Happy Star Wars Day! Today, in honor of one of the greatest epics ever told on film, we bring you four lessons Star Wars can teach us about telling stories in the workplace.
20th Century Fox was struggling financially in the mid-1970s when the studio decided to take a chance on George Lucas and his script for a pulp-inspired “space opera”. That’s why even though Lucas had conceived of the story as the fourth chapter in a nine-film saga, the first film we now know as Episode IV: A New Hope was released under the generic title Star Wars – he didn’t know if he’d get to make another. Fortunately the film was a smash hit, saving 20th Century Fox and creating one of the most profitable media franchises in history.
Of course it’s rare for a single story to have such an epic impact. But every story you and coworkers share is valuable, and that value adds up in the form of new innovations and a more connected culture.
Star Wars is famous for being a mash-up of pulp sci-fi tropes and mythic archetypes. Lucas drew explicitly on Joseph Campbell’s idea of the hero’s journey, a formulaic plotline that shows up in myths across world cultures. In fact, some fans have riffed on this by retelling Star Wars without using any of the original footage:
But following a formula doesn’t rob Star Wars of its power – if anything, it makes the story more powerful than you can possibly imagine!
This is good news for workplace storytellers. It means you don’t have to hold out until you have something truly unique to share. Workplace stories are often about the mundane details of our daily work. Star Wars is a reminder that it’s not the content, but the way they’re told that makes our stories powerful.
Luke Skywalker was a flawed character long before 2017’s The Last Jedi showed his transformation into a grumpy old hermit. From the moment he first appears on screen at the start of A New Hope, Luke is naive, distractible, impulsive and moody. But by the end of the film he’s rescued a princess, learned to use the Force, destroyed an evil superweapon, and been awarded a medal of honor.
The lesson for workplace storytellers is: Don’t sell yourself short. Sure, you’re probably not out there saving the galaxy – but you’ve still got a story that matters. If a whiny flyboy like Luke Skywalker can become the hero of the Rebellion, surely you can let yourself be the hero of your story.
George Lucas gets credit as the creator, but Star Wars quickly took on a life of its own that far exceeded Lucas’ personal vision. The films changed the craft of moviemaking and inspired generations of obsessive and passionate fans. And each of those fans has their own particular head-canon of what does or doesn’t count as “true” Star Wars, why it’s so great, and what it all means.
This is how it goes with workplace storytelling, too. You may have a story you’re excited to share, and you may think you know why your coworkers will find it valuable. But you can’t predict the meaning they’ll make of it. Perhaps it will give them an idea, teach them something useful, or help them feel more connected to your and your organization. By the time you can see that impact, your story will already be off on its own adventure, zipping through hyperspace halfway across the galaxy.
To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi: Stories are created by all employees. They surround us and penetrate us. They bind organizations together.
Or if you’re more of a Vader fan: 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 a great story.
If you’re not reaching out with your feelings and unleashing the power of workplace storytelling, Star Wars Day is as good a day as any to start.
May the Fourth be with you!
—Ted Burnham, Avanoo Lead Content Marketer
Ted Burnham loves the power of words – to tell stories, explain big ideas, and help people connect. He is a writer, editor, multimedia producer, storyteller, and “professional combobulator”. Ted’s work has appeared on NPR, Popular Science, and elsewhere.
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