Tara Isabella Burton on How We All Became Jedis

Kylo Ren, left, and Rey battle in “Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” Photo courtesy of Disney/Lucasfilm

Tara Isabella Burton is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. Winner of the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for Travel Writing, she completed her doctorate in 19th century French literature and theology at the University of Oxford and is a prodigious travel writer, short story writer and essayist for National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist’s 1843 and more. She currently works for Vox as their Religion Correspondent, lives in New York, and divides her time between the Upper East Side and Tbilisi, Georgia. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


After nearly 40 years, the Star Wars saga is almost complete, and the decades-long journey of the Jedi is ending. But the spiritual legacy of the Jedi is sure to last much longer.

The implicit metaphysics of Star Wars — that there’s a vague energy called The Force that flows through us all, that has both Light and Dark Sides between which we all must choose — has by 2019 become an indelible part of our collective conversation.

In 1980, just three years after the first Star Wars movie came out, “A New Hope,” the American public was still overwhelmingly Christian. Sixty-one percent of Americans described themselves as Protestant, and 28% said they were Catholic.

Today, just 43% of Americans identify as Protestant and 20% as Catholic. More Americans than ever before — about a quarter — identify as “religiously unaffiliated,” while, according to different polling data, about a fifth say they’re “spiritual but not religious.”

These Americans aren’t, of course, becoming literal Jedis. But we hardly need to carry a light saber to find ourselves talking about a powerful energy that binds together the universe. For more and more Americans whose spirituality lies outside traditional faith structures — even those who identify as Christian but whose private beliefs are more syncretic in nature — the theology espoused by Star Wars, of vaguely conceived notions of Light and Dark, has become the new theological normal.

The idea of a cosmic force with good and bad iterations is as old as, well, yoga. But these days it can found in SoulCycle classes, meditation apps and self-help and self-care guides advising us to avoid “toxic” energy in others. A 2018 Pew poll found that a full 42% of Americans said they believed that spiritual energy could be located in physical objects. (That number spiked to 47% among the religiously unaffiliated.)

What the Star Wars approach to cosmology doesn’t have is much of a moral code. Denuded of its particularity on Tatooine or Hoth, it requires little in the way of ethical commitment beyond not actively choosing the Dark Side, the chief downside of which seems to be developing a complexion you need to conceal under a helmet.

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Source: Religion News Service