Canada's Jedi Knights not as much of a religious force

Once numbering around 20,000, the ranks of those in this country who claim to be Jedi Knights inspired by Star Wars movies have dwindled to fewer than half that figure, according to Statistics Canada's 2011 National Household Survey.

StatsCan's household survey says number claiming Stars Wars-inspired religion is down

The Stars Wars film series launched in the 1970s and featuring stars such as, from left, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, also inspired a religious following of Jedi Knights. Statistics Canada says the number of people claiming to follow the Jedi religion has dropped since 2001. (20th Century-Fox Film Corporation/Associated Press)

Strong, the Force is not. In Canada, at least.

Once numbering in the vicinity of 20,000, the ranks of those in this country who claim to be Jedi Knights inspired by Star Wars movies have dwindled to fewer than half that figure, according to Statistics Canada's first release of data from the 2011 National Household Survey.

"A lot less this time. I think there's about 9,000 reporting Jedi," said Jane Badets, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada.

"And that was true elsewhere in other countries. A lot less than in other countries, too, doing censuses. Very low reporting of things like Jedi."

What started as a gag among friends on a British Columbia ski hill ballooned into something of a phenomenon on the 2001 census when thousands of Canadians told Statistics Canada they followed the Jedi religion of Star Wars lore.

But real-life Jedis insist their religion is no joke.

"A Jedi is not someone who acts like the way they do in the movies," Maha Vajra, the self-described Grand Master of the Canadian Order of the Jedi, said in a recent interview in which he asked to be identified by his adopted Jedi name.

"We don't dress up funky, we don't carry light sabres, we don't combat the Empire."

Real-life Jedis readily acknowledge their movie counterparts are purely fictional. They see the films as inspirational and fantasy parables, in much the same way other religions use fantastic stories to glean morals.

Order of the Jedi more than just dressing up

Jediism is the study of the philosophies largely borrowed from Buddhism and Daoism in the Star Wars film series, Vajra said in an interview from St-Raymond, Que.

"What we do is what the masters of Jediism in the movies explain: self-mastery, responsibility, practising virtues like compassion, charity, [and] forgiveness, in everyday actions. This is what Jediism is."

Vajra acknowledged some newbies will dress up as Obi-Wan Kenobi and wield a plastic light sabre at gatherings, but those habits don't last long in the real Order of the Jedi.

"In the beginning, there's this fantasy escape mode where they try to live in another world," he said. "But our job is to bring them back here and allow them to see they can be happy in this world."

With Episode VII of Star Wars in the works, Vajra said he expects to see a surge in followers upon its release.

Interestingly, although their numbers have fallen off, Jedis still outnumber other religions.

Statistics Canada says 1,050 people declared themselves to be Satanists in the 2011 survey, while 1,745 were Scientologists and 6,130 were Zoroastrians.

There were also 1,055 Rastafarians scattered across the country.