Empire Strikes Back & Taking Control of Your Destiny

For me, growing up in the early 1980’s, Star Wars was everything. I wanted to be some version of Luke Skywalker (mostly the Return of the Jedi version where he solely appears in all black Jedi robes) wielding a light saber battling the forces of evil, saving my friends from ultimate doom.

Little did I know, those movies would impact my life more than I imagined. They’ve followed me from my childhood to my college days at TCU where we camped out overnight for Phantom Menace tickets back when you could only purchase tickets at the box office (I know, I’m aging myself here) and finally to my wedding day. Yes, after my new brother-in-law presented Christy and I as husband and wife, we did indeed walk back down the aisle to none other than the main theme from the revered John Williams Star Wars score.

When I tell you “I’m a fan”, that’s an understatement. My wife, her family and our friends are all nerds too, so Star Wars theories and conversations can go on quite a while in my household and friend circles.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite episodes of all time. It has the makings of the perfect film: the epic opening battle scene on the icy planet of Hoth, the scoundrel space pirate- Han Solo- attempting to play it cool and outwit a fiercely, independent Princess. The hero, Luke Skywalker, who is battling demons inside and out, relying on his mentors to train him as a Jedi so that he can face his ultimate enemy, Darth Vader. And finally, Han making the ultimate sacrifice of trading his own life for that of his friends, but still holding his man card proudly to the bitter end.

We could stop there and I would call this a great film, but I want to dig in further because I think there are very relevant themes to look at as it pertains to life and business. The Empire Strikes Back peels back the metaphorical onion layers on how we battle our internal and external forces and here are some themes I’d like you to consider.

Theme 1: You are not alone in this

Luke is a young kid who starts off as a Jedi-in-training; he ends up losing the only family he ever knew AND his mentor Obi Wan Kenobi; he gets lifted up by a rebellion as a hero for destroying the Empire’s Planet Killing Death Star (in the previous episode), and yet still feels an emptiness in his life. His purpose shifts from thinking he’ll grow up to become a cadet in the Empire army to actually becoming a Rebel who is now completely on his own, alone and confused.

Isn’t that such a true parallel for many of us, myself included? We will all face hardship in our lives; some of the challenges will be tougher than others. Even when we manage to turn our hardships into victories, it sometimes can still seem like we’re not getting anywhere or accomplishing anything. Sometimes the plans we laid out for ourselves aren’t always what come to pass. And that’s ok! You’re not alone in this – I would venture to guess that nearly all of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives and work. The key here is to build a support system of friends, family and colleagues– people who are empathetic and can lift you up when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. These folks will help get you through those times. Iron sharpens iron.

Theme 2: Stop Limiting Yourself to “It’s never been done before”

In the film, there’s a constant friction between what Luke knows to be true and what is actually possible. He finds his way to be trained by one of the only known last-living Jedi Masters. As his newfound guide, Master Yoda says this during his training: “Do or do not. There is no try”. Little Yoda then proceeds to raise Luke’s crashed-landed X-wing aircraft from the murky swamp waters using “the force”, after Luke miserably fails at the same task. Talk about shifting your perspective on what is possible!

Just because something has always seemed too challenging or impossible, whether in life or in business, does not mean it should continue to be so. We have to get better about what we decide to put limits on in our lives because really, the only thing stopping us from becoming better people and achieving our goals is ourselves.

Theme 3: There’s always someone who knows more than you—and that’s not a bad thing

During his training, Luke has an overwhelming vision of the future where he sees that his friends are dying. Master Yoda warns him not to leave the private training grounds to save them, because Luke is still too early in his training where he would not know how to avoid being tempted by evil or “the dark side’. He leaves anyway, defying his mentor’s advice, to face the galaxy’s ultimate enemy, Darth Vader.

Vader toys with Luke in this battle, knowing and taking advantage of the fact that Luke was not yet ready for his type of strength and ultimately leaves Luke with a severed hand and a severely wounded ego.

We’re all guilty of defying better judgement and ignoring sound advice—I’ll be the first to raise my hand to that. While intuition is certainly something I believe in, it’s always good practice to seek and heed the counsel of those who have more experience than you, whether in life or business matters. You don’t know everything; I don’t know everything. We are all still learning and growing with every day that passes. But there are those who have been there before us and who can provide insight we may not have considered otherwise.

This ties back to getting yourself a good support system. Have people in your life you know you can count on to give you tough love when you need it, honest opinions when you ask for them and solid advice when needed. And for crying out loud, be a good listener. You don’t and won’t ever know it all, so accept outside counsel graciously, as the gift that it is.

Theme 4: Mind control isn’t just for the Jedi

Spoiler alert for those living under a rock– in what is one of the most iconic film moments in history, Vader epically reveals to Luke: “I am your father.” Luke lets out an agonizing “Noooo!!” because he’s always known and felt this inside of himself. Luke’s ultimate fear was literally standing right in front of him. This realization was Luke’s turning point. This man (not machine) standing in front of him was his own flesh and blood; Vader is what Luke had been running from his whole life. His purpose had shifted in a split second.

Life and business will smack you down like that. Sometimes, we need to do some internal deep diving to find and face the things we fear the most. We need to look inside ourselves, understand the why and work to overcome those limiting narratives.

Our will-power of the mind is one of the things we can control. We have a choice about who we want to be. Understanding ourselves with intent will unlock our potential and release us from the chains that lock us down. This is what Luke realized. He had to accept and let go and choose to be free, uncovering the meaning of his life, which is bringing balance to the force by ultimately saving his Father from the darkness.

Friends, what are you running from and what can you do set yourself free from your fears?

What’s the one thing you want to do that seems impossible?

What small actions can you take every day to get you one step closer to your purpose?

Remember, as Master Yoda said: “Do or do not. There is no try.”