The wise teachings of Yoda

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With its Jedis, the Force, and the eternal battle between good and evil, Star Wars is rather a religious film. Religious scientist Tekla Slangen explains why in her master thesis.
By Matthijs van Nieuwenhuijse / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Slangen first saw the Star Wars trilogy when she was a child. Her neighbours had taped it from television, and it was dubbed in German. ‘I was fascinated with the enormous space ships and the special effects.’ She watched the second trilogy in cinemas in the late nineties and has been a Star Wars fan ever since.

After a bachelor in religious science, she started the master religion and the public domain. She was mainly fascinated by religion in popular culture. ‘I collect plastic Mary statues and other kitschy religious stuff.’

Modern enchantment

It resulted in a paper on religious aspects in a Japanese anime film. But Star Wars and the battle between good and evil also suited her interests. In December 2015 she held a lecture before a showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens about Jediism: the official religion of a small group of fans inspired by the Jedi legacy. ‘By then, I was already working on my thesis.’ This month, she graduated with distinction.

Slangen mainly focused on an American Star Wars forum where fans discuss anything Star Wars-related, from the wise teachings of master Yoda to their favourite colour light saber. She wanted to find out if the fans discuss the religious elements in the films and if so, how they talk about it. She used American scientist Michael Saler’s theory on ‘modern enchantment’ to analyse these discussions.

Jediism

‘Fans partake of an imaginary world for a very long time, even though they know it’s not real. But by pretending it is – the so-called ironic imagination – they gain satisfaction’, Slangen explains. ‘Fans talk about the characters from the film as though they really exist, and discuss the minutest details about elements from the films.’

The result of her analysis is 125-page manuscript in which she concludes that fans do not discuss the Force in a ‘religious’ way.  ‘The fans do not consider their participation as a religious experience, which means there is no actual religion. The unwritten rules of the forum means religion doesn’t come into it’, says Slangen. Actual religious Star Wars discussions probably take place on smaller, membership-only forums about Jediism.

Taoism

Of course, this doesn’t actually make the Jedis and their dark side any less religious. Slangen sees a link with Taoism, Buddhism, and Christianity. Especially the contrast between good and evil is similar to the central energy source in Taoism. The Jedis are reminiscent of Buddhist monks, who meditate and live a sheltered life. And Anakin Skywalker is not unlike Jesus; he was born of immaculate conception and has special powers.

Now she has to slowly say goodbye to her favourite character, Yoda. ‘And not just because he talks funny.’ And JarJar Binks, who was truly her favourite, ‘although that’s not a popular opinion.’

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