JediThe Jedi are a tradition of mystics from the Star Wars series of films by George Lucas.
"The Force" is described as being an energy field that is generated by all living things and permeates the universe and all the things in it. Its principles resonate with those of some real world religions like the shinto religion of Japan and certain Celtic, druidic concepts. As explained in the movie Star Wars: Episode I, Jedi get their ability to understand the Force from a symbiotic organism in their body called midi-chlorians (an obvious play on mitochondria.) The higher the midi-chlorian count in their cells, the stronger the Force is with the particular individual. Anakin Skywalker had a reading of over 20,000 which was even higher than master Yoda's.
History and Structure of the Order
The Jedi Knights were an order of individuals that had the ability to touch and use the force. The Jedi followed the "light" side of "The Force". The order began some 25,000 years before the rise of the Galatic Empire. Initally the Jedi was a contemplative order, however over time the order took a more direct and active role in galatic affairs.
The life of a Jedi was one of sacrifice. Those who showed an aptitude for the Force were taken at birth or soon after to train in the Jedi temple on Coruscant, where the order was headquartered. From the outset of their training they live a life of simplicity adhering to the Jedi Code which forbids having material possessions or emotional attachments. This training was initially done by a venerable, experienced Jedi until the individual was sufficient enough to start the journey of a Jedi.
Their members progressed through three levels of rank: first the Padawan an apprentice who begins training under a Jedi Knight at a young age, about 12, then Jedi Knight, and finally the level of Jedi Master. There are three types of Jedi, the Jedi Guardian, the Jedi Sentinel, and the Jedi Consular. Eventually they could become a member of the Jedi Council which acted as a governing body for the order and an advisor board for the Republican Senate. A speculative fourth level also exists following a Jedi Master's passing over to The Force, therein becoming a Jedi Spirit. A Jedi could have only one apprentice at a time, and was required to promote the current apprentice before taking another.
Among other tasks, the Jedi eventually became responsible for law enforcement and peacekeeping in the Galactic Republic (though they were considered neither police nor an army.) The order came to be known as the guardians of justice. To that end, they use The Force and extensive training to become extremely formidable in battle. Their traditional weapon was the lightsaber which in the hands of a skilled wielder, could be more than a match for most opponents even when they are armed with ranged weapons. A common task for the Jedi is to construct their own lightsaber.
The Dark Side
The power of the Force does not come without a price. The power comes with great temptation to misuse it, and emotions such as hate can cause the Jedi to be overcome by the "dark side" of the force. The dark side of the force is the easier path and at first can seem more powerful, but also is taxing to the body, as is evidenced by Palpatine's appearance by the time of Return of the Jedi. When one goes over to the "dark side", there is little hope of recovery.
The consequences of a Jedi falling to the Dark Side of the Force were quite high, not only for the fallen individual, but for many others as well. Such Jedi were normally referred to as either Dark Jedi or as members of the Sith order. In an earlier time, Dark Jedi had battled extensively with the Jedi. The Great Sith War, which took place 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, had serious reprecussions for the galaxy. Many Jedi were killed in this war.
About 1,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, after many years of fighting with the Jedi, and amongst themselves the Sith order was believed to have died out. In fact, only two Sith Lords - a Master and an Apprentice - had survived. For the next 1,000 years, the Sith order quietly continued on, biding its time until conditions were right in the galaxy for them to resurface.
32 years before Yavin, the presence of the Sith again became known to the Jedi. Two Sith Lords, the Master Darth Sidious, and the apprentice Darth Maul supported the blockade of Naboo. After Darth Maul had died, the Jedi knew that somewhere in the galaxy there was still one member of the Sith still active, but they were unaware of the existence of Sidious. During the next 10 years, former Jedi Count Dooku fell to the dark side, and became the new apprentice Darth Tyrannus. Dooku and Sidious arranged the Clone Wars as a way of consolidating Supreme Chancellor Palpatine's hold on the galaxy. (It's widely believed by fans that Sidious and Palpatine are the same person, but it has not offically been confirmed.)
