There is one overarching rule to the Star Wars universe: If there’s a way to make money on it, someone will find a way to do it.
May the 4th went from an unofficial, pun-driven fan holiday to a fully sanctioned, corporate-driven celebration of all things Star Wars. Similarly, whereas self-identifying as a Jedi was once a word-of-mouth, quasi-punk rock protest against government regulation of religion, it is now an avenue for potential profit. The relaunch of The Church of Jediism’s website, timed perfectly for May the 4th, is the official graduation of a proto-meme into an attempted business venture.
About 400,000 people in the UK said they were Jedi when asked about their religion in the 2001 census, and Daniel M. Jones, a musician and programmer who has Asperger’s, founded The Church of Jediism in 2007. Jones bills his group as the largest of the loose confederation of Jedi churches, and while it’s hard to pinpoint just how many people subscribe to its spiritual axioms, he points to an active Facebook page of nearly 12,000 members as a decent indication of its core following.
That page has long served as a de facto hub for members to talk about the church’s various doctrines, but Jones has far greater ambitions for the group. And the redesign of his site is far more than an aesthetic refresh; Jones bills the new Jedi hub as a community center, institute of religious learning, and technological leap forward.
Jones’s new venture borrows from a number of different, well-established approaches. It seems to have a mix of new age philosophy, self-help guru salesmanship, and capitalistic-style structure of paying to achieve enlightenment.
The Church of Jediism has long preached a sort of vague, optimistic version of self-realization, with tinges of Buddhism; you can read its ethics statement here. “We are part of everything, connected to each other and everything around us,” he told Inverse back in December, describing his group’s core belief. The new site establishes a more formalized path to ultimate knowledge, with specific lessons that are accessible for about $30 a pop. There will be a wellness app out later this summer, too. So eat your heart out, Obi-Wan.
“You use this site to improve your life; these are the first five courses. There will be a bunch more, but these are to see how it goes and see how people react to it,” Jones tells Inverse. “When you’re in the website, and you’re logged in, there’s different forums to talk about different levels of the program. People can gain little badges and earn points. The points can then be used to buy something within the Church of Jediism store. They could be used to download digital media, like videos or books or audio lectures, or anything like that. It gives an incentive, and people can grow and build up their profile within the site.”
As Disney holds gigantic events to promote the upcoming movies, the church’s new site is focused on digital learning. The path to Jedi enlightenment is color coded: Green is holistic well-being, with a free video course from Dr. Carole Griggs, who preaches the “iConscious Human Development Model” but is not, her site notes, a licensed therapist. The Gold level, which focuses on physical and mental control, boasts a video lesson from a meditation expert named Richard Cox, and a martial arts lesson from a British karate teacher named Christopher Jones.
The final level, Red, involves developing one’s superpowers, with lessons provided by a paranormal investigator named Loyd Auberbach. Jones acknowledges that no one will be able to fly or move things with the Force but talks of “tuning into your intuition and expanding your ability to trust your instincts.”
The group is largely volunteer-based, and Jones says that the prices they’re charging for the various lectures and lessons goes toward defraying the costs of web hosting and other expenses, like the cost of lawyers. Jones had to work with attorneys this fall as he wrote the group’s upcoming guidebook, Become the Force, which goes on sale in November. The five levels of Jediism are adopted from the book, which includes the wisdom Jones has accumulated over the last decade.
As you may notice going through the site, there is no actual mention of Star Wars. Thank the lawyers — and Lucasfilm’s corporate parent — for that.
““You have to be careful with Disney,” he says. “We consulted with Disney’s lawyers, so we know what we can and cannot do. So there’s a reason for the lack of mention of Star Wars. For obvious reasons, we have to do that. And it’s kind of taking it away from Star Wars. We say, ‘Oh it’s similar to this, it’s like the Star Wars universe.’ We use it just as a point of reference really. Legally, we have to be super careful.”
Already, the church had moved away from the developments of the films; Jones long ago swore off any serious study of midichlorians. But the gulf continues to grow. In some ways, this is very much a fringe group, with questionable experts, though they profess good intentions, which can’t be under-appreciated in a world tearing itself apart.
Should they avoid any more legal fees, Jones says the church hopes to raise money for volunteer work. That might include pitching in when American members’ need help covering health care expenses — this also became very relevant on May the 4th — and performing other acts of kindness. That’s the Jedi way, which you can master right now for about $150.
Correction: A previous version of this article suggested that Richard Cox is a sci-fi author. That is another Richard Cox.