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Star Wars and the ITIL 4 guiding principles White Paper

White Paper

Star Wars and the ITIL 4 guiding principles White Paper

White Paper

  • White Paper
  • Value
  • IT Services
  • Digital transformation
  • Benefits realization
  • Capabilities
  • ITIL

September 27, 2020 |

 13 min read

  • White Paper
  • Value
  • IT Services
  • Digital transformation
  • Benefits realization
  • Capabilities
  • ITIL

This paper argues how one of the most famous science fiction films of all time, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, demonstrates the ITIL 4 Guiding Principles.

At AXELOS, we like to say that ITIL® 4 is universal. The lessons and guidance in our publications are aimed at IT professionals, but they have value in every industry. This is particularly true for ITIL Foundation, which as the name suggests, is the starting point from which the rest of the ITIL 4 guidance has developed.

No aspect of ITIL 4 is more universal than its guiding principles. The guiding principles are about developing a pattern of thinking that will lead to success in any endeavour.

“A guiding principle is a recommendation that guides an organization in all circumstances […] A guiding principle is universal and enduring.”

Guiding principles

  • focus on value
  • start where you are
  • progress iteratively with feedback
  • collaborate and promote visibility
  • think and work holistically
  • keep it simple and practical
  • optimize and automate.

In fact, the principles are so broadly applicable that examples of their effective application span history, current events, and even the world of television and film. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press by combining existing technological processes, then perfecting the resulting machine; he was unwittingly following the principle start where you are. Now, in 2020 scientists around the world are collaborating and promoting visibility to accelerate research for a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus. Action and adventure films are excellent sources of guiding principle examples: heroes and heroines sprinting towards the final, dramatic showdown often demonstrate an overwhelming focus on value.

One film in particular demonstrates the ITIL 4 Guiding Principles:

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. It is famous for its influence on the science fiction genre. However, special effects are not the only reason for the film’s popularity. The characters are the film’s core strengths; they drag the alien into the realm of humanity. We like Star Wars not only because of the lightsabers and explosions, but because we can relate to the characters in a way that transcends time and space.

This paper shows that the characters’ relatability is never more acute than when, in the film’s final act, they make a death-defying assault on their enemy. Unsurprisingly, this assault richly reflects those very human behaviours that have been codified and expressed in ITIL 4 as guiding principles.

“We like Star Wars because we can relate to the characters in a way that transcends time and space.”

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope background

The film opens with an explanation that there is civil war in the galaxy: on one side, the Galactic Empire; on the other, the rebel forces. The Empire has built a terrifying weapon, a space station the size of a small moon that can destroy entire planets. It is called the Death Star. The rebels, in their first victory against the Empire, have stolen plans to the Death Star, which contain the secret of its destruction.

In the first scenes of the film, Princess Leia, the custodian of the plans, is captured. In desperation, she gives the plans to an android robot, R2-D2, charging it with finding a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi and recording a message pleading for help. The fleeing droid crash-lands on a desert planet and is sold to a young moisture-farmer, Luke Skywalker.

As the film unfolds, a group of unlikely heroes forms. Luke quickly finds Obi-Wan, and the two decide to deliver the information stored in R2-D2 to the rebel base. They pay a smuggler, Han Solo, to take them in his ship, the Millennium Falcon. Obi-Wan also begins training Luke in the use of the Force.

The Force is life-energy that suffuses the galaxy. A small percentage of people are force-sensitive, meaning they can sense the Force and use its power in various ways. Common Force powers include telekinesis, precognition, and mental influence.

“It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” Obi-Wan Kenobi

The heroes’ journey is not straightforward. Along the way, they are captured, but they escape and rescue Leia. In the struggle, Obi-Wan is killed by Darth Vader, the Emperor’s greatest servant.

Battered and angry, the others reach the rebel base and deliver the plans. The rebels seize the opportunity and immediately plan their assault.

