5 Reasons Why the White House Response to the Death Star Petition Was Genius

Back in November 2012, someone posted on the White House’s “We The People” site petitioning the federal government to secure funding and resources to build a Death Star by 2016. We The People is an online petition website that allows any citizen to make a suggestion, and if it receives 25,000 votes, the White House will issue an official response. The Death Star petition reached 25,000 votes in December and one month later, the White House issued their response.

Picture of the Death Star from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Here are 5 reasons why I thought the response was brilliant:

1. They Played Along

Kudos to the White House for embracing and adding more Star Wars references. There were mentions of

  • Blowing up planets
  • Having a flaw that can be exposed by a one-man starship
  • Luke’s robotic arm
  • The power of the Force

How many government agencies would have responded with “we are not familiar with the term ‘Death Star’ and therefore are unable to properly respond to this petition.” Probably a lot.

2. It was Informal

One lesson from social media is that it’s okay to be informal sometimes. People like interacting with other human beings more than a dry, soulless organization. It’s refreshing to see government be clever, witty, and funny.

The second paragraph begins with “…look carefully and you’ll notice something floating in the sky – that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station!” Reading this sentence makes you feel like the author is actually talking to you.

Not only was it written with a playful voice, they even linked to a photo of President Obamawielding a toy light saber.

3. It was Informative

Not only was the response witty and playful, it was also very informative. The author saw this as an opportunity to educate the reader with relevant articles and programs. There were several links to government and non-government projects to get the reader excited about what is currently happening in space. I bet most readers learned something new.

4. They Promoted Others

Another important lesson from social media is that it’s not always about you. The White House was happy to promote other programs that they thought the reader would find useful, giving readers a more complete picture of what is happening in the industry. In addition to the many NASA programs, they also link to a private sector project with a mission to put more humans on the moon and DARPA projects to build floating droids.

There’s even a reference to a study that estimated the cost of a Death Star to be more than $850,000,000,000,000,000.

5. They Ended On a Positive Note

It’s difficult to draw something positive out of such an outrageous petition that was obviously a joke, but the White House pulled it off. Instead of just listing evidence to why this is a terrible idea, they ended with an encouraging message.

The second to last paragraph says “We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field.”

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Despite the brilliance of the response, there is something that doesn’t sit well with me: I couldn’t find the article on We The People. Of course, if you use a search engine, the article shows up at the top and there are plenty of technology and government blogs that link to it, but if you start from the We The People homepage, it’s very difficult to navigate to the response (I couldn’t do it but someone else probably could). It’s as if the White House is purposely trying to hide it from accidental visits.

Even the title of the response is extremely vague. It’s called “This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For.”

Despite the fact that it’s hidden, I still have to applaud the author for a brilliant and refreshing response. This is a great example of what government can be: clever, in-touch, educational, and inspiring all at the same time.

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18 Comments

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Colleen Ayers

As a big Star Wars fan, I was cackling with glee as I read through the response and wishing I’d been in the position to write such a fun piece for the White House. The only thing that grated at all was the tone that seemed to imply the response was directed at children (pursue a career in, etc.). Since the site shouldn’t have allowed signatures from anyone younger than 13, I really doubt the majority of the petitioners were youngsters!

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Jon Lee

Thanks for the comment, Colleen. I agree, there were times that it seemed a bit too playful, but it’s still light years ahead of the dry, stale stuff that I’m used to seeing.

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Carla Voorhees

“This isn’t the petition response you’re looking for” is another Star Wars reference … (“These are not the droids you’re looking for”)

I agree that responses are difficult to find on the We The People site – there is one in particular I’m interested in reading when it comes out (has it come out? I don’t know!)

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Jon Lee

Carla – You’re right! I completely missed the reference! If they wanted the response to be instantly recognizable, however, they should have had a more straightforward title

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Elizabeth Carlson Hurst

Jon, your article is a fun, easy to read, well-organized commentary. Thank you so much for writing it. I never would have heard of this delightful White House response had you not written this.

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Janina Rey Echols Harrison

That is what I love about these groups. I learn new things every day. Sign lots of petitions but haven’t heard about We the People. Will have to check it out. Such a fan of the White House’s embrace of social media and how fun it always is even when covering some fairly important subjects. It is how I like doing business. Throw a little humanity into it.

My fav space station videos are on reelNASA. I love it because the astronauts get so excited when they are talking to the camera about what they are doing.

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Mariann Cook Andrews

When I worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, we received an inquiry from someone in Arkansas who said they had a good pack of hunting dogs. He wanted to come hunt for Bigfoot in the Superstition Mountains (desert mountains east of Phoenix) with his dogs.

My colleague responded politely that this was not allowed since the Game and Fish Commission had not set a hunting season or bag limit for Sasquatch.

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Mariann Cook Andrews

There is none — that’s why the guy couldn’t hunt it/them, at least not legally. ;- )

And I may be wrong, but I don’t think there have been any sightings of Sasquatch/Bigfoot in desert areas.

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