Tao Te Jedi: Taoist Influences in the Jedi Philosophies of Star Wars


Maybe no other phrase in modern English can claim to be mystical while still remaining cool, and that is, “May the Force be with you.” It is a line made famous by the science-fiction film saga Star Wars, probably the most successful film series in history, dominating the whole decade of the eighties, and crossing well into the next millennium.

The whole Star Wars phenomenon is a pioneer in many fields. Tomlinson Holman, the technical director, was the first to develop the strategy for replicating the excellent sound quality of the dubbing studio in theaters, which today is more popularly known as the THX sound system (Otte:1994). Creator George Lucas spearheaded the digital revolution, when his Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)1 wizards won the Best Visual Effects Oscar2 for the flawlessly-realistic dinosaurs for the film Jurassic Park in 1994. He was also the first to remaster his old films and re-releas them as the Star Wars Trilogy: Special Edition in 1997. He also pioneered the merchandising practice, the first filmmaker to make millions from the sales of his movies’ posters, t-shirts and lunchboxes. And now apparently the Star Wars films have started a new religion.

British officials from the Office of National Statistics reported that nearly 400,000 wrote “Jedi” on their 2001 census form, outnumbering those who registered their faith as Jewish, Buddhist, or Sikh, while in Australia more than 70,000 people have declared that they are followers of the Jedi faith. One of the Jedi’s most popular websites, jediism.org, states their creed: “(Our) mission…is to reaffirm and restore the knowledge of the True Inner Self (which we refer to as Jedi)” (Skye:2003).

Sound familiar? It should be. It is modern-day Taoism, the philosophy of Lao Tzu which Lucas draws heavily from in Star Wars. This paper shall illustrate the huge influence Taoism has had on the mythical Jedi Knights and the whole philosophy of the Force.


Before we can appreciate anything I shall discuss in this paper, we must first have a basic understanding of the two philosophies to be discussed, and these are 1) Taoism; and 2) the ways of the Jedi3.

Taoism is a Chinese philosophy begun by Lao Tzu. Little is known of him, and even his very existence has been disputed. Scholars place his birth at 604 B.C., and they say he lived the same time as Confucius, and had been keeper of the Archives of the Treasury of the Imperial Court (Soothill:1973). Numerous legends have been attributed to him, even some fictitious conversations with Confucius himself.

Regarding the Tao Te Ching, recognized as one of the most influential woks in human history (aside from the Christian Bible, the most translated work of literature), single authorship is not even attributed to Lao Tzu by most scholars. They say that most of the Tao Te Ching may have come from Lao Tzu himself, and it was probably passed down verbally before it was written down. The use of rhyme made the text easier for people to remember and recite (Lin:1939). But once the words were immortalized in writing, scholars began to doubt if other writers have not added passages to the original, and thus the idea of the Tao Te Ching as a multi-authorial work was born.

The impact of the work, however, cannot be denied, and if the enigmatic lines of Lao Tzu may leave some of the readers perplexed, his ideas have been explained with some element of humor by his most famous disciple, Chuang-Tzu. If Lao Tzu gave us the instructions (however vague they may seem), it is Chuang-Tzu who gave us the applications of the Taoist philosophy. Taken together, Lao Tzu and Chuang-Tzu give us one of the greatest philosophies the East has ever spawned, a philosophy unique and indigenous only to China.


To those uninitiated in the realm of Star Wars, let me give a brief background. The whole Star Wars saga is comprised of six films. The first trilogy (actually the second half of the saga, Episodes IV, V, and VI) was released in 1977, 1980, and 1983 respectively. The second trilogy (the first three episodes of the saga) was released in 1999, 2002, and 20054. The whole saga tells the story of Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi Knight who betrayed the Jedi order and turned to the Dark Side. He however redeems himself in the end, thus fulfilling a prophecy about him, that he would bring balance to the Force.

However, it is not so much the starships and the space battles we are interested in, but the Order of the Jedi Knights. The Jedi5 are mystical warriors, “keepers of the peace, not soldiers,” armed only with two weapons: a lightsaber (a kind of laser sword), and their knowledge of the Force. With these alone, they are able to engage enemies armed with laser guns and still emerge unharmed. Such is the power of a Jedi, and a Jedi’s power stems from the Force.

          THE JEDI6
          The Jedi are selfless. They only care about others.
          A Jedi must have the deepest commitment. The most serious mind.
          Adventure. Excitement. A Jedi craves not these things.

          The Force is what gives the Jedi his power.
          A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force.
          A Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.

          Attachment is forbidden.
          Possession is forbidden.
          Compassion...define[d] as unconditional love, is central to a Jedi’s life.
          So [it can be said that the Jedi] are encouraged to love.

          Wars not make one great.
          [The Jedi] are keepers of the peace, not soldiers.
          A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.
          There are alternatives to fighting.