After the Clone Wars, the Jedi Anakin Skywalker fell to the dark side. He suffered grievious injuries during a fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi. After the fight, Anakin became Darth Vader. The injuries he sustained required Vader to receive prosthetic devices to keep him alive.
The Dark Times, The Empire
The Jedi were almost completely wiped out through the actions of followers of the Dark Side, led by the Sith lord Darth Sidious. All Jedi, save two, were wiped out following the clone wars by Anakin Skywalker, who had by this time succumbed to the dark side of the force and was then known as Darth Vader. The last remaining Jedi were Obi Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker's own teacher, and Yoda.
The novels written after the original trilogy indicate that the Empire took steps to exterminate the Jedi and any family members. Corran Horn's grandfather was a Corellian Jedi named Nejaa Halcyon, who had died in the clone wars. Halcyon's friend Rostek Horn married Halcyon's wife, adopted Corran's father Valin "Hal" Horn, and altered the records concerning the Halcyon family. He did this to protect Hal and his mother from the Empire's Jedi hunters. Hal kept the knowledge of Corran's true grandfather from him, because revealing that knowledge would have made Corran a target as well. As a result, Corran only learned of his true heritage when Luke Skywalker discovered his past, and shared that discovery with Corran.
The Emperor also trained a number of "Hands," or those who had the potential to use the Force as his personal agents. Through the Force, he was able to relay orders to his agents. Mara Jade was one of his agents. She had been discovered to be Force sensitive at a young age, and was taken by the Emperor for training.
The actions of Luke Skywalker and his relationship with the Force were a principle plot device in the films. As a sign of how desperate things had become, Luke was taken into the Jedi fold as a young adult instead of during infancy.
After the Civil War
In the novels set after the civil war, Luke's main task was to reestablish the Jedi order by training a new generation of Jedi Knights. It was not an easy task. Because the Emperor wished to completly destroy the order, just about all the information on the Jedi was destroyed. Only a few histories remained, and they were propaganda pieces used to paint the Jedi in an unfavorable light. Almost all the material on instructing Jedi was eliminated, save a few documents on how to turn potential Jedi to the dark side of the force.
Four years after the death of the Emperor at Endor, Luke had discovered the wreck of the Chu'unthor on the planet Dathomir. The Chu'unthor was a starship that had served as a mobile Jedi academy, which had crashed on Dathomir. Dathomir was the home of Force sensitive "Witches," who were the descendants of a fallen Jedi banished to that world. Master Yoda had left the instruction materials from the ship behind with the rest of the ship. 400 years later, after defeating Witches that had fallen to the Dark Side, one of the natives gave Luke the instruction materials that she had kept safely since the time of the crash.
Due to Luke's lack of knowledge with the old ways of the Jedi order the new generation of Jedi were very unorthodox. He established an academy for teaching many students the way of the Jedi which is much different to the "one student, one master" way used by the old order. The academy was established in the old temples on Yavin 4 that the Rebels once used as a base until the Battle of Yavin. He allowed his students to have personal possessions and had no rule against a Jedi having emotional attachments to friends and family, which was forbidden by the old order. Also, students were taken in at a much older age than previously. Most members were already well in to adulthood before they began training.
What Luke didn't know was that Yavin 4 had been a base for the Sith Lord Exar Kun during the Great Sith War. He wasn't aware that Kun's sprit had been trapped in the temples all that time. As a result, Kun was able to influence one of Luke's students. This student, Kyp Durron, eventually fell to the dark side for a time while under Kun's influence. Durron destroyed several star systems in the Sun Crusher. Meanwhile, the students at the academy were able to finally destroy Kun's sprit. Freed of Kun's influence, Durron surrendered. Durron returned to the light side of the force, and became one of the first new Jedi.
Luke eventually turned the academy into a center that would provide basic training for potential Jedi. He began pairing Jedi who had gone through that training with a more experienced Jedi, much like the master / apprentice system used in the old order.
