Today is Intergalactic Star Wars Day, an annual holiday for practicing Jedis, Sith Lords and hardcore fans of George Lucas’ phenomenally successful space opera. To celebrate, we’ve assembled six life lessons from the making of Star Wars that can help steer any business career in the right direction (including Lucas-esque blunders to avoid). May the fourth be with you!
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Seek honest advice from your peers
The initial Star Wars script bore little resemblance to what we eventually saw onscreen – it was stuffed with confusing lore, superfluous characters and incomprehensible dialogue. Thankfully, Lucas showed his first draft to a handful of filmmaking buddies including Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma and Francis Ford Coppola. Their advice and suggestions helped to streamline the story into the movie we all fell in love with.
Contrast this to the Star Wars prequels – by all accounts, the only “advice” Lucas received was from people on his payroll and sycophantic yes men. We all saw how those movies turned out. In short, you should always seek out the brutally honest opinions of friends and colleagues — no matter how successful you are.
“Borrow” from the best
Part of Star Wars’ enduring success can be attributed to the source material it borrows from. Acknowledged examples include the Flash Gordon serials of 1936, the pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the landscape filmography of John Ford and the samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa. While the film is unquestionably a space opera, it pays homage to many different genres and is all the richer for it.
This is something that Star Wars‘ numerous imitators and rip-offs failed to emulate: as a result, they were instantly forgettable. The foundation of any creative project should be paved with a variety of disparate influences — otherwise it runs the risk of appearing one-note and bland.
Surround yourself with talented people
George Lucas is rightly celebrated as an auteur. While he catches a lot of flak for the prequels, the Star Wars universe wouldn’t exist without him. With that said, many people helped to translate the project from page to screen and their contributions are every bit as vital as Lucas’ original vision.
From John Dykstra’s groundbreaking effects work and John Williams’ legendary score to Ralph McQuarrie’s iconic character designs and the actors who brought them to life; all are equally responsible for Star Wars‘ colossal success. In other words, when you’re building a bridge it pays to invest in talented bricklayers — they will turn your conceptual building blocks into a work of art.
If a solution doesn’t exist, invent one!
While Star Wars was in pre-production, George Lucas realised he had a problem — most of the special effects he envisioned had never been achieved on film before. To make matters worse, 20th Century Fox had scuttled its effects department and the third-party studios at his disposal were woefully underqualified.
Rather than severely compromise his vision, Lucas dipped into his life savings and founded Industrial Light & Magic. It was a bold gamble that gave him complete control over the look and feel of his movie’s S.F.X. The company’s pioneering work went on to win the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and its output has since been nominated a further 38 times. The lesson here is obvious: if your business hits a brick wall, it sometimes pays to smash through it with a tailor-made solution instead of driving around it.
Know your customers
Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back successfully crafted a three-dimensional universe filled with relatable characters and believable storytelling. Sure, it might have been pure popcorn escapism but the plot took itself seriously, which enabled it to enthrall adults as much as children.
Then came the Ewoks. In a presumed bid to sell more toys, Return Of The Jedi introduced a race of spear-chucking teddy bears who implausibly defeat the Galactic Empire’s mechanised infantry. It was a ludicrous departure from the more grounded storytelling that had come before it.
The existing fan base was justifiably outraged but worse was yet to come. In the words of Simon Pegg from the UK sitcom Spaced; “Jar Jar make the Ewoks look like f*cking Shaft!” The moral here is that you shouldn’t court new customers at the expense of your core audience; especially if they’re loyal, passionate and publicly vocal.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
In business, they say standing still is the same as moving backwards. But making unnecessary changes to a successful formula can be equally dangerous. George Lucas learned this to his chagrin when he started tinkering with the original trilogy back in 1997 via the re-released Special Editions.
By and large, all of the “enhancements” were rejected by fans; especially the removal of Han Solo’s roguish dispatching of the bounty hunter Greedo. In addition to making the film decidedly less gritty, this robbed Solo of his character arc from cold-blooded killer to selfless hero. The controversial change launched the meme “Han shot first” and is was this moment that saw a large portion of the Star Wars fan base turned against its creator. Sometimes, things are better left untouched.