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"May the force be with you," a Texas minister said as he began his sermon Sunday. His congregation, of course, knew exactly what he was talking about.

He focused his sermon on the latest megahit movie: "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," part of a film series loaded with moral and spiritual symbols.

The Rev. Chris Hughes said he and other ministers he knows are using the new "Star Wars" film to reach out to those searching for spiritual renewal.

"The movie is not from the Christian point of view, but that's OK," said Hughes, pastor of United Methodist Church of the Covenant in Arlington, Texas.

"We are in a time when a huge part of the population is looking for spirituality," he said. "And we need to reach out to people who are searching and help them understand that, yes, there is a force out there bigger than themselves. And for us that force comes from god."

Hughes said his sermon drew wide interest from all ages. The fact that spiritual symbolism touches on principals not strictly Christian doesn't bother Hughes.

"As Christians, we know that Jesus Christ has impacted our lives with a force that is with us all the time," Hughes said.

Emphasizing the religious and theological themes of the "Star Wars" series is not uncommon.

Even an internet site created by Eli Williamson-Jones of Laporte, Colo., is based on spiritual aspects of the series.

"'Star Wars' - the Religion" is at http://hamp.hampshire.e-du/(tilde)elwF94/s_w_religion.html.

It includes sections about grace, fall from grace, the journey, friends, devotion, the master, the test, temptation, compassion, darkest hour and home.

Williamson-Johnson writes that the films are "like a religion that teaches great wisdom about the nature of our lives in this vast universe. From watching..., we can gain tremendous insight into human nature. We see our deep longings to find adventure, purpose and peace in our lives."

The Internet site discusses several main characters in moral or religious terms, including Anakin Skywalker, a man of great promise who involves into the evil personage of Darth Vader.

"Before he fell from grace, Anakin Skywalker was gifted and blessed with many talents," the site narrative states. But he becomes twisted and malevolent and mistakes good for bad and bad for good.

The "Star War" films have provoked theological discussions since the beginning of the series, said Lonnie Kliever, chairman of religious studies at Southern Methodist University.

There's a provocative blending of classical mythology, elements of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism with technological and scientific forces, he said.

"We have all three extraterrestrials - kind of angles in modern garb - struggling in a kind of world that transcends the every day world," the professor said. "And all those persons are bound together by this transcendent, impersonal force."

Kliever said spiritual interest accounts for much of the appeal of the "Star Wars" films.

The "force' in the "Star Wars" films is vast, incomprehensible power that is more akin to Hinduism and Buddhism than to Christianity, Kliever said.

"But the films resonate with the problems that every religion wrestles with," he said.

In several interviews, George Lucas, the creator of the "Star Wars" series, reveals that he purposely sought to involve religion and myth in the "Star Wars" series.

He wants to encourage us earthlings to look beyond our earthbound lives to a "force" much higher than ourselves.








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