The New Jedi Order
This new order grew slowly but steadily. Some Jedi from the first class Luke taught - such as Kyp Durron - were now Jedi Masters. The order had become large enough in time that Luke Skywalker reinstated the Jedi Council to direct the order. Shortly after this was done an extragalactic alien species declared war on the galaxy. Many Jedi died fighting this new threat, but the order did survive the war and once again continues to grow in strength. One of the Jedi casualties of this war was Anakin Solo, the youngest son of Han Solo and Leia Organa-Solo. Before his death, it was widely felt that Anakin would eventually become one of the greatest Jedi of his generation, and that he would eventually take Luke's place.
After the war with the Yuuzan'Vong was over, Luke realized that the order would have to further adapt in order to survive. His experiences had led him to believe that the Force was not either exclusively light or dark, instead it had many shades of gray. He felt that strong emotions, such as anger, were not in itself evil, that rather it was the intent of the person that mattered most. Luke also had come to believe that nearly everyone had the ability to touch and use the Force, it was not just limited to Jedi. He felt that individual Jedi would need to discover their own paths, that some may be called to contemplative life, while others would be called to take a more active role in galatic affairs.
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Wired: Jedis Stand for the Census Count
To the frustration of the census managers in New Zealand, England, Wales and Australia, an e-mail saturating inboxes for the past couple of months just refuses to go away. By Kim Griggs.
Telegraph: Jedi Knights force way into census religion list
Jedi Knights, the galactic order of warriors from the Star Wars films, were celebrating a small victory last night in their campaign to be recognised as an official religion.
Plastic: Reality Imitates Art -- 'Jedi Knights' Now Almost-Official Religion in the UK
Jedi Knight' is on the list of religions for the 2001 UK census. Apparently, sufficient numbers of people wrote it on their census forms that a code for the 'faith' (896) has been allocated for the census processing team to use.
Urban Legends Reference Pages: Religion (Census Knight)
Can Australians or those in the UK make 'Jedi' a recognized religion in in their country by entering it as their religion on the 2001 census form? No.
Savannah Now: Britons check off Jedi Knight when asked their religion on census form
When asked their religious affiliation on the 2001 census forms, many Britons are writing in "Jedi Knight," government officials said Wednesday.
CNet: E-mail stunt empowers Jedi fans
Star Wars fans in the United Kingdom are stung by an e-mail suggesting that the forthcoming UK Census would recognize Jedi as a religion if enough people put it on the form.
Australian IT: Email urges vote 'Jedi' in census
Star Wars fans have mounted an email campaign to encourage people to nominate "Jedi" as their religion in the upcoming census on August 7. By Caitlin Fitzsimmons.
Register: Jedi Knights achieve official recognition as a religion
Jedi Knights have gained official recognition as a religion in the UK Census 2001. By Kieren McCarthy.
Register: May the false declaration be with you
On Sunday 29 April would-be Jedi Knights have a rare opportunity to achieve official recognition for their 'religion'. By Lester Haines.
icSouthlondon: Jedi census reports not true
The Office for National Statistics is denying reports that people will be able to tick 'Jedi' as their religion on the next census form.
Register: UK Jedi get green light
The census form itself confirms that entering a frivolous faith therein will not result in an appearance before the courts. By Lester Haines.
ZDNet: Star Wars fans stung by Jedi email
Despite proving that the Internet is a genuinely unifying 'force', email stunt will not work. By Will Knight.
About.com Urban Legends: Star Wars Religion Doesn't Make Census
Will filling in 'Jedi' as your religion on census forms cause the government to recognize it as a legitimate faith? A three part series of articles by David Emery.
Jedi Master Am I Therefore Normal Rules of Grammar I Do Not Follow
Editorial about the census stunt by Andrew Rilstone.
The Jedi Religion
Rants/humor criticizing the arbitrary nature of state recognition of religion.
BBC: The gospel according to Luke (Skywalker)
You may be a fan of the Star Wars films, but are you a follower? Moves are afoot to have the fictitious Jedi philosophy the movies espouse recognised as a proper religion.
BBC: Jedi e-mail revealed as hoax
Thousands of Britons receive an e-mail saying the Star Wars Jedi religion will be legally recognised if it has enough census mentions.
BBC: Jedi makes the census list
A campaign to get people to write the entry on their census forms has succeeded in the term being included on the list of religions for the 2001 UK census.