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Some of the wisest lessons I’ve learned are the ones that were given to me by crazy sci-fi rulers.
I know, that sounds crazy in of itself, but seeing their ambitions play out on screen and how the achieved their goals—or didn’t—is a mindset I’ve applied to my own life.
Here are some things we can learn from them.
1. The Reapers in Mass Effect: Be Utterly Focused on Your Goals
Some of the most terrifying fictional rulers that I’ve ever seen were the Reapers from the video game series Mass Effect.
As a species of giant, squid-shaped machines, the Reapers’ modus operandi was to rise from hibernation every 50,000 years to wipe the galaxy clean of intelligent life. They were utterly relentless in pursuing this goal, and when they found themselves stymied by the protagonist, they either figured out a workaround or steamrolled through the resistance with brute force.
While I think we can agree that the Reapers’ goals were indefensible, there’s something to be said for keeping your eye on the prize and following through with your plan. That long-term focus can pay dividends.
2. Palpatine in Star Wars: Play the Long Game
Palpatine isn’t exactly what I would call crazy, but he is crazy ambitious, and with his rumored return to Star Wars Episode IX I think it’s safe to say that he’s good at long-term planning.
Playing the long game can be very useful in real life. By planning for the future and putting the steps needed to complete that future into place, new opportunities will open up to you. Those same opportunities simply aren’t available to people who haven’t done the legwork.
3. Dr. Hans Reinhardt in Black Hole: A Little Bit of Madness Is a Good Thing
Sometimes if you want to achieve something outlandish, how you go about achieving those dreams needs to be outlandish too. Your methods need to be creative and crazy, and you have to be a visionary. Dr. Hans Reinhardt from 1979’s Black Hole is a perfect example of this mindset.
As a scientist onboard the research ship Cygnus, Reinhardt lost his mind while studying black holes. He decided that he wanted to travel through one instead. Like all the rulers on this list, the way that he went about achieving this vision was reprehensible, but without his ability to dream the impossible he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he did.
Sometimes madness itself is a fuel, and belief in the impossible can get you places.
4. The Hutts in Star Wars: Economic Profit Is the Key to Long-Term Control
Sometimes when you want to rise up a ladder, your best option is to control the purse strings in a situation, instead of forcing your ideology upon your opponents. This is something that I learned from the Hutt Clan: the worm-like species to which Jabba the Hutt belongs.
Originally from the planet Nal Hutta, the Hutts were the longest-running crime syndicate in the Star Wars universe. They used their economic prowess and ruthless business acumen to spread themselves across the galaxy, eventually controlling vast swaths of territory ranging from the Outer Rim Territories to the Mid Rim.
The Hutts managed to hold onto this territory by sticking their fingers into anything associated with money; by controlling gambling, racing, and smuggling, so they could organize the flow of goods and services between sectors. Through this financial stranglehold, the Hutts were able to exert a tremendous amount of economic power, and they managed to hang onto this power too. They did this by leaving people under their control to form their own ideologies and cultures—a sort of soft power that allows you to shape the environment around you without agitating rebellion.
5. The Emperor in Dune: Don’t Flex Too Hard, or People Will Overthrow You
Lastly, one thing I learned not to do is to overextend your power.
Being the head of any organization makes you a target, but let’s say your greed makes you flex on another very powerful organization or individual who currently holds no animosity towards you. A good example of this is the Emperor from the sprawling sci-fi epic Dune, and what he did to the Atreides family.
In Dune, the Emperor becomes paranoid that the Atreides are a threat to his control. In his paranoia he believes the best course of action is to ferment a conflict between the Atreides clan and the Harkonnen family so he can weaken them.
Unfortunately, the Atreides see through this deception and turn on the Emperor instead. If we were to apply this sort of behaviour to a business setting, we can deduce that flexing against someone who previously held no animosity towards you might make them join forces with someone else; they might seek to overthrow you when you overreach.
The moral of this story is to live in peace and use diplomacy, and it’s one I take to heart. Don’t be like the Emperor, folks. It’s not worth it.
Looking for other valuable lessons that you can learn from a sci-fi villain? Check out our analysis on the book Be More Vader.