Star Wars: Episode VI
Lucasfilm Ltd

In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi Wan Kenobi said: "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." One thing is for sure; The Force is certainly back full throttle with the latest installment Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which premiered in London this week.

As Star Wars fans pile into the cinemas for the hotly awaited film, the noble doctrine of the Jedi order is also seeing increasing numbers joining the New Religious Movement (NRM) known as Jediism. Based on the portrayal of Jedi Knights in Star Wars, those who affiliate with the Jedi ethos have an interesting history in England and Wales.

The force can be whatever you want it to be, be that literal or metaphorical
- Master Chi-Pa Amshe

Numbers of "Jedi Knights" peaked in 2001 with around 390,000 adherents, according to official figures. At one point, more people identified themselves as "Jedi" than Jewish or Buddhist combined combined. The Force waned ten years later (2011) with a downward dive to just 176,632 identifying themselves as the good guys from the fictional Star Wars galaxy.

Even so, the numbers still overshadowed established religions like Jainism, Bahai and Rastafarianism. Of course with the peaks come the troughs, and then again the peaks. According to the Church of Jediism (COJ) – founded by Daniel M Jones in 2007 – we are currently witnessing a peak.

High Council member Master Chi-Pa Amshe (whose name was changed by deed poll) told IBTimes UK that the Church currently has over 200,000 members. Not surprisingly, the hype around The Force Awakens has increased membership in the region of 1,000 a day for the past week or so.

Star Wars wedding
Superfans get married outside The Force Awakens premiere in Hollywood Reuters

But, Amshe said, "we will have to see if they stick with it or not. The difficulty is figuring out who is in it properly. We only count members that have done at least one piece of training. But even then they may align more with a different faith, we allow for multiple faiths"

Next week he'll be supporting the homeless by providing blankets funded by the Church. The Jedi Master said: "We often get compared to Buddhism and Taoism, we allow Knights to write their own scripture which is one thing we look at if they want to become a Master.

"So you take Daniel's teachings, he's very spiritual and only drinks either water or fruit juices; he's very minimalistic. But then you can take my teachings which keep in tone with the Jedi values but look at things In a different way, looking at how the force can be whatever you want it to be, be that literal or metaphorical."

New recruits join as Padawans and receive guidance from more experienced members of the Church. Amshe said: "We rank people from the training they have done, we are all equal though, a Padawan can still offer a unique view that a Knight might overlook."

The Force is clearly strong with the Church of Jediism, but expression of Jedi belief is nothing new, and has hit the headlines in recent years. Earlier this year thousands of Turkish students petitioned their university to build a Jedi temple in response to an increased numbers of mosques being built on campuses across the country.

In 2010 a Jedi benefits claimant who was escorted out of a Jobcentre for refusing to take down his hood subsequently received a written apology. Last year a Jedi inmate accused prison authorities of intolerance for refusing to recognise his Star Wars-based religion.