You Don't Believe in the Force, Do You? Religion in Star Wars



Luke Skywalker is a quick convert. In one scene he is asking Obi-Wan Kenobi what the Force is. A few scenes later he is looking down on Han Solo's lack of belief in the Force. This got me wondering as to the state of religion in the Star Wars universe.

Let's take a look at the films. We'll go in order of release. I'll be quoting scripts from the Internet Movie Script Database.

Episode IV - A New Hope

In A New Hope I believe there are three references to religion/gods/etc. plus a fourth colloquial reference.

In the first, Admiral Motti is mocking Darth Vader's belief in the Force and refers to it as a religion:

                                     VADER
                         Don't be too proud of this 
                         technological terror you've 
                         constructed. The ability to destroy 
                         a planet is insignificant next to 
                         the power of the Force.

                                     MOTTI
                         Don't try to frighten us with your 
                         sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your 
                         sad devotion to that ancient religion 
                         has not helped you conjure up the 
                         stolen data tapes, or given you 
                         clairvoyance enough to find the 
                         Rebel's hidden fort...

               Suddenly Motti chokes and starts to turn blue under Vader's 
               spell.

                                    VADER
                         I find your lack of faith disturbing.


In the second, Luke and Han discuss the Force, with Han referring to it as "an ancient religion":

                                     HAN
                         Hokey religions and ancient weapons 
                         are no match for a good blaster at 
                         your side, kid.

                                     LUKE
                         You don't believe in the Force, do 
                         you?

                                     HAN
                         Kid, I've flown from one side of 
                         this galaxy to the other. I've seen 
                         a lot of strange stuff, but I've 
                         never seen anything to make me believe 
                         there's one all-powerful force 
                         controlling everything. There's no 
                         mystical energy field that controls 
                         my destiny.

               Ben smiles quietly.

                                     HAN
                         It's all a lot of simple tricks and 
                         nonsense.


Finally, Vader and Tarkin are discussing the presence of Obi-Wan Kenobi aboard the Death Star, with Vader claiming to sense him through the Force. Again, the Force is referred to as a religion.

                                     VADER
                         A tremor in the Force. The last time 
                         I felt it was in the presence of my 
                         old master.

                                     TARKIN
                         Surely he must be dead by now.

                                     VADER
                         Don't underestimate the power of the 
                         Force.

                                     TARKIN
                         The Jedi are extinct, their fire has 
                         gone out of the universe. You, my 
                         friend, are all that's left of their 
                         religion.


There is a minor reference to hell in this film as well, one that appears in other films as well:

               The princess grabs Luke's gun and fires at a small grate in 
               the wall next to Han, almost frying him.

                                     HAN
                         What the hell are you doing?

Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Unlike A New Hope, we don't have any references to the Force as a religion. However, we do have another reference to hell - this one less of an expletive and more in reference to a place:

                                    DECK OFFICER
                        Your Tauntaun'll freeze before you 
                        reach the first marker.

                                     HAN
                        Then I'll see you in hell!

Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi doesn't have any references to the Force as a religion but it does have the Ewoks mistaking C-3PO as a god:

                                HAN
                         What are you telling them?

                             THREEPIO
                         Hello, I think... I could be mistaken. They're using a very primitive 
                         dialect.  But
                         I do believe they think I am some sort of god.

               Chewbacca and Artoo think that's very funny. Han and Luke exchange                
               "what next?" looks.

                                HAN
                        Well, why don't you use your divine influence and get us out of this?

                                THREEPIO
                        I beg your pardon, General Solo, but that just wouldn't be proper.

                                HAN
                        Proper?!

                                THREEPIO
                        It's against my programming to impersonate a deity.

Episode I - The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace has a pair of references to gods, in reference to Jar Jar feeling he owes Qui-Gon a life debt.

                             JAR JAR
                        No...no! Mesa stay...Mesa yous humble servaunt.

                             QUI-GON
                        That wont be necessary.

                             JAR JAR
                        Oh boot tis! Tis demunded byda guds. Tis a live debett, tis. Mesa
                        culled Jaja Binkss.


Later, Qui-Gon makes reference to this debt:

                            QUI-GON 
                       We need a navigator to get us through the planet's core. I have
                       saved Jar Jar Binks' life. He owes me what you call a "life.debt."

                            BOSS NASS 
                       Binks. Yousa havena liveplay with thisen hisen?

            JAR JAR nods and joins the JEDI. QUI-GON waves his hand.

                            QUI-GON
                       Your gods demand that his life belongs to me now.

                            BOSS NASS
                       Hisen live tis yos, outlauder. Begone wit him.

                            JAR JAR 
                       Count mesa outta dis! Better dead here, den deader in da
                       core...Yee guds, whata mesa sayin?!

