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John Williams is my Religion

May 28th, 2008 | Jonathan Gray

I am a Jedi, like my father before me. Seriously.

When I lived in England in 2000, there was a movement to claim “Jedi” or “Jedi Knight” as one’s religion on the census. Some did this because they’re a little odd and actually think they can move things with their mind (like Silent Bob?). Some did it for a joke. Some did it to protest the dearth of available options on the census. The Church of England likes the question there so that they can convince people that they’re still relevant in what is often called a “post-religious” nation. But agnostic is not the same as atheist is not the same as Satanist … though the “Other” category lumps everyone in together. Add to this the rumor that was making the rounds, that any write-in answer offered by enough people would become a bona fide option on the next census, and in the end, an impressive 390,127 listed themselves as Jedi, my father and I among them.

jedi council

To contextualize this, by the way, the same census found that only three religions claimed more followers in England and Wales – Christian, Muslim, and Hindu. 0.7% of the English and Welsh population are Jedi, a greater percentage than Sikhs, Jews, or Buddhists. In Scotland, a lower number (14,052) and percentage (0.277%) identified as Jedi, though enough to make it the third largest religion in the country. Meanwhile, true to their epic trilogy roots, the people of New Zealand boast 53,000 Jedi, or 1.5% of the population, making it the second largest religion.

Now, being married to a demographer, I’m in a household in which census “games” aren’t at all kosher. All the same, I could wax political and express my hope that one day, the United States will be led by a Jedi President. Jedis, we learnt in Phantom Menace, are the intergalactic diplomats, Jedis don’t give in to fear or hate, and Jedis actually feel others’ suffering. However, if the Jeremiah Wright controversy is anything to go by, I’m guessing the Anakin Skywalker or Count Dooku controversies could prove devastating.

Instead, though, after watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull today, I think I must be honest that Jedi is not my religion. More accurately, John Williams is. The Indy movie was fun, sometimes stupid, yes, though sometimes very good, and it was a joy to see Harrison back in action and having fun. But the highlight was hearing Williams’ soundtrack in a theatre again. All week I’ve been humming it in my head. When I used to drive to exams as a student, I’d play it and the Superman theme to get me in the mood. I was proud and yet also touched to hear both Luke and Leia’s Theme and Yoda’s Theme at my friend’s wedding (before the ceremony) this last week. When I play the Hallowe’en clip from E.T. in my Mass Media and National Identity class, strictly speaking I don’t need to keep it playing to the Flying Theme, but I always do. I find it hard to leave a room with the Star Wars theme playing. And so on.

john williams

John Williams may not be God, but he is a musical deity. And hearing his music play in a theatre is a form of communion. Moreover, while there may only be a few hundred thousand Jedi in the world, I wonder how many millions of childhoods the world over were in effect scored by Williams?

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  1. May 31st, 2008 at 07:25 | #1

    Jon, thanks for another great post, and for unboxing some beloved memories!

    Count me in as one of those whose childhood was scored by Williams. Along with the classical music my Dad made me listen to (and whose strains I associated with the movie soundtracks in a way that totally confounded high/low culture hierarchy), the LPs of scores for Star Wars, Superman, Empire, and Indy rarely left my turntable. Talk about your extratextuality: in the days before VCRs (or before VCRs flooded into most American households), the soundtrack recordings were the closest I could get to “replaying” the movie — often I listened while poring over the album covers, which featured stills from the films, or while doodling my own spaceships and superheroes or even writing little Star-Warsy screenplays. My love of Williams led to equally big crushes on Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner — Horner’s soundtrack for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the most played albums on my iPod today.

  2. May 31st, 2008 at 11:46 | #2

    Thanks for this, Bob. It really speaks to me, too, reminding me of my own repeated playing of the Star Wars record and reliving the movie in my head as I lay on the floor of the living room

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