In 1977, George Lucas released the first film in what would become the epic Stars Wars series. Back then, who could have predicted that this film would spawn the huge cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars? Films, congresses, spin-offs, toys: the list goes on, and over 40 years this year. Star Wars has become a part of everyone’s life, and at the same time, a multi-billion dollar business for its owners, the Disney Corporation.
Also back in the 1970s, you may remember that the UK elected its first female Prime Minister. On 4th May, 1979, to be precise. To celebrate its victory, the Conservative Party took out an advertisement in the London Evening News that read
“May the Fourth Be With You, Maggie. Congratulations.”
This might have been the first recorded use of the phrase, but Star Wars fans around the world soon reclaimed the pun, with May 4th becoming the official Star Wars Day.
More than just a cultural phenomenon
But Star Wars is more than just a series of films or even a cultural phenomenon. More even than a useful lesson in the value of buying up old film companies (Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has more than paid for itself over time…). It is incredibly useful for businesses everywhere.
First, and perhaps most simply, because the concept of Star Wars is so familiar to almost everyone, wherever they are, and whatever age, it can be used as an easy analogy in demonstrating techniques. For example, colleagues within SAS have used it to show how to use both contextual analysis and basic data visualisation. It’s also a good metaphor, because the language is also recognisable, with many Star Wars phrases having moved into everyday use.
Fantasy films and books tend to follow a well-worn path, with plots centring around a basic theme of good vs. evil. While this is true of Star Wars too, the films also offer some more subtle lessons, including:
- The importance of not judging by appearances. In Star Wars, things are seldom what they seem. Unlike, say, Lord of the Rings, the ‘goodies’ are not distinguishable by physical type. Aliens and humans can both be good and evil, and sometimes both. And many characters defy their physical appearance: think Yoda, for example.
- Not giving up, despite difficulties. Most of the films’ characters face problems. Luke, in learning to master his powers. Han Solo and Leia, in defeats for the Rebel Alliance. They are, however, resilient enough to overcome these, and come back stronger.
- Relying on your gut instinct. One of the main lessons in Star Wars is learning to use the Force, the power that is all around each of us. In business, we might call this gut instinct: relying on things feeling right.
These, and many others, can be gleaned from the stories and characters. But the process of the development of the Star Wars movies also offers lessons, although it may need more explanation. For example:
- Individuals may be important at the start of a project, but the project can easily become greater than them. George Lucas was very much the driving force behind the earlier films but has stepped away. Even the original distributor no longer owns the rights. But Star Wars goes on.
- Revisiting a project later can add real value. The three original Star Wars films were created in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The prequels were not released until 1999. Lucas decided to revisit Star Wars because of the improvements in CGI, and the new possibilities that this opened up. In doing so, he reintroduced the old films to a new generation of fans, opening up the marketing base enormously.
- Things can, and should, change during development. The story of the Star Wars saga changed massively during its writing. For example, when the first film was written, the idea that Darth Vader was Luke’s father had not been mooted. This emerged later, and changed the whole dynamic. Most fans would argue that this plot twist is essential.
May 4th, Star Wars Day, is mostly a chance for fans of the saga to rewatch, remember and enjoy. But it is also a good opportunity for us all to consider the lessons from Star Wars, and reflect on what we, as individuals, have learnt.
We did that in a tweetchat that day. These were the topics that were used to kick off the conversation:
- Your favourite Star Wars moment and why
- How could advanced analytics be weaved into future episodes and spin-offs?
- Most frequent Star Wars analogies you use to communicate with your peers?
Highlights of the discussion are published in Storify.