The Return Of The Jedi

The Return of the JediCale ScheinbaumJim Monsonis Society and Religion19 November 1996So far this semester, we have studied several different sociologicaltheories of religion. These theories are built on both the known history ofreligions in the world and the cultures in which they originated, as well as,appropriately enough, theoretical suggestions of how those religions, and indeedany religion at all, will survive in the future. The theory I find the most trueis Stark and Bainbridge’s in The Future of Religion, although I like someelements from others, like Berger’s concepts of reification and secularization.George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogy, apart from being incrediblyentertaining and extremely well-made, gives us a complete portrait of a society(The Empire) and a religion (Jediism, for lack of a better term).

Although themovies are mostly devoted to the growth of the characters, throughout thetrilogy we see the society change in a drastic manner. This paper will examinethe history of Jediism, the current (as of the end of the last movie) status ofthe religion, and offer some suggestions as to what we can expect from Jediismin the future.I. The ReligionTo examine the future of religion as it relates to society, one mustfirst have an idea of the tenets and beliefs on which the religion is based.Jediism is based solely on belief in the “force”, a “Universal energy field thatsurrounds us and permeates us”. (O. Kenobi, SW) Stark and Bainbridge make thepoint that any religion based on magic or magic-like rituals is fated to die outunless the magic can work constantly and consistently. This, they argue, is whymany religions change from promising magic, which is quite verifiable (Did he,in fact, levitate?) to promising compensators, a sort of unverifiable magic.

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Agood example of this is the Christian Heaven. Stark and Bainbridge take it as agiven, however, that magic, or abilities that parallel magic, do not, in fact,exist. This makes an attempt to theorize about the future of Jediism moredifficult, since the religion is based, in part, on the belief that oneness withthe “force” has the ability to confer extraordinary powers to individuals– abelief than is vindicated numerous times throughout the series.The internal organization of the religion is, apparently, entirelynonexistant. There is no leader, nor is there any defined structure. Much likeclassical Taoism, various masters exist, and students and supplicants must seekout a master on their own in order to learn.

There is no hierarchy to advance in,other than the ability to eventually hone one’s faith to a degree that one cantake on one’s own students. The test of this is whether the student becomesattached to the “dark side” of the “force”, as did Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first pupil,Anakin Skywalker, later known as Darth Vader.The beliefs of Jediism, again, can be compared to classical Taoism. The”true” Jedi believes in calm, and strives to maintain calm at all times. He canexperience emotions, but he does not let his emotions control him.

He is at onewith his environment at all times. He is fully aware of the existance of allthose around him, and holds free will as one of his highest ideals. He is notviolent, but, if necessary, can fight extremely well and end conflicts ratherquickly. His ultimate goal is universal peace. Jediism is unique, however, inthat along with it developed a mirror religion, one that I will call, for lackof a better term, Dark Jediism.

The tenets of Dark Jediism are all based onpersonal desires. To the Dark Jedi, other people are nothing but pawns withwhich to attain more personal power or resources. Peace is the defense ofweaklings who don’t know how to fulfill their desires. The ultimate goal of theDark Jedi is to have complete and total control over the universe. This state,with the two sides of the “force” existant and constantly at war, might becompared to a somewhat reified form of Zoroastrianism, in which the twouniversal natures (Good and Evil) not only existed, but were constantly beingsupported and battled over by their adherents.

II. The SocietyAccording to the many of the theories which we have read this semester,a religion’s success is directly related to whether or not it is at odds withthe society in which it exists. If this is the case, Jediism is heading toward amajor revival. In order to fully comprehend the future of Jediism, we must lookat the society in which it exists– the Galactic Empire. Before the Emperor tookpower, the galactic government was one of peaceful coexistence. All planets gaveeach of the other planets the right to live as they pleased.

The galaxy wasgoverned by a representative from each planet that met together and formed alegislative and executive body. This was the Old Republic, and it was verysympathetic to Jediism. Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us that during the Old Republic,there were many Jedi Masters, and they travelled the galaxy righting wrongs andspreading Jediism.It began to decay, however, when one of the senators, Palpatine,covertly converted to Dark Jediism and began using his powers and his influenceto slowly take over more and more of the system, until he had amassed enoughpower to dissolve the Republic and declare himself Emperor, in a situationsimiliar to that of Julius Caesar. As Emperor, Palpatine began a totalitarianregime, enslaving non-humans, and persecuting and then assassinating all of theJedi Masters he could find. He did this with the help of Darth Vader, one ofObi-Wan Kenobi’s pupils who turned to the Dark Side of the force. Palpatine alsotrained several of his subordinates in Dark Jediism, in order to enforce hispolitical agenda in the same way that the Jedi Masters had enforced that of theOld Republic.

The society as it stands at the start of the movies is a classictotalitarian regime with a large black market, an underground rebellion movement,powerful crime lords, and spies for all sides everywhere.III. The PresentAs it stands at the end of the movies, the Emperor has been killed,Darth Vader has rejoined the Jedi Masters, Leia is organizing the New Republic,and Luke goes out into the galaxy to spread Jediism. What can we expect from thefuture? First of all, Jediism is a religion that does not do a lot oflegislating of moralities. Apart from basic liberties (Life, liberty, pursuit ofhappiness, etc.) Jediism mostly stays out of people’s private lives.

As the NewRepublic grows, though, Jediism will start assuming a more secular role, perhapseventually slipping into an almost judicial branch of the galactic government.When this happens, other small sects will start to spring up. (In the Star Warsnovels, one or two sects of Jediism are “discovered”.) Perhaps a cult of DarkJediism will begin in the same manner as Jediism did during the time of theEmpire.The one opposing force to the secularization of Jediism will be, Ipredict, the Jedi Masters themselves. The drive to secularize will come mostlyfrom the government, which will be in awe of the magic-like abilities of theJedi Masters.

The Masters, however, will realize that any form of secularizationprecludes understanding of the force, and will resist this. In the end, some ofthe younger Jedi will go into direct serrvice for the government. When thishappens, they will begin to lean toward the dark side of the force, since anygovernment is necessarily a compromise between limiting the personal freedomsthat Jediism demands and removing personal freedoms in order to create order andto continue to reify the current regime. This being the case, the Masters willmost probably go into temporary exile, allowing the young Jedi to rise in thegovernment and social order, taking more and more power for themselves.

In this light, the beginning of the movies seems perfectly fitting. Thisexact same process that I just described would have occured about 20 years ago,leaving the government ripe for takeover by Emperor Palpatine. In the end, Ipredict that Jediism will follow Stark and Bainbridge’s model, first rising,then secularizing, then falling, then being rediscovered, then rising again.Dark Jediism, the counterpart, will also continue in the same cycle, though on alesser scale, since it does not recruit anywhere near as effectively or aszealously as regular Jediism does. Though the Star Wars series is a filmmakingaccomplishment of extraordinary magnitude, it also deserves much credit, I think,as a sociologically correct study of the interaction of a society and a religionon a galactic level.