The assault

Tensions mount as the film nears its conclusion. The Death Star approaches the rebel base on the planet Yavin 4, which will soon be within range of the planet-destroying laser. The rebels have one chance. They must penetrate the Death Star’s defences, skim over the surface, and fire proton torpedoes into a small thermal exhaust port. If they can do this, the explosion will trigger a chain reaction and destroy the whole station. It’s an insane plan. The Death Star’s defences are formidable, and the rebels will encounter heavy resistance. The area they need to hit is tiny, near-impossible even for a computer targeting system. But it’s their only hope.

Because they are under so much time-pressure from the approaching Death Star, the rebels’ plan makes extensive use of the principle start where you are. They do not have the time to build up their fleet of ships. They do not have the resources to create a weapon powerful enough to breach the Empire’s defences. They have only a small number of one-man fighter ships and the knowledge of a tiny flaw in the Death Star’s construction.

Start where you are is about making use of what you have, and the rebels execute this principle flawlessly; they use their tiny, manoeuvrable ships to negate the Death Star’s firepower, which was designed to defend against a large-scale assault. They hope that a smaller, faster attack will allow them to get close enough to the exhaust port to fire their torpedoes.

“Do not start from scratch and build something new without considering what is already available to be leveraged. There is likely to be a good deal […] that can be used to create the desired outcome.”

The rebels, including Luke, take off. In the base, Leia and the rebel commanders watch a computer that shows the Death Star’s progress towards Yavin 4. They are ready to communicate with the fleet if necessary. The rebels soon start to use the principle think and work holistically. As the fighters fly in formation, the leaders call for a report. One by one, the pilots give a status update, checking their

communicators are working properly. They approach the Death Star, and the leaders give orders over the communicators. As one, the rebels lock their ships’ wings into the trademark ‘X’ position and accelerate to attack speed. One group of rebels moves towards the target shaft, while another group cuts across to draw the enemy’s attention. They are working together, communicating flawlessly, and demonstrating an acute awareness of the importance of teamwork.

Think and work holistically is about operating as one entity. Every part of the operation should coordinate with the rest. This principle advocates leveraging assets together so that they become something greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, rebels working separately are unlikely to achieve much, but rebels working together can win against impossible odds.

“The outcomes […] will suffer unless the organization works on the service as a whole, not just on its parts.”3

Once the Empire’s forces realize that the rebels are attacking, the fight begins in earnest. As lasers shoot through the air and bits of machinery explode, the rebels’ communication channel fills with routine warnings and instructions.

Then, a more alarming warning comes in. The rebels on Yavin 4 have seen something on their monitors: a fleet of empire fighters has emerged from the Death Star to attack the rebels ship to ship. This piece of intelligence is crucial. As it turns out, the Empire has jammed the rebel ships’ visual systems so that no one can see the incoming fighters. Without the warning from the rebel base, the rebels would not have known that they were in danger. This exchange of information is a great example of collaborating and promoting visibility.

Collaborate and promote visibility is about teamwork. When the rebel commanders share their knowledge of the incoming threat, they are essentially protecting the rebels’ ability to achieve their objective. The fact that they are literally collaborating to promote visibility makes this example especially pleasing.

“Working together across boundaries produces results that have greater buy-in, more relevance to objectives, and increased likelihood of long-term success. Achieving objectives requires information, understanding, and trust.”

Progress iteratively with feedback is about working in the moment, reacting to new information, and adjusting trajectories to ensure that you keep moving forwards. When they learn that their computer systems will not warn them of incoming enemy fighters, the rebels adjust their strategies. They pair up, watching each other’s backs so that, if someone gets into trouble, they can intervene.

“Using feedback […] will ensure that actions are focused and appropriate, even if circumstances change.”

This tactic works well, and the rebels gain enough of an advantage to approach the exhaust port on the surface of the Death Star. Several rebels begin their attack run, but they are shot down by enemy fighters. The second attack fares better. The rebel ship in the lead fires his torpedoes at the exhaust port, but misses. Time is running out for the rebels; they have less than five minutes until the Death Star is close enough to destroy Yavin 4.

They have time for one more assault, and this time Luke is in the lead. He and two other rebels accelerate towards their target. They are under heavy fire, with enemy fighters still

chasing after them. Luke’s ship wobbles, and he frantically asks R2-D2 to repair his stabilizer.

