Star Wars fans are legendary for their loyalty. I saw plenty of that in the 9:45 p.m. showing of Revenge of the Sith on its opening day. They had waited in line to get tickets to the very first showing at midnight the night before, and then saw it twice more before the opening day was over.

Many had obviously memorized all the howlingly bad lines. They began laughing out loud just before the line was said, and applauded at the wretched "emotional" moments in the movie.

But then, walking out of the theater, they fiercely defended the movie against anyone who dared to speak against it. It might be badly written, but it's their badly written movie.

Some fans are so loyal they have even adopted "Jedi" as their official religion on census reports and The Force as their equivalent of a "personal savior."

In a way, this is kind of bittersweet. It shows that the universal hunger for meaning is still prevalent, even in our agnostic era, which is encouraging; but these true believers will eventually realize that the philosophy behind Star Wars is every bit as sophisticated as the science - in other words, mostly wrong and always silly.

It's one thing to put your faith in a religion founded by a real person who claimed divine revelation, but it's something else entirely to have, as the scripture of your religion, a storyline that you know was made up by a very nonprophetic human being.

How Does the Force Stack Up As a Religion?

As a religion, the Force is just the sort of thing you'd expect a liberal-minded teenage kid to invent. There's no God and there are no rules other than a vague insistence on unselfishness and oath-keeping. Power comes from the sum of all life in the universe, and it is manichaean, not Christian - evil is simply another way of using the Force. Only not as nice.

Good and evil are in a constant and nearly equipoised tug-of-war in the Star Wars series. But in the more recent movies, it seems that the goal of good people is not to wipe out evil, but rather for there to be a balance between the Light and Dark sides of the Force.

The new movie itself asserts a kind of equivalence. When the evil Palpatine says, "Good is a point of view--the Sith and the Jedi are almost the same," we can dismiss this moral relativism as part of the deception of the dark side.

But in a pivotal scene, Obi-Wan says what amounts to the same thing: "Only a Sith deals in absolutes."

Isn't that odd? The only thing both sides agree on is that people who believe in absolute good and evil are bad!

I suspect that Lucas realized, after writing "Good is a point of view," that all his friends actually believed that. So he had to make it clear that moral relativism was the right way after all-so he had Obi-Wan say that absolutism was a Sith thing, even though in the actual story, the best of the Jedis show an unbending commitment to absolute Good.

It's a terrible thing, I suppose, for a writer to invent a religion and then discover that he and all his friends are on the wrong side of it.

The Jedi: A Ruling Elite

Revenge of the Sith gives us our first chance to see the Jedi council as anything more than an incredibly boring business conference that we were forced to attend between action scenes. Not as if the Jedi masters discussed ideas - it was still a business meeting, in which they told each other obvious things and then made decisions by a sort of instant consensus that is never achieved in the real world except in really scary dictatorships. Clearly they were modeled after an adolescent view of the Knights of the Round Table.

But they aren't a political or military group, despite the talk of government, of war and peace. They are also monks of a martial order, who have trained each other and who live under a strict religious discipline.

The Jedi may claim to be in favor of democracy, but in fact they function as a ruling elite, making their decisions among themselves. They occasionally submit to the authority of the legislature, and they seem to respect the rule of law, though whose law it's hard to say. By and large, however, they decide among themselves what they're going to do and when it's OK to break the law and defy the civilian authority.

They are, in fact, utterly anti-democratic, like a militia that owes nothing to civilian authority. Eventually there's going to be a coup.

And even though they train like crazy to learn to master their power, none of their discussions as a council are devoted to considering what is right and wrong. They simply know the rules and, except for those being tempted by the Dark Side, they never question them.

They have way too much power.

There are other ways that the actual story subverts the official "religion" of the Force. Take the idea that you become a Jedi by training. Well, sure - but you are only chosen to train for the Jedity if you have some kind of inborn power.