Jedi Order lures 53,000 disciples

By Alan Perrott

More than 120,000 New Zealanders and Australians claim the Force is with them.

The return of the Jedi who ruled a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away began with a tongue-in-cheek email campaign before the NZ Census in March last year.

If 8000 New Zealanders stated they were disciples of Star Wars characters Yoda and Luke Skywalker, the email claimed, the Jedi Order would become a recognised religion.

Despite only one week's notice, 53,715 people did just that - unofficially showing this country has more Jedi Knights than Buddhist, Baptists, Mormons, Hindu and Ratana Christians.

The Force then spread offshore, with Australia announcing on Tuesday that 70,509 people claimed Jedi leanings in their Census last August - despite warnings from the dark side that they could face a fine of up to A$1000. But Australian Star Wars Appreciation Society president Chris Brennan doubted there were many true believers among the more than 70,000 wannabe Skywalkers.

He told ABC Radio last week that only about 5000 would be "true hard-core people that would believe the Jedi religion carte blanche".

He said the rest either did so for a laugh or to poke borax at the Government.

The campaign also infiltrated the British and Irish Censuses, which were both held last April.

Media and public interest led British Census officials to grant the Jedi Order its own official code, but the number of Knights up-over will not be known until final data is released in December.

Statistics New Zealand also assigned Jedi an official code, but a spokeswoman said the resulting total was lumped in with The Church of Elvis and Rugby, Racing and Beer as "responses deemed outside the scope of recognised religions".

She said prospective Jedi might be disappointed to hear that no magic number of followers was needed to be an official religion.

Australia's Bureau of Statistics categorised all Jedi-related responses as "not defined for Census output purposes". But it held out against listing Jedi among the officially recognised miscellaneous religions such as the Flying Saucer Group, the Builders of Adytum and the Uranita Book Study Groups.

A website, Jedi Census, has been set up to spread the Jedi faith further.

- NZ Herald

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