When written in this form, it will be easier to see how much a Jedi Knight is very similar to a Taoist. One can even say that the Jedi are Taoists in a galaxy far, far away. Indeed, the Taoist too must have the deepest commitment and the most serious mind, for detaching oneself from all earthly attachments is no easy feat. Nor must the Taoist crave adventure or excitement, otherwise his isolation would have been in vain, for adventure and excitement still imply attachment, and that is attachment to pleasure. For the Taoist, attachments and possessions are automatic no-no’s, for one must embrace only Nature, the Tao. The Tao Te Ching’s equivalent for that is found in Chapter 19:

          Discern plainness.
          Embrace simplicity.
          Reduce selfishness.
          Restrain desires. (Tao Te Ching: chapter 19)

          Nameless simplicity means being without desires.
          Being without desires and with tranquility,
          The world will keep peace by itself. (TTC: ch.37)

To the Taoist, the mere act of possessing something,

          This is called robbery and extravagance.
          Really, this is not Tao. (TTC: ch.53)

Love too, is forbidden, unless it is the love that is not selective; that is love, compassion for everything in the universe, animate or inanimate. However, we should not love too much, for then we become attached.

          Of gain and loss, which is more distressing?
          Therefore, loving in excess incurs great cost. (TTC: ch.44)

The Jedi’s passive attitude clearly demonstrates the Jedi’s abhorrence for violence, parallelized by

          Weapons are the tools of evil
          not the tools of the gentleman.
          When he uses them unavoidably, he is most calm and detached.
          And does not glorify his victory. (TTC: ch.31)

And as the Taoist draws energy from the Tao, so does the Jedi draw energy from the Force.

          THE FORCE
          Be mindful of the living Force.
          It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.

          My ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is.
          Its energy surrounds us and binds us.
          You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock. Everywhere.
          Feel the Force flow.

          Use the Force.
          Sense the Force around you.
          The Force will guide us.
          It continually speaks to us, telling us Its will.
          When you learn to quiet your mind, you’ll hear It speaking to you.
          It also obeys your commands.
          You will know when you are calm…at peace…passive.

The original idea for the eternal is supposed to be “Nameless,”

          The Nameless [non-being] is the origin of heaven and Earth.
          The Namable [being] is the mother of all things. (TTC: ch.1)

as stated in the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching. But in order to teach this concept, one cannot keep on referring to a nameless idea, so for the sake of Lao Tzu’s students, he decided to name it.

          Not knowing its name, I can only style it Tao. (TTC: ch.25)

But what is Tao? Apparently it is something so deep that no word can fully synonymize itself with it. It cannot even be directly translated as God. In places it seems to be confused or sometimes interchangeable with T’ien (Heaven), The Great Unity, The Great Mystery, The Great Illuminator, The Great Framer, The Great Infinite, The Great Truth, The Great Determiner (Soothill:1973). For me however, its closest equivalent in meaning was coined in 1977─The Force.

Tao is therefore also “Truth”, “right conduct”. Tao underlies the cosmos. Tao inhabits every created thing (Campbell:1973). Like the Force, described as an energy field,

          Looked at, it cannot be seen;
          it is called colorless.
          Listened to, it cannot be heard;
          it is called soundless.
          Grasped, it cannot be obtained;
          it is called formless. (TTC: ch.14)

Once a person hears the Force speaking to him/her, that person is well on the way to becoming a Jedi. Similarly,

          The superior man, on hearing Tao,
          Practices it diligently. (TTC: ch.41)

Since Tao is the backbone of Taoism, so is the Force the backbone of the Jedi faith. That is why it is spelled with a capital F.


There are actually more instances that show how George Lucas draws heavily from the work of Lao Tzu, and if I were to enumerate them all, it would take several dozen pages, and could in fact be a complete dissertation in itself. Star Wars, however, does not draw solely on Taoism. We can also see influences of Buddhist and Christian doctrines echoing throughout the story. What is fascinating however is that the dominant ideas presented are undoubtedly Taoist. And it makes us wonder then how the present generation of human beings, the generation of computers, the internet, and MTV, how they can have room to accept the centuries-old teachings of the sage Lao Tzu. For despite all our modernity, we seem to have a soft spot for the mystical, for the divine, for the things we cannot explain.



1Industrial Light and Magic is Lucasfilm's special effects arm.
2Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
3There really is no philosophy called Jediism, so I shall refer to it as "the ways of the Jedi".
4The chronology of the films’ release was only a matter of chance, and was not intended as a storytelling device.
5The word “Jedi” has the same singular and plural form.
6I have written passages similar to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, to illustrate my point. This then is the Tao Te Jedi. Every line from the passages comes from actual lines in the Star Wars films.


Peter Otte. The Information Superhighway: Beyond the Internet. Indianapolis: Que Corporation, 1994. pp. 115-139.
Dan Skye. “Dawn of the Jedi.” High Times No.334 June. 2003. p.12
Paul J. Lin. A Translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and Wang Ping’s Commentary. Michigan: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1977.
W. E. Soothill. The Three Religions of China: lectures delivered at Oxford (3rd ed.). London: Curzon Press Ltd., 1973.
Lin Yutang. My Country and My People. New York: The John Day Company, 1939.
Joseph Campbell. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Liam Neeson,
Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1999.
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Hayden Christensen. Twentieth Century-Fox, 2002.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Oz, Hayden Christensen. Twentieth Century-Fox, 2005.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Dir. George Lucas. Mark Hamill, Alec Guiness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1977.
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Dir. Irvin Kirshner. Perf. Mark Hamill, Alec Guiness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Frank Oz. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1980.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Dir. Richard Marquand. Perf. Mark Hamill, Alec Guiness, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Frank Oz. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1983.

*circa October 2005.

Sting Lacson

A writer. By degree and by profession. Also strongly advocates ten-finger typing to all writers because that's what you do for a living, so be efficient at it.

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