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Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back - 3 ways a project manager could have captured Luke Skywalker

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After re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy and writing about the Empire’s approach to project management (read my first review here), in this blog I comment on the second film in the series — The Empire Strikes Back. 

In the first installment of the original Star Wars trilogy, the rebels succeed in destroying the formidable Death Star. Following this spectacular obliteration, Darth Vader re-focuses his attention on the hunt for Luke Skywalker, deploying droids across the galaxy to locate Luke Skywalker and the troublesome rebels. Darth Vader enjoys early success as he locates the rebels in the planet system of Hoth and launches an attack. Following the Empire’s construction project in the first film, it’s insightful to examine the approach to a logistical search project of galactic proportions. 

To locate and intercept the rebels, Darth Vader will have to call upon the capabilities of his vast stormtrooper army. Effective leadership will be crucial to the success of this mission as Darth Vader will not be able to rely on his skills and capabilities alone to achieve his objectives. Unfortunately, throughout ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ it becomes clear that Darth Vader hasn’t yet attended a project management training course and continues to make a series of mistakes in his efforts to engage with stakeholders and lead his team. Drawing on the principles of project management, I propose three project management techniques that would have improved Darth Vader’s chances of capturing Luke Skywalker and defeating the rebels. 

Build strong stakeholder relationships 

Darth Vader takes a rather militant approach to stakeholder management. One of Vader’s stakeholders is Lando (governor of the Cloud City). After striking a deal with Lando, Darth Vader proceeds to unilaterally amend the deal to suit his needs. This appears to be a pattern of behaviour and has eroded stakeholder confidence and trust. This leaves the Empire isolated and wholly reliant on his own capabilities, precluding cooperation from others. Transparent and trusting stakeholder relationships are the foundations of successful projects. Perhaps Darth Vader should have considered developing a stakeholder strategy and a more constructive approach to stakeholder engagement.  

Foster a healthy working culture 

Darth Vader’s approach to management appears to be one of fear and intimidation. When a member of Lord Vader’s team accidentally brings the Imperial fleet out of hyperspace close to the planet system (rather than approaching from the outskirts) and alerts the resistance. Darth Vader resorts to telekinetic force-choking to punish the Admiral with the ultimate penalty — death. In addition to this oversight, later in the film another team member makes a tactical error and loses track of the rebel ship. Consistent with his management approach, Lord Vader offers feedback in the form of telekinetic choking. This working environment is certainly not conducive to constructive challenge, cross-functional cooperation and a healthy working culture. Lord Vader should consider revising his approach to team management and providing feedback to create an environment of psychological safety. 

Build capability in your team 

After showing great promise and destroying the Death Star in the first installment of the trilogy, Luke Skywalker embarks upon an intensive training programme to develop his use of the force and strengthen his combat skills. This training is shown to have great effect as he acquires new capabilities and confidence. In contrast, Lord Vader continues his relentless pursuit of the rebels and expends no effort on developing his dire leadership skills or those of his team. As highlighted above, two senior personnel make significant tactical errors. Oversight and mistakes at these high-levels of leadership indicate ingrained ineptitude and poor planning. This is seen throughout the Empire’s army and perhaps most notably in the wildly inaccurate shots of the stormtroopers in multiple firefights. It’s clear that the Imperial forces require significant training to plug these capability gaps and blunders. You can upskill team members in a variety of ways other than just formal training — consider shadowing, mentoring, locums, actions sets or workshops. 

The Empire Strikes Back ends with Luke escaping the clutches of Darth Vader and reuniting with the rebel resistance. Whilst Vader demonstrates impressive combat capabilities, his weak approach to leadership and management creates a series of problems for the Empire. As a successful project manager remember that it’s crucial to develop your team and build capability. Keep an eye out for the next installment of the Star Wars project management series where I explore lessons learnt from the final film in the original Star Wars trilogy — Return of the Jedi. 


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  1. Gareth Pugsley
    Gareth Pugsley 02 July 2024, 09:21 AM

    indead the force is strong with you Matt