Jedi “Religion” Sees
(we’re not kidding)
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.
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.
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
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.” (www.christianwisdomofthejedimasters.com)
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
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
THE LURE OF SAINTS: A PROTESTANT EXPERIENCE OF CATHOLIC TRADITION.
More by Jon Sweeney.