Editor's note: This story originally published Dec. 16, 2015. We're bringing it back because it's time to talk Star Wars again.
This is a Jedi love story, and I promise it's not as painfully awkward as Attack of the Clones.
A long, long time ago (well, three years) in a galaxy far, far away (well, New Zealand), Brenna Cavell was scanning the Internet.
She came across a belief system that seemed familiar, but she hadn't heard of it before: Jediism. Out of curiosity, she signed up with the Beaumont-based Temple of the Jedi Order, a community of thousands of Jedis who believe in the Force as the most powerful entity in the universe.
"It was kind of like coming home," Cavell said. "It was more of discovering the beliefs I had."
Three years earlier on the other side of the planet, Clint West, of Arlington, was looking up schematics for the Millennium Falcon when he found the temple. He liked the ideas about the Force as a way to interpret universal truths, but went back and forth on joining at first.
Today, he's a Jedi Knight and a member of the council in the temple.
The two met online soon after she joined. They hit it off immediately and started chatting regularly. He's retired military. She's a life coach. He flew to New Zealand to visit. She flew to North Texas to stay.
Six months ago, they were married in a Frisco chapel.
"It was a real connection based on shared values," Brenna Cavell, now Brenna West, said. "It was honestly kind of strange."
Yes, there are Jedis in Texas. Yes, they are for real. And no, they can't lift X-Wing fighters out of a swamp.
Their ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.
John Henry Phelan is the 55-year old Jedi in Beaumont who founded the Temple of the Jedi Order 10 years ago this month. He was raised Catholic, but was always asking questions about the faith in Sunday school. Then, when he was 17, he saw Star Wars.
"I felt like I'd been to an uplifting church service," Phelan said.
Decades later, he found a community of Jedis online and decided that following in the very real steps of fictitious on-screen Jedi was right for him.
His temple recently received 501(c)(3) status, making it the first Jedi organization in the world to be government-recognized, Phelan said, but estimating how many Jedis are out there is difficult. Just like there are Christians who only show up to church on Christmas and Easter, some Jedis only participate occasionally.
The U.S. Census Bureau has not tracked religious affiliation since 1957, but a 2011 census in the UK claimed that 176,632 people identified as Jedi. (That number was down from 330,000 in 2001.)
Phelan said the faith is a mix of religious doctrines, something that could resemble a hodge-podge of Zen Taoist Universalism.
"There is extreme misunderstanding about what being a real Jedi is," Phelan said. "I can almost guarantee you it's not what you think it is."
But first, a quick primer on the Force.
"The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together."
— Obi-Wan Kenobi
The Force can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but Phelan said the idea is that is an energy that goes beyond a deity. It's similar to one's internal sense of wrong and right.
"It could be the force of good people united for a good cause," Phelan said. "I think it's that and more."
If that sounds nebulous and hard to describe, that's OK. Jedis believe the Force is incomprehensible in its entirety.
"Whether you believe in God or Allah or whatever, the Force is how you may interpret it," Clint West said. "That is a unique and personal relationship between you and what you believe in."
Consider a cloud, Phelan said. You can see what it is, but have you ever seen two identical clouds? They're ever-moving, ever-changing and constantly adapting. The Force is the same way.
Phelan said the Force is "beyond theism and beyond atheism." It is understood by Jedis as "underlying, fundamental nature of the universe," according to the temple's doctrine.
"You can call it whatever you want. You can call it the Force, you can call it God, you can call it the Tao," Brenna West said. "It's all the same thing."
So then what is Jediism?
Phelan's Temple of the Jedi Order has a lengthy doctrine on its website. It boils down the faith to three tenets: focus, knowledge and wisdom. Jedis do not worship George Lucas or the Star Wars films or any other imagined deity. (And don't come near here with that midi-chlorian malarkey.) Instead, the faith is more spiritual.
On the site's forum, Jedis discuss theology, meditation, philosophy and other religious topics. Weekly sermons are posted for members to read. Live chats happen all the time where Jedis around the world can digitally connect about their faith.
"We have wonderful debates," Clint West said. "Everything from gun control to what syrup is best for pancakes."
Brenna West said she uses apps like Skype, Google Hangout and WhatsApp daily to connect with Jedis around the country. They don't wear robes to work every day — although many have them in the closet at home — but use the Jedi Code as a guide in their daily lives.
There is no Emotion, there is Peace.
There is no Ignorance, there is Knowledge.
There is no Passion, there is Serenity.
There is no Chaos, there is Harmony.
There is no Death, there is the Force.
After joining the forums on the Temple of the Jedi Order website, Clint West said, wannabe-Jedis must wait seven days before submitting an application for membership. There is then a time-consuming program the young Jedis must complete. That program is reviewed by the council and all Jedi Knights before the applicant becomes an initiate. Jedis may then, if they wish, become an apprentice to a training master and apply for the status of Jedi Knight.
"It's an ongoing, every day journey," Clint West said. "We try to live our lives in that way. Be true to yourself and the community. It boils down to 'Be a good person.'"
Yes, there's also a dark side, but not in the evil, kill-all-Jedi kind of way.
Phelan said there are also Sith out there, a few of whom participate in the forums on the Temple of the Jedi Order.
But they're not the Force-choking, Darth-naming baddies of the Star Wars movies.
In real life, the difference between a Jedi and a Sith is a little more subtle.
Imagine you're on an airplane, and the pilot hits some turbulence, causing the oxygen masks to deploy. Are you the kind of person that fixes your mask first? Or do you take a risk to help those around you before taking care of your mask?
A Sith is more focused on the inner struggle of the Force. They want to protect themselves and their families before looking to others. The Jedi, on the other hand, are more focused on outward charity and generosity, Phelan said.
"The difference is extraordinarily subtle. A good Sith can make the best Jedi," Phelan said.
Isn't this just based off a fictional movie? How can you take it seriously?
Brenna West said she's nervous about The Force Awakens, but not because it will change her faith. She's a fan of the films, like many Jedis, but the fictional movies don't have much impact on the non-fictional spirituality of Jediism.
"They do not have a trademark on real Jedi," Phelan said. "We're not fictional Jedi. I'm a real Jedi."
Like Phelan, Brenna West was raised Catholic and said she appreciates that the focus of Jediism isn't tied to a mythological narrative. Instead, a Jedi's relationship with the Force is one that transcends the scriptural stories of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major religions.
"It doesn't focus on the mythology," Brenna West said. "There's one river and many wells."
Jediism is only inspired by the Star Wars movies, Phelan said. The films are like parables. They're legends, nothing more.
"The rabbit didn't really talk to the turtle as far as I know, but it teaches a lesson," Phelan said. "We have really dedicated members who have maybe seen a film. We have very, very active members that don't particularly care for Star Wars."