There is a group of people who believe the superhuman powers can be realised in our real world.
But were they?
There is a group of people who believe the superhuman powers of the hit films can be realised in our world.
That’s what I was to discover as I researched my new book, The Men On Magic Carpets.
A Jedi-wannabe and sports nut, I’d always wondered whether the mind tricks used by Skywalker could be employed in real life.
What if a coach or athlete had tried to harness such mysterious powers? They would be unstoppable.
And so began my adventure across the West Coast of America in search of superhuman powers.
I discovered that in the 1960s there was a group of new age thinkers who believed they could create a superhuman through a heady brew of meditation, yoga and nude hot-tub bathing.
People who would be able to slow down time, pass through solid matter, see into the future and move objects with the power of their mind.
Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Maul and Obi-Wan battle it out in The Phantom Menace.
They set up a training school called the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. Founded in 1962 it was a cornerstone of the flower power movement.
The Beatles’ George Harrison landed his helicopter there to jam with Indian musician Ravi Shankar and LSD advocate Timothy Leary held regular workshops on the benefits of the drug.
It was also the base for what was known as the human potential movement.
And it was this bizarre, far-out ideology that would directly inspire George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, who apparently first heard of the idea of The Force from one of Esalen’s teachers.
Lucas really picked up on this when he made Star Wars – the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a problem. We don’t want little Darth Vaders running around.
But the hippies at Esalen were no joke.
They ended up instigating a race between America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War as the two nations, gripped by paranoia that the other side was leading the way, tried to create real-life Jedi.
The early believers are still active today with their unique brand of psychology used at the top of professional sport, including the Premier League.
The beginnings of these strange ideas were more humble.
Esalen had been the brainchild of a man called Mike Murphy, who believed that the most fertile ground for Skywalker superpowers was the sports field.
I met the mysterious Murphy, then 86, in an Italian restaurant in Mill Valley, California, keen to learn more about a chapter in history he called “the great untold story”.
Reclusive and wary of granting interviews, I had tracked him down via an obscure fan club, set up to honour his stories about golf clubs swinging by themselves and his insistence that in a 1964 baseball match between the San Francisco Giants and LA Dodgers he used the power of thought to knock the Dodgers pitcher clean off his feet.
Murphy was not alone.
In 1978, 58 per cent of Americans claimed to have experienced some form of paranormal power.
This was a year after Skywalker, displaying the Jedi mind tricks the two nations were trying to harness, burst into the world’s consciousness with the release of the first Star Wars movie.
Anxious that they were missing a trick – and the Soviets were more advanced in creating psychic soldiers – the US government turned to Murphy and Esalen.
In the 1980s he was an adviser on an American military training programme, hoping to teach soldiers to become invisible, see into the future and stopping the hearts of animals.
The code name for this top secret academy? Project Jedi.
Michael Murphy, founder of Esalen, stands in his doorway at is home in Mill Valley, California.
It was Murphy’s right-hand man who would end up giving birth to Lucas’s The Force – a mystical power which only the enlightened could connect to produce astonishing feats. George Leonard was a writer and had been president of Esalen.
Like Murphy, he believed that there was a life-force energy that flowed through everything and everybody.
Some people were just able to access it better than others. When Leonard met Lucas, the filmmaker admitted that the Force in the movies had been based on some of Leonard’s writings.
There is even a line spoken by Kenobi in the first Star Wars film that, as Leonard would often remind people, could have been taken straight from one of his workshops: “The Force is that particular force which permeates all living things and goes to the ends of the universe.”
That was exactly what he used to say.
From the 1960s Murphy claimed to have seen Jedi powers at work on the sports field. He said Pele had an ability to move through opposition players as if they weren’t there.
John Brodie, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, had been able to move the ball by thought alone.
And Muhammad Ali used Jedi mind tricks to beat opponents before they got into the ring.
The influence of those days are still being felt.
After the end of the Cold War, one Project Jedi student coached golfers to believe they were Darth Vader as it made them feel superior and more powerful than other players.
His name was Peter Brusso.
Brusso claimed to have taught this trick to Tom Watson, who won eight major championships.
Another acolyte of Murphy and Esalen was George Mumford, a mindfulness expert who called himself Yoda.
Mumford would quote Yoda to Premier League footballers and when he asked them to do something and they responded, “I’ll try”, a frowning Mumford would say: “Do or do not, there is no try.”
His most famous student was basketball superstar Michael Jordan.
Mumford compared him to Skywalker because, he said, he could slow down time and see the plays before they happened.
These days, Murphy and his cohorts can be found getting together every year near San Francisco at a conference called the Sports Energy and Consciousness Festival.
But there is a dark side to the Jedi phenomenon, just as there is in Star Wars, where the powers can be used for ill.
“We have to look at this complexity,” Murphy said.
“Lucas really picked up on this when he made Star Wars – the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a problem. We don’t want little Darth Vaders running around.”
To order The Men On Magic Carpets: Searching For The Superhuman Sports Star by Ed Hawkins published by Bloomsbury Sport (£16.99), call the Express Bookshop with your card details on 01872 562310.
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