vermont. His new book is

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