In the parking lot next to Grauman's Chinese Theatre, amid throngs of tourists and cruisers lingering deep into a recent Sunday night, preparations continue for an ongoing cosmic battle between good and evil. Cloaked against the dazzle of Hollywood Boulevard at night, Jedi master Aaron Mosny, 21, is training his apprentice, or padawan, Elliot Evans, also 21, in the ways of the Force. The two stand among a dozen or so people camped out to see the first showing of "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith."
Mosny and Evans wear neutral-colored Jedi robes and hold realistic-looking lightsabers. "A lesson can be as simple as a question," says Mosny, a sharp, well-spoken guy with close-cropped hair. "I will ask him a question, and if he doesn't answer it correctly, I'll ask it again, at another time. The lesson is to meditate on your answer."
"I hate that lesson," laughs Evans, a big man with hippie-ish mannerisms and a padawan braid falling out from his long blond mane. The red tie on his braid means he started training after age 16, but Evans says Jedi lessons and saberfighting for the last year have already redirected some of his youthful rage, allowing him to get along better with his mother. He points out that the "Star Wars" lineup at Grauman's -- a likely vain effort by die-hards to persuade moviemakers to premiere "Sith" at the venue where the series began -- raises money (through sponsorship) for the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, which provides resources for seriously ill children.
Mosny and Evans might be anomalies at the "Star Wars" encampment -- there are no other Jedi lined up here -- but they are far from alone. To thousands of similarly passionate followers around the globe, the "Star Wars" franchise is great entertainment and upbeat future mythology. People want to do more than watch it or read it; they want to live it.
Sure, you may go to Dodger games with your face painted blue, or stand outside the Michael Jackson trial holding a sign declaring your support. But in the "Star Wars" "expanded universe" -- a term used by Lucasfilm to describe the books, films, video games and fan-generated ephemera surrounding the Vader saga -- fandom can be a way of life. An ethos. Even a path to enlightenment, or at least getting along better with your mom.
With "Sith" opening today and "Star Wars" turning 28 this year, the expanded universe is glowing like a lightsaber. Its adherents are not only studying Jediism, but also having "Star Wars" weddings, naming their children after principal characters, making unofficial books and movies, fashioning expensive costumes of their own, and trudging to conventions such as the recent Celebration III in Indianapolis, where George Lucas addressed a crowd estimated at 30,000.
A couple of hooded Jedi knights don't stand out much on this stretch of Hollywood, peopled as it is with wizards in tall black hats, nearly-nude 7-foot-tall demons with wings, and the occasional Elvis impersonator wandering over from Grauman's. But like the Mos Eisley Cantina on Tatooine, that suits the Jedi. It gives some cover to the seriousness of their mission. For Mosny and Evans, being a Jedi -- the warrior order fighting the evil Emperor and the dark side of the Force in the "Star Wars" movies and books -- is their professed religion and life philosophy.
"People say to us, 'Lucas is your pope,' or, 'You worship 'Star Wars,' " Mosny says, flipping his lightsaber on and off. "No. In fact, the religion does not come from 'Star Wars.' Jediism, if you had to sum it up, is close to Buddhism, Taoism and Bushido, the samurai way of the warrior."
Lucas, Mosny says, didn't have to invent a religion. He just gave a cool new name and heroic powers to a compelling syncretism of three existing disciplines -- philosophies and practices already followed by millions in what we'd like to call "real life." "Star Wars" was simply a vehicle to bring these Eastern beliefs to Western people. The Jedi saga is a story, a grand allegory, but it's a story that's no different, he says, than the Bible. The fact that we're sitting about 50 yards from the L. Ron Hubbard Gallery -- named for the science fiction writer whose nonfiction work spawned Scientology -- adds weird context to our discussion.
The Jedi orders, loosely affiliated practitioners of the philosophy, now reportedly number in the thousands worldwide. When Mosny's boss at respected software firm Genex questioned his professed Jediism, two other workers there came forward and also identified themselves as students of Jedi. He ended up funding Mosny's start-up company, Saberology, which makes "duelsabers" -- lightsabers with aluminum handles and illuminated, hard-plastic blades. In fact, though "Sith" may be the last "Star Wars" movie, it could be only the beginning for the Jedi.