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones is about as sparse with religious references. It does have Anakin referring to his soul being tormented by Padme and Dexter referring to the Kaminoans being damn good cloners...

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Again, we are sparse on the religious references aside from some colloquial usages. However, we do get some insight as to the Jedi view on death:

                        YODA
                      Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for 
                      those around you who transform into the Force. 
                      Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. 
                      Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of 
                      greed, that is. 

From The Clone Wars animated series we learn that the Jedi do not believe one keeps his or her individuality upon death but rather becomes one with the Force. Qui-Gon's spirit says to Yoda near the end of the series: "You will learn to preserve your Life Force, and so, manifest a consciousness which will allow you to commune with the living after death."

Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Obviously with the film still in theaters at the time of this writing means I am going by memory that there is no explicit reference to the Force as a religion. However, we do meet Maz who, while not a Jedi, is familiar with the Force (it is unclear if she is a Force wielder or not). The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary does indicate Lor San Tekka is a member of "The Church of the Force". Wookieepedia describes it as follows:

The Church of the Force was an underground faith that believed in the ideals of the Jedi Order. It existed during the time of the Galactic Empire, when such spiritual beliefs were strictly forbidden. Despite the threat of Imperial rule, and the destruction of the Jedi Order at the end of the Clone Wars, the Church of the Force believed that the light of the Jedi would one day return to the galaxy.

Similarly the Visual Dictionary states:
In the time of the Empire, with the Sith secretly in command of the galaxy, any displays of organized worship or belief in the supernatual were against Imperial law. Underground religions spread across the galaxy, to finally emerge from the shadows with the defeat of Emperor Palpatine. Tuanul village on Jakku houses a collective of worshipers who praise the virtue of the Force without being graced by the ability to wield it.

Conclusions

So what is the state of religion in the Star Wars universe? Like I've said in relation to fantasy religions, being a believer is a lot easier when there is demonstrable evidence for your supernatural beliefs. However, it's unclear how much of this evidence is actually known across the galaxy - and it is also clear that even the Jedi Knights' understanding of the Force was incomplete, even at their peak.

How could people in the Star Wars galaxy not believe in a supernatural Force? After all, the Jedi were right there for all to see. But, we have Han Solo, a man who was born in the last days of the Republic who didn't believe in the Force. And Rey, a generation later, wasn't even sure Luke Skywalker was a real person. How can this be?

Let's start with Rey, as she is a bit easier to explain. With the Jedi gone for over fifty years at the time of A Force Awakens, it is becoming much easier for her not to believe. Luke Skywalker being a myth is also fairly easy to believe. First, it is uncertain that Star Wars has the same instantaneous access to information that we do - I doubt one could stream a YouTube video of Luke destroying the Death Star, facing Vader twice, pulling deflecting blaster bolts with his lightsaber, etc. And even if you could, would it be believed. "That image is clearly holoshopped,"

That idea can extend to the era of the classic trilogy as well. It is unlikely that very many people actually saw a Jedi in action. The Episode I Visual Dictionary (no longer canon, but probably reasonable for a baseline) indicated there were around 10,000 Jedi Knights at that time. To give an idea of numbers, there are around 414,000 Catholic priests on our planet and a priest's job is to be seen, unlike that of a Jedi. So there's 2.5% as many Jedi in the galaxy as there are Catholic priests on Earth. In a galaxy with a few thousand sectors, each with many, many systems, some far more populated than our Earth, it is very easy to believe that actually seeing a Jedi is incredibly rare.

And we also see the Empire denounced the Jedi as traitors and forbade organized worship. I would imagine the Empire also portrayed the Jedi as frauds, very much in keeping with Han Solo's line of "It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense". One can easily imagine how the Empire would have propaganda to explain away the abilities of the Jedi as being gadget and drug based. "They were a sinister cult which abducted children and plotted to overthrow the Republic."

That said, if there were to be organized religion in the Old Republic, I would imagine it would be based around the Force, much like the Church of the Force from The Force Awakens. I can picture something with elements of Taoism (such as seeking balance - the Dark Side being the Force out of balance). I'd also suspect that it would not be a major cultural force - something akin to the religious apathy one can find in Europe.

Beyond the Church of the Force, many cultures likely had their own religions, such as the gods of the Gungans or the Ewoks. However, such traditions appear to be more localized things.

Under the Empire, we see religious worship in general was forbidden, a state much like that of communist states. However, the worship of the Force is definitely still remembered, going by Han Solo, Admiral Motti, and Grand Moff Tarkin - and Vader is known to still follow a forbidden religion - though him being the Emperor's right hand man, would you tell him no? It is interesting to note that the Emperor and Vader believe in the very thing that is forbidden. Which is a good way to reduce the number of Force-sensitive threats.

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