12 Most Intergalactically Enduring Life Lessons from Star Wars
The original Star Wars feature film premiered 35 years ago, in May 1977. At the time, I was six years old and just reaching the age when I could sit still and appreciate a two hour movie.
Like so many kids in my generation, I was transfixed and not only devoured all the movies but spent countless hours playing with the action figures, acting out lightsaber duels, and debating the burning questions left unanswered by the films, like whether Darth Vader really was Luke’s father (and, if so, why Ben didn’t tell him).
Though I don’t think of Star Wars nearly as much as I did back when I was six, I’ve come to realize the many life lessons I’ve internalized from the saga.
1. Don’t abandon your friends
Han Solo and Chewbacca didn’t have to come back and clear the way for Luke to blow up the Death Star just as Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and Lando didn’t have to risk life and limb to rescue Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. But they all did, no matter the risk — because when it matters most, friends are there for each other.
2. Dream big
There’s a scene early in the original Star Wars when Luke stares wistfully at the binary suns in the Tatooine sky. The gazing up and outward mutely expresses his deep yearning to escape the confines of his uncle’s provincial farm and do something important, like join the rebel fleet. Star Wars reinforces that we can breakaway and do incredible things, like rescue a princess from the Death Star or train to become a Jedi knight. Whether on Tatooine or a small town, it starts with a dream and belief.
3. Finish what you start
We all steer off course sometimes or start something but don’t finish. Luke, frequently petulant and irritable In The Empire Strikes Back, ignores the advice of Yoda and Ben and rushes to face Vader instead of completing his training. It’s a bad decision and he pays for the mistake with the loss of some confidence, his hand, and a good part of his sense of identity. Luke does recover and learn from the experience, but the films make it clear that what gets him through is that he returns and completes his Jedi training, ultimately learning enough to confront successfully Vader and the Emperor.
4. Don’t underestimate your opponent
Underestimation is a big theme in Star Wars. Grand Moff Tarkin underestimates the capabilities of the rebels to blow up the Death Star and refuses to evacuate, Luke believes he can handle Vader when he first confronts him in Cloud City, and the Empire dismisses the Ewoks during the battle on the forest moon of Endor. In all cases, underestimation proves costly, and the examples remind us not to get too overconfident in our own lives.
5. Children are not condemned to repeat the sins of their parents
In the final moments of The Empire Strikes Back, after Luke has been fitted with a mechanical hand to replace the one that was lopped off by Vader, he stares at the new appendage speculatively, and we are left to wonder if he will he end up like his father.
Scientists are still working to determine exactly what we inherit from our parents, and a healthy debate persists over nature versus nurture. Star Wars splits the argument and suggests that we do inherit much, but that in the end we are free to choose. Luke shows this in Return of the Jedi when he initially channels his anger to defeat Vader but then refuses to go over to the Dark Side of the Force and take his father’s place at the Emperor’s side.
6. Pay your bills
Putting aside for a moment the fact that Han Solo is one of the heroes of Star Wars and Jabba the Hutt is one of its villains, I’ve always thought that Han should have paid off his debts. Then Jabba wouldn’t have put a price on his head, Boba Fett wouldn’t have chased him down, Han wouldn’t have been frozen, and the gang wouldn’t have had to rescue him. Lesson: try not to take on too much debt, especially from unsavory lenders, but if you do, make your payments!
7. It’s never too late for redemption
One can argue that the entire Star Wars saga culminates in the instant when Vader saves Luke and turns away from the Dark Side and against his master, the Emperor. The moment reaffirms our belief in the possibility and good in humanity. No matter the mistakes or misdeeds, anyone can change, because there is good in everyone. Some days I think we all can use some of that optimism back here on Earth.
8. Judge not by appearances should you
We’re told at an early age not to “judge a book by its cover” and yet the images and messages in our media constantly contradict the old aphorism. When Luke first meets Yoda, he dismisses the creature as a mischievous and annoying interloper to his mission to find a Jedi master. Leia initially judges Chewbacca as a “big walking carpet”, Luke calls the Millennium Falcon a “hunk of junk,” and Han characterizes Ben as an old fool.
Yoda best demonstrates the point. That the diminutive one was the Jedi Luke was looking for all along reminds us that — with all due respect to Malcolm Gladwell — we often can’t gauge substance from a very limited impression.
9. It’s a small world (and galaxy)
Even though Star Wars is spread against a galactic backdrop, the characters are pretty closely connected. Luke and Leia are siblings (though they didn’t know it at first), Lando was an old friend of Han and Chewbacca, and the droids, well, they are like those super connectors on LinkedIn who are connected to everyone. We’re all connected and the degree of separation even in a remote destination like Cloud City isn’t that big.
10. The galaxy is flat
The advanced technology and standard of living in Star Wars are impressive, but the employment market is as tight and complex as our own. For example, automation and mechanized (droid) labor are the norm, eliminating many jobs that would otherwise have been performed by human workers. Outsourcing is popular, as entities like the Empire hand out lucrative contracts to bounty hunters and specialists. Opportunities do abound, especially on big projects like the two Death Stars, but as the characters in the film Clerks observe, those jobs are not without moral questions or risk.
11. Let the Wookie win
Chewbacca and R2-D2 weren’t playing Texas hold ‘em aboard the Millenium Falcon, but they might as well have been, as their chess game shows why sometimes (in chess, poker, or life) you need to know when to fold and let your opponent win. It should be noted that Wookies, in the metaphorical sense, aren’t always intimidating bruisers. As I’ve learned since becoming a parent, sometimes the wookie you need to concede victory to is a tiny four year old who can’t quite handle losing yet!
12. Quit while you’re ahead
To many in my generation — those of us who saw the original Star Wars trilogy in theaters when they were first released — the prequel films were major disappointments that diluted the original films. I appreciate George Lucas’ love of the material and desire to add to the saga, but secretly, if I’m being honest, I pretend he never made the prequel films and just retired from the movies after Return of the Jedi.
Star Wars is one of the most beloved and enduring movie franchises of all time. The above are just a handful of lessons I’ve learned from the films. What are your Star Wars life lessons?
Featured image courtesy of JD Hancock licensed via Creative Commons.