This Friday (May 4) is the official day for Star Wars fans to celebrate the franchise in all of its glory. The reasoning, much like everything associated with Star Wars in the past 15 years, is fairly contrived. It’s likely because of a translation error of a George Lucas interview on a German TV station (“May the Force be with you” was translated into “May 4 be with you”). Regardless, it gives nerds a chance to geek-out and walk around the office saying “May the Fourth be with you!” all day.
Star Wars Day has a different meaning to me, though, because I saw the dark side of fandom and obsession during a brief period in the last decade in which I was accidentally voted to the International Council of the Church of the Jedi. Or maybe it was the Jedi Church High Council. Either way, I was given a leadership position in a movement that was striving for international legitimacy.
I was always a Star Wars fan, first getting addicted to the franchise when they were rereleased in theaters in the mid-to-late 90s. Star Wars books were the first books I read as a kid that weren’t written by Matt Christopher. I even had a group of nerd-friends that helped me overtake a baseball card shop once a week for marathon sessions of the Star Wars version of Magic: The Gathering. My grandma never stopped getting me Star Wars stuff for Christmas, even long after I outgrew it (it was awesome as a kid, lame as a whiny high schooler, then awesome again as a college kid. My Luke Skywalker Lego pen was the highlight of my Philosophy 101 class).
I went through the same steps of grief every fan went through after George Lucas had his stroke and called it a prequel. That Star Wars love sat dormant in my soul for a few years. It was stirred somewhat five years ago when I got an email from an editor at a website I wrote for. Apparently, there was an ongoing movement to make the whole Jedi thing an officially recognized religion and it was gaining steam in New Zealand and in the U.K. Would I want to go through the process of becoming an official member of this Church to then become the website’s “religious” pundit?
The assignment from the website sort of fizzled out and I did nothing with my newfound role. That should have been the end of it, but the Jedi Church was having elections to their international council a month later. There was so much infighting among the members that they all voted for the people they didn’t hate. And that’s how I became a part of the Jedi Church High Council. I wasn’t even aware they were holding elections until I won one of the slots.
The purpose of the High Council was to create some sort of uniform doctrine. Apparently, some chapters were forcing their members to wear robes while others were training their members in how to use a light saber (but since those aren’t real they probably trained with cardboard tubes). This had to be settled to gain “legitimacy”, it was explained by someone who was trying to create a religion based off a popular kids movie.
What followed were a series of inane conversations on AOL’s Instant Messenger (remember that?) about what the Church would/wouldn’t allow. That was the first time I was exposed to fans so extreme in their devotion that they literally worshipped in accordance with a movie and lived their lives by its principles. And it wasn’t just a few people, there were tens of thousands of people who were claiming Jedi as their official religion or joining the Church.
The high point of the council debates? When it was decided that The Force was not to be used for sexual pleasure. As if that was the one problem standing between this movement and legitimacy. Granted, one of the hallmarks of organized religion is making rules about what you can do in the bedroom, but being subjected to a debate this absurd was enough to make me regret getting my certificate in the first place.
We had no official stance of using force in the bedroom; you just couldn’t use The Force. So you could choke a lady (assuming she asked you to and you have a good safe word, like “Kung’urama’nuruodo”) but you just couldn’t Force Choke her, Vader-style.
That’s when I turned my back on the Jedi Church. I wanted to be able to enjoy the original movies for years to come without having to think about a world where people are interpreting scenes to find out how they should live their lives. For me, Star Wars Day is just a reminder that some people care so much they have opinions on people manipulating The Force to find their Dark Side in the bedroom.