"There are a lot of religions out there," explains Andy Spaulding, a 30-year-old Jedi Knight—and Kentucky National Guardsman—who has been given the task of officiating at Thompson's knighting ceremony. "But most of those other religions are all about attaining spiritual enlightenment in order to save yourself, to stay out of hell, or whatever. With Jediism, though, our religious observance is found through service to the community. Service is sort of what we do for prayer." Some Jedi put on lightsaber shows for kids at their local libraries; others organize food drives for soup kitchens. Spaulding and Thompson volunteer at the same search-and-rescue organization.
Early on, Thompson's Jedi devotion to service led her to enlist in the army. Ironically, she was never even a fan of the Star Wars movies—"Totally not into them," she says, shrugging—but when she was 16, after turns as a Baptist, a Catholic, and a Wiccan, she came across Jediism online and was immediately drawn to it. Especially the part about helping her community. She was so inspired by Jediism's call to volunteerism, she enlisted in 2003, at 17, and served 14 months in Kirkuk, Iraq, as a guard at a holding facility for suspected terrorists. Before being deployed overseas, she says, she had to go off base to get her dog tags stamped. The army refused to imprint them with Jedi as her religion.
It's Sunday evening, the last night of the retreat, and the Jedi are waiting for a safety pin. Bullfrogs are bellowing in the nearby woods. Fireflies are lighting up the yard like paparazzi flashbulbs. The Jedi mill about in itchy-looking Obi-Wan robes and Han Solo band-collar tunics, waiting for Thompson's knighting ceremony to begin. They're growing bored and impatient. One has started swatting at fireflies with a plastic lightsaber. But Thompson is in the kitchen searching through drawers, dealing with the sort of last-minute fashion emergency that never befell Princess Leia or even Princess Amidala.
"Look at my robe!" she says, poking a finger through a big hole in the moth-eaten hooded cloak she pulled out of storage for tonight's event. "I guess I can do the ceremony without it, but I really wanted to wear it. I don't get to wear it that often. And it is a special occasion."
The Force is with her, however, and within 30 minutes, she's found a pin and repaired the hole. She is ready to become a Jedi Knight.
The Jedi, including the smoking Sith, form a semicircle and watch with wide, respectful eyes as the ceremony finally begins. Even Trout leaves his comfort zone at the sidelines and joins the group, smiling munificently like Alec Guinness at the end of Return of the Jedi.
It lasts just a few moments. Spaulding calls Thompson to a lectern on the lawn, where she recites a brief oath—"I am a Jedi, a guardian of peace . . . I use my training to defend and protect, never to assault"—and takes a small bow when she's finished. It's done. She is a Jedi Knight.
"You know, my teammates in Iraq used to joke with me," Thompson says afterward, a halo of fireflies bathing her face in an otherworldly glow. "They'd ask me to use the Force to turn on a light. So I'd go over and flip the switch on. They'd be like, 'But you didn't use the Force!' I was like, 'Yes, I did.' To me, the Force is energy. When the chemicals in my brain sent a message to my finger, I was using the Force. I was turning on the light with my mind."