Strategy Strikes Back Review

By MajGen W.F. Mullen

Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict

Edited by Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, Jaym Gates

U of Nebraska Press, 2018

There is a never ending debate as to whether fiction can actually be useful for military professionals to spend their valuable and limited time reading.  I do spend some of that time with fiction because it makes you think of things differently and many times I have asked the question, “why can’t we…?” when I come across something really unique in fiction.  The approach taken by Strategy Strikes Back is different from any I have encountered before and if the measure of a good book is how much it makes you think, then I think it is indeed a good one.

The authors have used the popularity of the Star Wars saga to illustrate points with regard to strategy, which, whatever the context of the story, is about using ways and means to reach a given end or ends.  While I found the detailed knowledge that some of the authors have regarding the entire Star Wars saga disturbing (kind of like the Star Trek enthusiasts who take up the study of the Klingon language) and more than a bit strange, their approach to strategic issues did serve to illustrate some of the challenges we have faced as a nation when trying to achieve policy ends.  The difficulties in working with indigenous forces to foster an insurgency against a much great power were well illustrated, but I think I would have preferred to work with Ewoks than some of the folks we have worked with over the years.  I also found the example of “overplaying one’s hand” and totally ignoring the will and determination of one’s opponent very interesting.  I for one would not want to have to explain the loss of not only one, but two Death Stars to higher authority.  Talk about not learning from one’s mistakes!

In all, while I did not find every chapter relevant, with some being unclear to me as to where they were trying to go, the book is interesting enough to take the time to read it.  It makes you think differently and that is always a good thing.  For those who are fans of the Star Wars saga, if the lessons the book imparts sink in and stay embedded in “brain housing groups” because of their association with examples from the saga, so much the better.  

  1. Sir, this book was difficult at points for me; specifically, the unbelievable depth at which the essayists related the intricacies of the plot: characters, countries, galaxies, critters, and weapons, which you bring out in your review. That is not to say I am not a nerd, I am just a different kind of one. But, what I hope the book does is open up the conversation to younger audiences that are more difficult to connect with now.
    I think I found myself liking the initial essays better because they were generally about things that didn’t propel the essay into the minutia that true Star Wars experts get. I wonder, after reading the premise for why the book came about, if it didn’t lose its way at some point. I cannot picture but a select few South Koreans understanding some of complex Star Wars jargon and relationships discussed throughout the book. That said, I did enjoy reading it and it was a fun way to approach these concepts. I think there is a Game of Thrones version in the making.

  2. Sir,
    Great intro and start to a PME and breaking down complicated and sometimes difficult to process subjects tied to a popular movie series. Also, a digestible length, not only chapter length but also total length. This provides leaders with a starting point to broach difficult topics with Marines. Sir, exactly as you state in your Gazette article getting them to do things they normally would not.
    I was very happy to see the references to which each author used in the various chapters and was very happy to see “The Soldier and the State” amongst many others. This book’s unique take on the plethora of topics we try to make enjoyable for our Marines and Sailors is one I will look to implement for a PME within my unit.
    I also believe this blog to be a great step in the process of generating critical thought and a forum for shared ideas by removing many barriers and creating an open and honest dialogue. It also provides another useful tool for the CPRL and PME completion for Marines. Very much looking forward to the ideas that come from this blog as word spreads and participation continues to increase.