Book review: An intelligent way to look at Star Wars

“The World According to Star Wars” by Cass R. Sunstein

The phrase “don’t judge a book from its cover” rings true for my experience reading this book. Judging from the brilliant cover and title alone I thought the book was a fun book on the world of Star Wars (it is), a book that is light enough to be read on a chilled weekend (it totally can). But to my pleasant surprise, it provides so much more.

To my error (hey it’s lazy weekend after all), it took me several chapters to finally get curious enough to look at who the author was, since the book is filled with so many solid social and scientific findings. And would you believe it, it’s Cass R. Sunstein, the American legal scholar and behavioural economics expert, the author of several interesting books including the co-author of the best-seller “Nudge.”

With that in mind, in a Malcolm Gladwell-esque kind of narrative, this book is the social science about the whole phenomenon of Star Wars, from the obscure beginning where all of the actors and even George Lucas himself believed that the first (and only) movie would flop, to the mega success of the franchise, to the cult-like followers the movies have created in our pop culture around the world.

Moreover, in a Freakonomics-like approach, the book also provides the analysis of the world through the lens of Star Wars, including comparative studies with Martin Luther King Jr, Jesus, Buddha, Thomas Jefferson, Oedipus, Vladimir Putin, even Stoicism, among many other surprisingly random but relevant examples. It has several current affairs arguments as well such as on US supreme court justice system using the analogy of the Empire vs Republic, or Jedi mind control for advertising industry, or one very beautiful illusionist woman who can make tables and chairs fly (relevant to using “The Force”), while the author uses best of the best scientific explanations or concepts to make his arguments (such as using Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, the invincible gorilla experiment, and referring to Influence by Robert Cialdini).

Some intriguing revelations also come up every once in a while, such as the fact that Harrison Ford was merely a 35 year old carpenter making a door on the set of the movie when George Lucas decided to cast him as Han Solo! Or the journey inside George Lucas’ train of thoughts when creating Star Wars, where the fact that Lucas highly adapt the hero’s journey from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and put them in an unfamiliar context (the outer space, in a galaxy far far away) and add some twists along the way, can shed a light on how the whole saga were and are being created.

All in all, it’s a fun read, it’s light but intriguing, and we can still learn a lot from the struggles and successes of creating one of the most recognisable brands in the world. I just cannot believe that I can learn a lot about the psychology of the crowd from a fun book about Star Wars.