Latest Star Wars film expands religious myths
Much of the action in Rogue One takes place on the planet Jedha, a holy land and place of pilgrimage for Jedi Knights. What does Star Wars teach us about religion?
‘I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it,’ says Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One, a new Star Wars movie which hit cinemas yesterday. The film explores the history and traditions of the Force, a mystical power which ‘binds the galaxy together’.
From the very first Star Wars instalment, which was released in 1977, the Force was referred to as a religion — albeit a ‘hokey’ one — by Han Solo. ‘There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny!’ he insisted.
He was wrong. Siths and Jedis who follow the Force use it to float objects, choke their enemies, and shoot tiny targets from impossible distances. Time and again, their faith helps them to conquer their enemies; the true struggle is between those who use it for good, and those who use it for evil.
In the real world, the fictional religion has gained a force all of its own: in 2001 in England and Wales, 390,127 people listed ‘Jedi’ as their religion, outstripping Jews, Buddhists and Sikhs. The Temple of the Jedi Order is an official church in the USA, and for $10 you can be ordained as a Jedi minister.
Traditional religions also see themselves in the galaxy far, far away. The magazine Tablet compares Star Wars to ‘classic Jewish history’ as ‘a lone figure or small band overthrows a larger oppressive force’. The Muslim writer Irfan Rydhan has pointed out that in Star Wars, as in Islam, the chosen ones emerge from a ‘remote desert’ to bring ‘a hope of peace and justice to their society’. Christian theologians note the story’s Biblical images of light and darkness.
Star Wars creator George Lucas has admitted that this was partly his intention. His work takes ‘all the issues’ of religion and distils them into a ‘more modern and easily accessible’ form, he said in 1999.
He is not the first to use religious allegories in a fantasy story. But Star Wars seems to resonate far more than any previous attempts. Why, in the age of reason and science, do many people still yearn for religion — even a fictional one?
May the force be with you (and also with you)
We are all searching for moral clarity, say some. Science can teach us about how the world works, but it does not tell us how to respond to that world. That is why religion still matters. For those who do not believe in God, Star Wars can fill this gap. It tells us that light overcomes darkness. It is a message we can all find comfort in.
It is more than that, say others. Following religion is about being part of a history and community. The ancient rituals make us feel connected to those who came before us. After 40 years on screen, Star Wars has a similar power: several generations can now sit down together and remember a ‘religion’ from their childhood.
- Is being a Jedi a real religion?
- What makes Star Wars such a powerful religious story?
- Imagine you are starting your own religion for the 21st century. Write three central messages.
- Choose either Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Read one of the articles under Become An Expert which compares Star Wars to that particular tradition, and summarise the main similarities.
Some People Say...
“The conclusion I’ve come to is that all the religions are true.”George Lucas
What do you think?
Q & A
- It’s just a film — aren’t you taking this a bit too seriously?
- Not at all! Star Wars was deliberately written to explore questions about religion, and it has been doing so for several decades. Questions about using your faith to do good or evil are extremely relevant in 21st century, as are the themes of redemption and rediscovering lost traditions. The fact that so many religions identify with the Force makes it all the more interesting.
- What do real-life Jedis believe?
- According to the Temple of the Jedi Order, they believe in ‘the Force... the sanctity of the human person… a society governed by laws grounded in reason and compassion, not in fear or prejudice… the positive influence of spiritual growth and awareness on society… the freedoms of speech, association, and expression.’
- Siths and Jedis
- Siths are followers of the Force who have turned to the ‘dark side’ (like Darth Vadar). Jedis (like Luke Skywalker) use the Force to fight for ‘peace and justice’.
- This was 0.7% of the population in total. Jedi was that year’s fifth most popular answer, after Christian, ‘no religion’, Muslim and Hindu. By 2011 it had gone down to 176,632 people.
- Temple of the Jedi Order
- The temple’s website says its members ‘are not the same as those portrayed within the Star Wars franchise’. They are ‘real people’ who ‘embrace Jediism as a real living, breathing religion and sincerely believe in its teachings.’
- George Lucas
- The filmmaker created the Star Wars franchise in 1977 and co-created Indiana Jones in 1981. He sold Lucasfilm — which holds the rights to Star Wars — to Disney in 2012 for around $4 billion, according to Forbes.
- A story with a hidden meaning. Another well-known example is The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, in which the lion Aslan sacrifices himself and is later resurrected, mirroring the story of Jesus.