Is Star Wars The Greatest Supply Chain Story Ever?

Star Wars and Supply Chain - are they the same exact thing?

Supply Chain Space
Supply Chain Space. Getty Images

The movies and supply chain. Supply chain and the movies. It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between the two, I know.

In one, a hero or team of heroes overcomes all odds to defeat a villain and transform their world. In the other, actors recite lines while a camera records their action.

In supply chain, you and your team of heroes (also known as a sourcing team or purchasing department or an actual supply chain organization) can overcome all odds by driving down costs (cost of goods, logistics costs, inventory costs) and improving profitability.

  Those same supply chain heroes can transform your world by raising service levels - on time delivery, improved quality, for example - and transform you and your company into the supplier that all of your customers can rely on - 100% of the time.

In the movies, other than the red carpets and adoring fans and global fame - filmmakers are really just trying to accomplish what supply chain professionals do every day.

That is - to provide their customers what they want, when they want it, and optimize their revenue while getting that done.

Supply Chain Movies

In my past supply chain movie analyses - whether it's been the OSCA's (the Optimized Supply Chain Awards for the years best supply chain movies, of course) or a straight up analysis of Amy Schumer's excellent supply chain comedy "Trainwreck" or Matt Damon's on-the-nose supply chain adventure "The Martian" - I tend to distinguish between the two main types of supply chain movies.

The first type of supply chain movie is a movie like "The Martian" - where a supply chain is actually the heart and soul of the story.  Damon's character sourced seeds, fertilizer, and water.  Then optimized his manufacturing environment.  Then managed his customer (i.e. his own) demand over a planning horizon.

If that's not an operatic supply chain saga, then my mama's lifelong supply chain lessons were all wrong.

Another fantastic supply chain movie, "Zootopia", fits into this category, as well.  "Zootopia" is one of those rare achievements in auteur filmmaking where sweeping and captivating visuals, superb acting and real-life supply chain collide in a supernova of artistry.  My family and I couldn't stop talking about how Nick (the sly fox and supply chain optimizer) acquired his raw materials with a very low cost of goods.  And then optimized his production using low-cost manufacturing.  And then achieved 100% on-time delivery (and was the "customers as lemmings" metaphor apt or maybe a little too on the nose?).  And then, in the sustainable supply chain turn of the year, resold the "red wood" popsicle sticks to a rodent-sized construction crew.  See the movie again and marvel.

Thinking back, maybe it wasn't my family and I going on and on about this - maybe it was just me while my kids just shook their head at my enthusiastic re-telling of all of the supply chain details.

The second type of supply chain movie is one that doesn't put supply chain directly into the story, but embodies the heart and soul of optimized supply chain.

A movie that can deliver to its customers (us) what we want, when we want it - and optimize revenue (low cost, high box office) - that's a textbook supply chain movie.  Examples?  There are many.  But the popular ones that leap to mind are: "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" ($241M US box office, $5M budget), "Blair Witch Project" ($140M US box office, $60,000 (!) budget) and "Paranormal Activity" ($108M US box office, $15,000 (!!) budget).  Even a high budget winner like 2012's "The Avengers" - even though it cost about $220M to make - have hearts of supply chain because it grossed like a kajillion dollars.  It's all about margin, folks.

Star Wars

But the biggest supply chain winner in recent memory is "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  Not only did it optimize revenue for everyone involved - but it most definitely delivered what we wanted, when we wanted it (for some of us more than once in the theater itself and then on a loop at home once home-viewing because available).

The seventh movie in the Star Wars universe of films, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" sits at a 92% approval rating on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.  Anything with a 92% approval rating on the internet has basically a 150% approval rating in real life.

Yes, the Star Wars canon represents excellent supply chain story telling - but is it the greatest supply chain story every told?

Mafia Movies

Before we race headlong into our foregone conclusion, let's take a look at the rest of the field.  Mafia movies are - obviously - supply chain movies.  Again, supply chain is about delivering to your customers and optimizing revenue.  What mafia movie doesn't have that as its central premise?  "The Godfather" movies, "Casino", "Goodfellas", "The Untouchables" - what do they all have in common?  (Extra points if you said, "Robert DeNiro" - yes, he's in all those - maybe he secretly harbors a dream to lead the glamorous life of a supply chain professional.)

Supply Chain, that's what they have in common!  Optimizing supply chain is what mafia guys do, minus the Tommy guns and decapitated horse heads in your bed.

But are they better than Star Wars movies?  We could have a long and healthy debate about this.  We could compare approval ratings and box office success and cultural influence - or you can just take my word for it.  Star Wars is better.

The Rest Of The Field

Yes, there are other movies out there that make us supply chain professionals proud.  "Avatar" comes to mind (all that hubbub over optimizing the supply of material from a low cost manufacturing location!!).  "Jurassic World" - battling a very high cost and imposing inventory problem.  And "Straight Outta Compton" delivered a change management message that is at the core of supply chain and many other business functions.

But Star Wars is better because it delivers not just the second type of supply chain movie (getting us what we want, when we want it and optimizing revenue along the way) but it's also a classic supply chain movie of the first type.  I mean, how in the heck would the Empire be able to make a Death Star without an optimized supply chain?

The manufacturing of a Death Star requires a strategic sourcing team with a galactic reach.  Seriously, how many of the - probably 30 billion - components that comprise the Death Star's bill of materials (BOM) were locally purchased?  Exactly.

No Contest

And speaking of BOM's - what supply chain professional or item master specialist was responsible for maintaining that BOM and how many levels did it have.  Think of the biggest thing we have to build right now - what, an aircraft carrier?  An aircraft carrier is closer to a Chiclet than it is a Death Star.

And using the Death Star BOM to create its manufacturing router?  Are you kidding me?  How many production operations are in that document?  And only the keen, detail-oriented eye of a dedicated supply chain professional makes that possible.

Sure, the Tie Fighter fly boys may have gotten most of the screen time - but if it weren't for the Empire's supply chain team - they wouldn't have anything to take off from or to land on.  And the fact that these supply chain professionals were so good at their jobs meant that when Luke blasted the Death Star to smithereens, our world cheered.  If he had blown up the Corleone's mansion or a Prohibition Era illegal still - not the same effect.  A strong supply chain meant a heroic moment for our fledgling Jedi.

And let's not forget that there was at least one other Death Star and a Star Destroyer, too.

The Empire knows how to deploy supply chain with impunity. And that is why - young Padawan - Star Wars is the definitely the greatest supply chain story ever told.