A group of mostly white men and a crusty creature at the top want to obliterate a fleet run by women leaders of the Resistance. Sound familiar in 2018?
Yes, that is the story line behind “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” that garnered $450 million in box office sales its opening weekend, and has since been named the highest grossing film of 2017 with $533 million in box office sales in the U.S. and Canada alone.
But it is also the story line behind most every workplace culture blocking women’s leadership in real life, complete with sexual harassment, job offers and the search for work life balance.
Many are noticing the eerie and timely parallels.
"In a year that has seen attempts to silence many women, from sitting senators to sexual assault victims — and as Time magazine salutes “the silence breakers” as most deserving of recognition in 2017 — 'The Last Jedi' feels utterly of the cultural zeitgeist," writes Michael Cavna in the Washington Post.
"Women are the Force in the 'The Last Jedi' – the ninth live-action film in the 'Star Wars' franchise. The 'Star Wars' galaxy has long been fronted by young, white men swinging lightsabers and piloting spaceships, which has built a rabid fan base over 40 years," writes Nicole Lyn Pesce in Moneyish.
Other film critics and observers agree. Kelsea Stahler writes in Bustle: "No one doubts Rey's abilities or marvels that she can somehow be powerful even though she's 'just a girl.' Every single character in this film immediately recognizes and respects the strength and innate ability that she's tapped into since discovering her abilities in The Force Awakens."
Stahler continues, "No one questions General Leia's credentials or decisions, or worries that she's being too emotional. And even when one male character questions the authority of one of the (numerous) female leaders in the film, it's made clear that his squabble is based purely on strategy, not anything as trivial as gender. Hell, there's even a badass Resistance squadron leader who drives her team of fighter pilots into battle without a peep or bit of pushback from her male direct reports — which shouldn't feel remarkable, and yet, it does when held up against our persistent reality in 2017."
Spoiler alert, here are 14 specific key leadership takeaways from the blockbuster movie franchise starring women generals, admirals, lieutenants, fighter pilots, engineers and spiritual saviors. In other words, translated to the workplace today, these critical leadership lessons are for c-suite, mid-career, early career and angel investors.
Diverse teams are optimal. The Resistance (some things are eternal), is comprised of diverse individuals of different genders, races, as well as creatures of odd origins and AI robots. They have different work styles, backgrounds and skillsets, and all work together for a singular goal. The team also has many women in different levels of leadership from engineer to captain to lieutenants on up.
General Leia Organa remains calm always. Decades past her metallic bikini, the general is deliberate and precise as well as approachable. “Wipe that nervous expression off your face,” she tells C-3PO. Later, she tells her her rogue employee, Poe Dameron, “There are things you cannot solve by being impulsive.” Great leadership advice on any planet.
Vice Admiral Holdo is willing to sacrifice for the team. Never mind this character has an amazing costume, she works well under General Leia’s leadership and stays mission-focused, offering these sage words, “We are the spark that will light the fire that will restore the Republic.” Networking with other women and keeping focus on the mission statement works in real life.
Rey seeks additional training and mentorship. Definitely early career, the true heroine in this crazy galaxy workplace, the character‘s name is not lost on us, as it translates from Spanish as “king.” She also is seeking to better her skills and talents for the greater good by trying to learn more from the master, Luke Skywalker, and also from traditional texts. MBA evening programs, anyone?
Create your own destiny. Rey, whose parents are gone, describes herself as “Rey from nowhere.” Yet she manages to pull off a workplace conflict coup that is enormous. Similarly, Rose is an early career employee with a back story in destitute poverty. Yet with creative vision she manages to think on her feet and also way out of the box.
Rose is a STEM genius with a startup idea. Thinking quickly and coming up with a plan to find the code breaker, she is instrumental in the team’s success. She also can multitask as a fighter pilot as well as a technical geek and has an original idea, comparable to a startup founder’s solution.
Supreme Leader Snoke is the ultimate harasser. It’s hard to miss the parallels to the current crop of sexual harassers prompting the #MeToo movement’s continued growth and exposure. Gnarly physically and morally, The Supreme Leader harassing Rey is every old man in power hearing “no” several times over, prompting his fury. He even has a “crusty paw,” that was Charlie Rose’s nickname given him by female employees.
The First Order needs to go. Mostly run by generations of white men and freaky creatures, the First Order is what the Resistance rails against in an attempt to honor the light. This is comparable to every effort by corporations to be more inclusive and every corporate board that resists including women or every woman leader rallying for her place in the C-suite.
Balance is key. While there is a good vs. evil theme throughout the whole movie, there is also the persistent search for balance that each female leader is seeking from Rey to Rose to Holdo to Leia. In her leadership lessons, Rey is advised to “reach out with your feelings.” Time off to create a full life, perhaps?
Listen to your inner voice on job offers. Rey’s nemesis, Kylo Ren (the former Ben Solo), offers her a tempting leadership role in a new startup empire with equal partnership. Not buying the bling, she listens to her inner voice and maintains her plan to be the Last Jedi, forgoing the dark side. So perhaps think hard about the big salary and the perks if the company pursuing you does not align with your goals and values.
Stay positive. Rose, who falls in love with a coworker, admonishes Finn to be driven by what is good. “I saved you by saving what we love, not fighting what we hate.” Good advice for a workplace culture is to rally for something positive and in the future, not just against something you dislike in the past.
Come out of retirement when you’re needed. OK, so this one is not from a female leader. But it is from Luke Skywalker, who is pretty good at mentoring younger women leaders. He may have been off on an island, but when it was critical, he came to the side of his team.
Yoda lessons win. Every female entrepreneur and CEO will mimic his line, but with correct grammar placement. Yoda tells Skywalker, “The greatest teacher failure is.”
Women leaders got this. From the male flyboys, hotheads, traitors and deceivers to the evil leaders and the evil leader apprentices, the male characters are messing up the galaxy big time. Calm and capable, the female leaders embodied in General Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo, sum it all up in one line, “We have everything we need.”
That last leadership lesson from the most powerful female forces in the galaxy far far away aligns with the 9 Leadership Power Tools designed by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. "Use What You’ve Got," is Power Tool # 3. "What you need is almost always there. See it and use it with courage. Because power unused is power useless," Feldt says.
This season and far, far ahead into the future, what a relief it is to have an enormous commercial enterprise grasping the power of female leadership on all levels.
"Far from Star Wars' laddish origins, The Last Jedi puts women at the forefront—amazingly, without congratulating itself for doing so—and treats them as equals. How refreshing. In our world, women aren't always given that chance," writes Estelle Tang in Elle. "To see women lead, fight, and decide, to see them simply get things done? Well, isn't that something."
It may surprise few that this female-driven blockbuster was created by a team that included more women than is the Hollywood norm.
"In a world where women account for only 13 percent of all writers working on the top earning box-office films, the story group Lucasfilm comprised of four women and seven men (of which five are people of color) are true rebels. Hard at work five days a week in the home base of San Francisco, the Lucasfilm story group is the driving force behind every iteration of ‘Star Wars’ imaginable—including the latest installment in the franchise, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’, which has already grossed almost $400 million in the United States alone," according to the New York Times.
Yes, and may the force be with us all.
This post originally ran in Take The Lead.