What star wars characters learned from darwin, machiavelli and other great thinkers

Holding your own in a world of thousands of unscrupulous life forms, an omnipresent but mysterious energy that “binds the galaxy together” and inexplicable evil must be tough, even if you did evolve in a galaxy far, far away.

So it’s reassuring to know that there was advice and inspiration available to those Star Wars characters facing the unique challenges that come with intergalactic war, in the form of some of the most important books ever written…


Emperor Palpatine rises to power using Machiavelli

Evil-to-the-core Emperor Palpatine embodies of a lot of the traits unfairly associated with Machiavellian thinking. But his deceptive rise to power — using violence and fear against his enemies as Darth Sidious while using his virtuous “Senator Palpatine” image to his own gain — could have been lifted straight from the pages of The Prince.

The message? Successful leaders — whether Jedi, Sith or otherwise — should do whatever it takes to gain and retain power… even if it means separating themselves from morality.


Yoda uses Darwin-esque thinking skills to predict Anakin Skywalker’s dark fate

Yoda and Darwin might not seem like natural theoretical bedfellows, but Yoda’s challenge of preconceptions about Anakin Skywalker in Episode 1 draws parallels with Darwin’s confrontation of the fundamental assumptions his contemporaries had made about our existence.

Yoda saw a new connection between Anakin’s fear of his mother’s fate with the potential for his powers to be used for evil (“The fear of loss is a path to the dark side”) and defended his opinion in the face of Qui-Gon Jinn’s insistence that the boy should be trained in the ways of the Force because he is “the chosen one.”

Although Darwin’s theory of evolution detailed in On the Origin of Species didn’t have implications for an intergalactic battle between good and evil, he also used critical thinking skills to see new connections in the face of overwhelming ignorance, changing our perception of the world we live in for good.


The rebel alliance uses The Art of War tactics to destroy the Death Star

According to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, ensuring success in battle means acquiring information about your enemy and using it against him. A great leader, Sun Tzu says, will never step on the battlefield unless they have enough reliable information to win.

This thinking was not lost on the rebel alliance when they stole detailed plans of the Death Star that identified a small thermal exhaust port: a weakness that could be used to destroy the battle station and lead to victory.


Leia thrives in a world ruled by men: de Beauvoir would approve…

What does it mean to be a woman? By Princess Leia’s standards, it means being a powerful leader with an unwavering dedication to your cause, even in the face of overwhelming odds and devastating threats from your (male) opposition.

In 1949, just under three decades before Star Wars: A New Hope was made, French writer and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir felt the opportunities for power afforded to women were so dire that she penned The Second Sex, a controversial rallying cry for the feminist movement. The book — which claimed that the rules of contemporary society robbed women of both their individuality and their voice — provoked uproar when it was first published, helping to establish de Beauvoir as a leading figure in 20th-century feminism.

Would Leia have been afforded her Herculean qualities without the influence of such a movement? It’s difficult to imagine.


What Darth Vader could have learned from Foucault (and the Jedis)

With the Force comes power, but using it wisely is the key to lasting success. Darth Vader may have used brute force and a death grip to force his subjects to obey, but 20th-century thinker Michel Foucault (and the Jedi Council) knew something that Vader didn’t: lasting power comes through controlling people’s actions, not through punishing their bodies.

While Foucault cites constant surveillance as one of the keys to this power in 1975’s Discipline and Punish, a wave of the hand and a phrase like, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” works just as well.