The rebels use droids like R2-D2 as automated mechanics on their ships. These droids can control flight and power distribution systems, as well as perform emergency repairs, even when flying. The rebels, it seems, know how to optimize and automate.

Optimize and automate is about reducing waste and maximizing the use of technology. Other examples of automation include the rebels’ visual scanners and computer targeting systems, which drastically reduce human error and enable more accurate firing. The rebels use these systems to great effect in their assault (until their visual systems are jammed), which means that the pilots have more mental capacity to apply to tactics and manoeuvres.

“Eliminate anything that is truly wasteful and use technology to achieve whatever it is capable of. Human intervention should only happen where it really contributes value.”

R2-D2 repairs Luke’s ship, and the rebels continue skimming the surface of the Death Star at a terrifying rate. One by one, Luke’s wing mates are hit, leaving him alone and in danger from Darth Vader. He speeds towards the target, watching his targeting computer count down the distance. The pressure is immense, the music mounts, the audience tenses.

Then, a disembodied voice echoes around Luke. It’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, whose consciousness was preserved in the Force after his death. He tells Luke to use the Force, the galaxy’s life energy, to guide him. Luke hesitates, but then, resolute, he deactivates his targeting computer.

Keep it simple and practical is about streamlining. Sometimes, the simplest solution is the most effective. Luke had already seen one set of torpedoes miss the target, even when guided by the computer. He was being told by his mentor, whom he had thought lost, to trust himself and his abilities. Knowing he could hit the exhaust port on his own, Luke chose the simplest solution.

“If a process, service, action, or metric fails to provide value or produce a useful outcome, eliminate it. In a process or procedure, use the minimum number of steps necessary to accomplish the objective.”

His decision causes worry in the rebel base, but there is no time for debate. Darth Vader is dangerously close to destroying Luke’s ship, and the Death Star has come within range of Yavin 4. The rebels are out of options.

In the final, climactic seconds, Luke draws up to the target and Darth Vader begins to fire. All seems lost, but the Millennium Falcon appears, destroys the enemy fighters, and clears the way for Luke’s attack. The rebels hold their breath. Luke fires.

Everything has led to this moment. Throughout the assault (mistakes, miscalculations, and deaths included), the rebels remained focused on this one outcome. Focus on value is about knowing what you need to achieve and keeping that goal in mind as decisions are made. The goal could be anything, including destroying your enemy or providing customers with a great service. What matters is the commitment to the goal and the willingness to do what it takes to achieve it.

“Everything that the organization does needs to map, directly or indirectly, to value.”

Luke’s torpedoes hit. The rebels race away. Two heartbeats later, the Death Star explodes. A halo of light and debris concusses outwards. They have won.


We are fairly certain that the script writers of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope did not spend much time trying to demonstrate examples of ITIL guiding principles. One reason for this is that the film was released in 1977, and ITIL 4 was released in 2018. Another reason is that, by their very nature, the guiding principles reflect normal human capabilities and tendencies. They are not meant to be radical, unusual behaviours, but rather an expression of a simple, optimal mindset. If we could not find examples of the guiding principles throughout history and fiction, then they would not be the accessible, achievable recommendations that we designed them to be.

Success relies on many things: opportunity, resources, timing, and so on. But even with the best starting point, any endeavour can go awry if you make the wrong decisions, waste your resources, or forget what you are aiming for. These problems plague every operation; they are universal. Do not let them disrupt your progress! Remember, for these ubiquitous problems, ITIL 4 has defined ubiquitous guiding principles: principles so universal that they apply even in a galaxy far, far away.


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Image credits:

  1. Front cover ©Getty/OrionM42
  2. Pg 03 ©Getty/Anton Petrus
  3. Pg 05 ©Getty/da-kuk
  4. Pg 07 ©Getty/Bruce Rolff/Stocktrek Images
  5. Pg 08 ©Getty/Science Photo Library/MARK GARLICK

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Star Wars and the ITIL® 4 Guiding Principles