No, I'm not talking about Anakin's immaculate conception, or any of the 'real world' religious implications of the Star Wars movies. Rather, I'm talking about Religion within the universe of Star Wars. Are there any organized religions? Are they all based on the Force?
In the movies, religion is 'glossed over' almost entirely. There is Grand Moff Tarkin's comment on Vader being the "...all that's left of their religion". There is Han Solo's comment on "Hokey religions". And then there is the Ewok's implied 'shaman' and their worship of Threepio as a god. And that's about it. The implications of the first two quotes suggest that the teachings of the Jedi were viewed as religious. This makes me wonder if non-Jedi followed these beliefs? Was there an organized religious section to the Jedi that we never saw? I begin to believe there may have been, especially when you see that the Jedi headquarters on Coruscant was called the "Jedi Temple". So did people come to worship there? Were there smaller temples on other planets? To me, it seems to make sense that there were. Heck, it might have even been the 'state religion' of the Old Republic-one that was outlawed by the Emperor after the 'betrayal' of the Jedi knights.
But then that begs the question- if the Jedi religion was outlawed, did the Empire put forth something new to take its place? To me, it seems like just the sort of insidious thing that Darth... Sidious (hah, get it?) would do. You take the Jedi temples around the galaxy, dress them up in your new state-sponsored religion and slowly introduce messages of subservience and unquestioning loyalty to the Empire. What I do NOT see happening is actually teaching Sith philosophy, because this actually encourages people to challenge their masters and take power for themselves- NOT something the Emperor would want spreading through the general populace. As an “added benefit” you could use this religion to help further persecute anyone who might be associated with the Jedi. In this way, the 'Inquisition' could have a place as a corrupt, quasi-religious movement.
This kind of corrupt Theocracy was presented in one of my favorite Star Wars RPG sourcebooks- on the appropriately named planet “Pergitor”. I already detailed that in another post, so I wont to into it here. But it does put forth a good model for a corrupt, Imperial sponsored ‘church’.
In the prequels, we see some sort of funeral ceremony for Qui-Gon. It is unclear as to whether or not this is a Jedi Ceremony or a Naboo ceremony, but it would seem that this building did have some religious significance to the locals. Likewise, when Anakin and Padme are married, we get a look at what could be the Naboo religion- though again, no overt mention is made of this. Padme’s funeral had all kinds of religious overtones (though perhaps this was more of a ‘state’ funeral than it was a ‘religious’ one).
In the old Marvel Star Wars comics (which I am finally getting to read in their complete form, thanks to the awesome ‘Omnibus’ books), I just learned of another organized galactic religion: The Order of the Sacred Circle. This religion is portrayed to have far-reaching influence throughout the Galaxy- so much so that both the Empire and the Rebellion both respect its neutrality and wish to court its favor to support their causes. There isn’t a whole lot made of just what the beliefs of the Order of the Sacred Circle are, other than they believe in ‘the circle of life’ and revere all forms of life. Even so, I found this story arc to be compelling. It adds a whole other range of possibilities for adventure, and another ‘power-bloc’ in the dynamic struggle of the Empire vs. the Rebellion. It is all the more interesting because it deals with belief and religious fervor, something the Empire can’t just ‘crush’ with its militaries- not without repercussions that might cause MORE unrest than it already has to deal with.
Though never explicitly mentioned in the movies, the B’omarr Order was another religion that sprung from the Expanded universe. These reclusive beings lived in a Monastery on Tatooine where they felt that isolation would help them achieve enlightenment. When one of their order became ‘enlightened’, his brain would be removed and placed inside a droid body (specifically a creepy looking spider droid). Their monastery was taken over by Jabba to use as his palace, but the Monks continued to dwell there, and eventually reclaimed their home after the Crime Lord’s death. The B’omarr represent an odd and insular religion, nothing ‘galaxy spanning’, but are yet another example of how religion can be used in the Star Wars galaxy to create unique adventure ideas, or even just colorful background filler. It takes all kinds. Even ‘brian spider monks’.
The Dim-U were a sect of Bantha-worshipping monks, first presented in the Star Wars RPG module “Tatooine Manhunt”. Here, they were mostly played for laughs through the rantings of one of their streetcorner preachers, speaking of the wonders of the Bantha and the “Age of Bounty” they would bring. But if the characters in the adventure visit their remote settlement of Oasis, you find that the Dim-U are actually quite nice people, perhaps a little...odd in their love of the Bantha, but well meaning and caring folks. A later Sourcebook on Mos Eisley paints them in a bit more skeptical light, implying that the order is just a front for a forgery business. I never much cared for this story hook, however- preferring the Dim-U to be pretty much as they present themselves. Sure, maybe one self-proclaimed ‘abbot’ is crooked, but the religion as a whole means what it says (even if it is a bit odd to most folks).
Apart from these ‘civilized’ religions, it is implied that many ‘primitive’ species have their own religions. The Ewoks have their Shamans and there are many other examples of this in the Expanded Universe. One of the more amusing of these ‘religions’ was presented in the novel “Han Solo’s Revenge”. Here, Solo was hiding out on a remote desert world and decided to raise a little money by showing holo-movies to the local populace. One of the movies (“Varn, World of Water”) became a source of awe for the natives (desert dwellers who already revered water). Thus, Solo accidently began a religion centered around this holo.
So, religion and Star Wars aren’t necessarily strangers to one another, but looking at it from a movie viewpoint, that relationship is downplayed and largely ignored. Why? Well, simple. Religion is a hot-button for a lot of people. In what is essentially an adventure movie for kids, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to include a lot of possibly controversial religious overtones. Or at least, this seemed to be the fact in the Original trilogy. Anakin’s conception throws all THAT out of the window- and sparked quite a bit of real world controversy. The fact folks in the real world list “Jedi” as their religion also disturbs some folks. So yeah, I think I understand why religion was downplayed in the Star Wars movies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it as part of a roleplaying campaign- that is, as long as your group is all on the same page and realize that it is just a ‘game’. Again, I’ve talked about being a Christian and a Star Wars fan, and how those things aren’t mutually exclusive. If you and your group are cool with including some kind of galactic religion in your campaign, then I say go for it. I haven’t ever really done so in my own game, but that is mostly just because I haven’t given it much thought. I think my players would be fine with it.
In one of the gaming blogs I read, a fellow gamer had to deal with an odd situation involving Star Wars and religion. Here, he tried to introduce a belief system other than ‘The Force’ and was pretty much attacked by one of his players for doing so. So, yeah… you need to be careful who you’re gaming with before you do something like this. For some it might be a matter of the game not ‘feeling like Star Wars’ with the introduction of other ‘religions’. For others, it might be an inability to separate real world beliefs from fiction and a game. The former I can understand a little. The latter annoys the heck out of me. So, GMs beware.