Star Wars and Nonprofit Marketing: Learning to Use the Force

I am not ashamed to admit it.  In Middle School, whenever I was feeling low, I would watch the last 15 minutes of the Return of the Jedi to pump myself up. I had the digitally re-mastered VHS box set at the ready. It was a huge part of surviving an awkward, rough tween life. So when the prequels were set to arrive I was beyond excited. I found a way to watch them on their opening days, even when I was outside the USAEach one failed to deliver. So, in spite of the incredible hype around The Force Awakens, I was honestly worried it wouldn’t be worth hiring a babysitter.  

I was wrong. It was amazing. And I'm not alone in believing that. It's blown away every expectation. Having grossed almost two billion dollars globally, there’s really nothing to stop it from growing. But why? I mean what did Disney do with The Force Awakens that George Lucas was unable to do with the prequels?  

It comes down to a few pretty amazing lessons that can be applied in lots of other arenas. From marketing to strategic planning, watching Disney massage a storyline back into public favor has a few lessons to teach us. What did Disney do differently? 

  1. Disney listened. 
    They listened really well. If you watch the movie like a true Star Wars nerd, you can see flashes of every criticism of the prequels, intentionally (almost lovingly) corrected.  

  2. Disney remembered. 
    There’s a scene in The Force Awakens when Finn is manning the weapons on the Millennium Falcon. He makes a shot, and turns toward the camera, offering a “Woohoo!” And it is the exact angle and tone of the moment Han Solo did the same thing in A New Hope. That’s the kind of artistry that sells to your existing base while growing forward. They didn’t use glitzy technology that changed the feel of the movie. They remembered their roots.  

  3. Disney grew. 
    Instead of being a static moment, or
    the retelling of a stale story, Disney moved forward in time, allowing real characters to progress in ways that seemed real and true to the feel of the original trilogy. The technology progressed in ways that were realistic for the time that had passedThe characters had realistic lives, with sad and happy stories. Some matured, some regressed.  

  4. Disney included. 
    While the prequels were loaded with moderately racist and sexist undertones, Episode 7 was age, gender, and race inclusive. It passes the Bechdel test and then some. It even allowed its actors the opportunity to age realistically. Rather than creating an “other,” Disney’s Star Wars allows us all to be a part of the story.

These steps aren't hard, but they are deliberate. If you can made them a part of your organization's culture, there's nothing standing between you and your goal. There’s nothing left to say other than: “May the Force be with you.”