You can dedicate your life to serving the Force if you want, but you can't become a Jedi warrior-priest unless you were born with the power and anointed as some Jedi's apprentice.

In other words, they may seem very inclusive-one Jedi from every species (except for humans, who are way overrepresented)-but in fact they're a self-perpetuating aristocracy.

Who Are the Bad Guys?

So instead of looking at the storyline of Episode III as a conflict between good and evil, you could read it as a conflict between the entrenched aristocracy trying to preserve their monopoly on power, and an ambitious upstart, who is determined to break that monopoly and take control for himself. The only reason we don't see it that way is because the other side is so much more evil. But the body count left behind by Jedi knights is - or should be - disturbing.

In other words, despite whatever political message Lucas might or might not have intended, the Jedi are the smug orthodoxy, always congratulating themselves on their rectitude. No wonder the whole senate seems thrilled when the new Emperor announces the fall of the Jedi. They don't know yet how evil the Emperor will be, but they know they don't mind having the meddlesome Jedi out of the way.

A Conservative Religion

The overt religion of Revenge of the Sith is a kind of democratic pantheism, but the real religion is for the privileged few, who get to decide what's best for everybody else and then enforce their own rules, all in the name of "the Force."

How did a nice Protestant boy like George Lucas come up with an official religion more rigidly hierarchical and doctrinally uniform than Catholicism?

It's the religion of the people who are Chosen, and you aren't ready to have a share of the power until we say you are. Quite the opposite of, say, the Quakers or even the Puritans, who eschewed permanent religious hierarchies.

Even the afterlife is reserved for the few, the proud, the Jedi. As we learned at the end of Return of the Jedi, even the most dark-side-serving of ex-Jedi mass murderers can, with a single "good" act like refusing to murder his own son (which even the most evil men generally avoid), earn the right to eternal life as the equal of true saints like Yoda and Obi-Wan.

But not one of the others who died in the war against the evil Sith emperor was similarly granted a life after death-or at least, if they were, they apparently weren't allowed on camera at the end of Return of the Jedi. Maybe the non-Jedi had to stay in their own segregated section of rock-'n-roll heaven.

No! That's not fair! The Jedi devote their whole life to the service of others!

But they're not chosen on the basis of their virtue-for all we know, there are millions of people more virtuous and unselfish than they. And since they alone get to determine what "the good of others" actually consists of (though it does seem to include a lot of killing), how are the Jedi distinguishable from any number of other dictatorial groups that justify their actions by claiming that they do it all for the little guy?

So it might not be such a good thing if the Star Wars films become the first movies to lead to a real-world religion.

Of course, all this quibbling would be moot if, in fact, the Jedi religion actually worked-if people could tap into the Force and do the miracles that the Jedi routinely perform.

But it doesn't work. No matter how intensely you believe, you can't leap tall buildings with a single bound or drive a car with your eyes closed.

So if a religion is known to be fictional, trains its exclusive practitioners to be killing machines, and doesn't actually work in the real world, why do people call themselves Jedi?

As a protest against religion in general?

As a yearning for power?

Or as a dream of a world in which virtue, however it's defined, can actually do something tangible against the evil in the universe?

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