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Tech Lessons from Star Wars Movies

We have reached the end of an era with Star Wars Episode IX being released. Here's my personal look back at more than 40 years of movies with a few technology-career and even life lessons to take away from a big fan.

by / January 5, 2020

My family recently saw “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in a local movie theater, and we were not disappointed. The characters, action, plot, and almost everything else we experienced, met or exceeded our high expectations.

As we were leaving the theater, almost everyone had an opinion about the way the movie series ended. The conversations even continued into holiday parties, where there were plenty of questions, opinions, and “what ifs.”

But most of all, there was a nostalgic feeling, now that the nine movies have come to an end.

Looking Back…

I vividly remember when the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977. As a boy, I was captivated, mesmerized and quietly addicted to everything that happened: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

I was amazed by the technology, computers, lightsabers, different space ships and hyperspace travel using hyperdrives to jump between planets. Yes, I had watched Star Trek on TV before that, but Star Wars movies took the excitement to a new level for me — even accelerating my interest in computer science as a career.

I immediately admired and studied all the characters, and I secretly had a crush on Princess Leia.

Much later, as an adult, when episodes I, II and III were released two decades ago, I eagerly awaited new movies with new stories that somehow came together neatly into the wider, multi-generational narrative.

Somehow, this ongoing story has thrived and captured the imagination of the world for over 40 years.

How?

Over the holidays, I pondered the question further: Why do so many still love these stories?

Earlier movies certainly broke through new ground with technology that exceeded imaginations and broke through barriers regarding what was possible in movie-making. And yet, the later movies were not as bleeding edge regarding dramatic presentation.

And yet, there were/are other important aspects of Star Wars movies that still appeal to audiences in ongoing ways — well beyond special effects.

Three of those important aspects include:

  • Amazing characters. When thinking about people, processes and technology, what we remember most about these stories is the people. From Luke Skywalker to Princess Leia to Yoda to Han Solo, we are captivated by the personalities and interactions. Also, the development and change that occurs (from good to bad to good for Anakin Skywalker, who becomes Darth Vader, but becomes good again at the end of movie six.)   
  • Unintended consequences. Robot armies that are built to save the galaxy from evil leaders are later used by “the Empire” against “the rebels.” Children see first-hand how one person’s freedom fighter is someone else’s rebel.   
  • Freedom vs. Central Control & Good vs. Evil Themes. This article describes the good versus evil legacy of Star Wars, which was evident from the beginning of the first movie.

And there are also warnings against central control and concentrating too much power, lying to yourself, focusing on fear and much more.

In fact, there are literally hundreds of moral lessons online and lists of things we can learn from these Star Wars movies.   

Here are a few other “Star Wars Life Lessons” lists to consider:

And the lessons lists go on and on and on.

What I find most interesting about all of these tips, recommendations, life lessons and more is that they are all focused on people. Very few tips discuss technology advances or technical process changes to help. Indeed, when amazing technology does show up (like with the Death Star) the focus is on how to defeat that technology, finding weaknesses and triumphing with heroic actions from people like Luke Skywalker.

So the common Star Wars recommendations challenge us to find a good mentor, lead by setting a good example for others and even being open to criticism and overcoming fears.     

Final thoughts

A few years ago, I wrote these related articles about how Star Wars can teach us about cyberethics and how the rise in hacktivism relates to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

No doubt there will be new “lessons learned” lists in the future, along with more relevant analogies for all of us to grasp. From current topics like privacy rights to artificial intelligence chips being placed in brains to robots who go rogue, these movies can provide an effective communication mechanism for society to learn in ways that government laws or security professional decrees or even workplace policies can never replicate. In Star Wars movies, we see possible outcomes from personal decisions being made — and all in a fun, entertaining format.     

And these decisions, even if in fiction, are made by people like you and me — for better or worse. This is why technology projects in our lives will always start with, rely upon, and finish with the thoughts, words, actions and attitudes of the people involved.

In the first movie in 1977, Star Wars IV: A New Hope, Darth Vader said: “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

And, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”    

In the midst of technology we can only dream of in 2020, Star Wars (still) leads us back to personal narratives, which for me is the greatest lesson of all.

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