The long ago, far, far away world of Star Wars is no stranger to modern Earth politics. A global defense system proposed in the ’80s was derogatively termed “Star Wars,” and Obama flubbed a reference a few years back when he mentioned a “Jedi mind meld.”
But one phenomenon actually impacted the world’s governments for the better: the Jedi order’s presence in census results.
The world’s Jedi population spiked in England and Wales in 2001: roughly 390,000 respondents checked Jedi Knight as their religion, using a code provided by census takers thanks to a viral email chain hyperbolically claiming that a 10-thousand-strong petition could turn the Jedi order into a “fully recognized and legal religion.”
John Pullinger, the director of reporting and analysis at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), supports the Jedi order: “Census agencies worldwide report difficulties encouraging those in their late teens and 20s to complete their forms,” he states. “The campaign may well have encouraged people to complete their forms and help us get the best possible overall response.”
That’s right: in Pullinger’s expert opinion, the Jedi order directly benefitted British politics.
The numbers of England and Wales adherents to the elegant religion from an more civilized age marked 0.8 percent of the total population, though the density was higher in Cambridge and Oxford, with 1.9 and 2 percent of the population, respectively.
The so-called “Jedi census phenomenon” also popped up elsewhere. It attracted international attention in 2001, picking up 14,000 Scots, 70,000 Australians, and 50,000 New Zealanders—in New Zealand, “Jedi” ranked second only to “Christian” as the most common religious affiliation.
In January of 2009, Canada became the first country in the world to acknowledge the Order of the Jedi, Inc. as a “federally incorporated non-profit religious entity.” For the 2001 census, 21,000 Canadians registered as Jedi Knights, but the number fell by more than half for the 2011 census, hitting just 9,000. I can only assume Anakin—played by Hayden the Canadian, let’s not forget—was taking out tiny hockey-loving Padawans left and right.
The trend has continued over the years, with more and more countries’ citizens getting into the fun: Croatia, Ireland, Serbia, and the Czech Republic have converted to the Jedi order in measurable numbers. Sadly, the number of faithful has dropped since 2001. But thanks to the influence of The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars flick since 2005, we might soon see an uptick in Jedi converts.
Most recently, a student-led Turkish campaign in April 2015 petitioned for a Jedi temple to be built on the Dokuz Eylul University campus in response to a similar call for a construction of a mosque. One comment on the petition, which garnered 5,500 signatures, convincingly argues that “the nearest temple (is) billions of light years away.”
Though lighthearted, this petition highlights the social issues that, at least in part, drive the worldwide popularity of the Jedi order: respondents might be protesting a mandatory question about their religion, which many consider a private matter. Thankfully, the prequel trilogy never focused on the separation of the Jedi church and the Imperial state, which could have been almost as boring as, say, trade disputes.
Another possibility behind the Jedi census phenomenon: the Jedi order actually is gaining true believers. When discussing the 70,ooo Australian Jedi in 2002, president of the Australian Star Wars Appreciation Society Chris Brennan offered an optimistic estimate that at least 5,000of those respondents were “true, hard-core people that would believe the Jedi religion carte blanche.”
The final possibility? That most respondents had no political motivation, and just thought filling out “Jedi Knight” was hilarious. To be fair, it was.