Let me show you a magic trick.
Close your eyes and think of the worst boss you’ve ever had. Okay, now open them. Oh, yeah you probably did that already if you are reading this. But if you didn’t think of someone, seriously give it a go.
Okay, now for the trick. I can name qualities of the person you thought of:
-incapable of adjusting
-a “my way or the highway” mentality
How did I do? Truth be told I cheated a bit, because we have all had that boss. The one who is a terrible leader, making it hard to do your job or even exist in a particular environment.
Why is this such a universal truth, then? If we know bad leaders exist, how are they rising to places of leadership? Probably because they have never watched and studied Star Wars (or more likely the people who are hiring them has not watched and studied Star Wars.)
Star Wars is the promised land of leadership exploration. Both good, bad, and in between.
Let’s start with the bad by looking at Mace Windu. Master Windu should be a good leader, as he is basically second in command on the Jedi Council. However, he is that boss we referred to before, completely blind to the problems within his organization or just unwilling to do anything about them. He even gets the chance to improve the problem when Anakin arrives and offers the Jedi a way out of their dogma. However, he literally does nothing other than make Anakin’s life difficult. Shame, Mace Windu, shame.
Mace is not alone, though. The Jedi of the prequel era as a whole were pretty terrible leaders. They sacrificed who they were and what they believed in for personal and political gain. They were the epitome of the saying, “Those who have power will do anything to keep it.” They went from peace keepers to war mongers in a short manner of time, all because they became too self-involved instead of focusing on those they were supposed to be leading.
But the Jedi stand not alone in this distinction of terrible leadership. True they devolved to that level by becoming stuck in their ways and more concerned with the political rather than the personal. However, the Empire did the same thing, just in a different fashion. Time after time we see examples of Imperial officers who are lazy and incompetent where the Jedi where dogmatic. Yet, just like the Jedi, Imperial officers care more about their political status and “ranking” with the Emperor then they do their citizens. It is a wonder why they both fell.
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the good leaders, and sometimes even the great leaders. Palpatine, for example. Certainly he did terrible things, and was generally a pretty horrible person. But he was able to do what few are, which is galvanize a people around a cause and set of beliefs. The ability to do that is what made Jesus, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. phenomenal leaders. The difference lies not in the skill and ability to lead, but the application. Hitler, like Palpatine, was a great leader, but he used it for evil and the assertion of his own personally glory. In contrast, MLK, like Leia, was not only able to get people to rally to a cause for good, he was on the front lines when it was time to stand up for his beliefs.
That ability, or rather that willingness, is what makes Leia a great leader. Take the scene during the Battle of Hoth, for instance. She literally had to be forced to leave because she was more concerned with the safety of her troops than her own safety. Imagine that legend spreading, like those of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. Anyone would be willing to follow her into the next confrontation.
But a good leader is not just someone that one would be willing to die for, but also a person that others aspire to be. In the case of Leia, it is clear that, whether subconsciously or consciously, others aspire to be like her. Han was a self-centered braggart with a rough exterior until Leia made him into the man that would become a general in the Rebellion. Even Luke was a whiny teen until meeting Leia, who then helped him flourish into a leader much in her steed.
Luke, in fact, is an interesting case to look at because of how he is impacted by a spectrum of leaders.
Look first at Luke’s first… mentor that is. Obi-Wan, Ben, Kenobi was a part of the Jedi Order that was so fraught with terrible leaders, which makes it a miracle that he did not become one. Actually, it is arguable that Ben is the most important type of leader in all of Star Wars: one who is willing to change. Yoda can be looked at in this same vein.
Both Yoda and Obi-Wan fell short in serving as leaders, particularly with regards to Anakin, but both learned from their mistakes. This is what distinguishes them from, say, Tarkin. Mere days after Tarkin saw the rebels of Rogue One win an improbable victory, he has the gall to still think they cannot destroy the Death Star. We all know how that turned out.
Ben and Yoda, on the other hand, took the time necessary to learn from their mistakes so that when the time was right to train Luke they could do a better job than they did with his father, who himself impacts Luke by showing him what not to become in Darth Vader and how to overcome his own darkness. . Because of all of this Luke becomes, well, Luke freaking Skywalker.
Leaders are important, whether good or bad, because they provide a place to look. But when a leader does more to build up those around him or her, the galaxy is a better place.