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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 15:00 GMT
The gospel according to Luke (Skywalker)

You may be a fan of the Star Wars films, but are you a follower? Moves are afoot to have the fictitious Jedi philosophy the movies espouse recognised as a proper religion.

If 8,000 New Zealanders have heeded an e-mail asking them to declare Jedi as their faith on this week's census forms, then Star Wars will have spawned an officially recognised religion.

Jedi master Yoda
"Miss Piggy my other job is"
Kiwis who went along with the jape may have to explain themselves to the authorities since it is an offence to enter false information in the census.

But then surely no one can seriously adhere to the "ancient" Jedi creed so keenly observed by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the blockbuster series of films.

Wouldn't you have to be a crackpot to put any faith in "The Force" as explained by Yoda - a wrinkled puppet whose voice was supplied by Frank Oz, the vocal talent also behind Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear?

Creed is good

Perhaps not. Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola suggested George Lucas should turn the Jedi philosophy he invented for Star Wars into a fully-fledged religious movement to mobilise the global wave of interest the films had sparked.

Fans at Phantom Menace premiere
"Would you like to read some of our literature?"
"I remember [Francis] saying: 'With religion, you really have power.' I told him: 'Forget it. I don't have any interest in power,'" the multi-millionaire Lucas has said.

Some moviegoers still regret the director's lack of ecclesiastical ambition.

''If George Lucas turned this into a religion, it would blow L Ron Hubbard's Dianetics [a central part of the sci-fi writer's controversial belief, Scientology] out of the window,'' Star Wars fan Won Park told the New York Times (while dressed as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn).

Other fans of The Force have taken it upon themselves to distil it into a religious cannon, taking the film scripts as their scripture.

The dialogue! It's all frightful rubbish!

Sir Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Jedi Creed is a website operated by fans revelling in such assumed names as Jedi Relan Volkum and Lord Scorn. It addresses such theological questions as "Should Jedi work for government?" and "Vomiting: Disgusting, or Lesson on Life?"

The central tenet of the creed is that The Force is "an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together", as Sir Alec Guinness opined in Star Wars (1977).

The Jedi Creed site suggests by using The Force (and doing some sit-ups), followers can reach their full potential. "Remember," it says, "our human brain only uses about 15 to 20% of its capability."

Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Han Solo
"Couldn't you get a pew closer the pulpit?"
Star Wars fans have a reputation for being highly fanatical, says Kenny Baker, the man who filled the shell of R2-D2 in the films.

Baker, who now travels the world to attend Star Wars conventions, knows first-hand the lengths fans will go to to indulge their fascination.

"They're real eccentrics. They do things like ask you to sign their arm and then go off and get your signature tattooed," he says. "They are on a different planet. Definitely not of this world."

Worship enterprise

But among sci-fi followers it's not just Star Wars fans who seek spiritual guidance. Psychologist Dr Sandy Wolfson says Star Trek also boasts its legions of disciples.

"One respondent to a questionnaire wrote: 'I sometimes feel Gene Roddenbury [Star Trek's creator] may have been another coming of a Messiah.' He went on to draw parallels between Gene and Jesus."

George Lucas on the set of Phantom Menace
"You can play with R2 later, now get to Sunday school"
Dr Wolfson says the optimistic view of the future that is central to Star Trek, particularly its accent on multiculturalism and altruism, deeply inspires many fans.

"Some Star Trekkers even identify themselves as being part of a sect, persecuted for their interests and stigmatised by other people who consider them to be sci-fi anoraks."

Dr Mark Brake, a University of Glamorgan academic who studies the relationship between science fiction and science fact, says he is not surprised films, such as Star Wars, prompt spiritual musings.

Looking out

The Two Ronnies in a Star Trek spoof
"They're all backstabbers, except for you, Spock"
"Ever since Copernicus found the Earth wasn't at the centre of the universe, we've been looking for something bigger than us."

The idea that our planet is not unique, that the universe may be full of inhabited worlds, has driven science fiction and helped "displace" religion, says Dr Brake.

So adopting Jedi as your faith is not so strange after all? Well, perhaps those Kiwis who converted to Jedi for the census (if any did) should have heeded Han Solo's advice to Luke Skywalker.

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."

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