Last week, like millions of fellow Star Wars fans, I sat down at my local theater and caught a matinee of The Last Jedi, a movie which (no spoilers) continued to stick with me several days after I left the theater. Maybe it was the fact that the film came out so close to the end of the year, but I couldn’t help thinking about the thematic beats of the movie as I reflected on 2017, and how in many ways this second act of a story about a fictitious Resistance seems to parallel one a bit closer to home. I’m not talking about lightsabers or porgs, but the broader feelings of a movement on the defensive, of searching for victories in the mitigation of losses, and, most importantly, of the nagging sense that the climactic battles lay just beyond the horizon–tinged with the growing feeling that the myth of the preordained climactic battle might be just that.
2017 has been a rollercoaster of a year. Bookended by President Donald Trump’s inauguration and the achievement of his first (Senator Susan Collins and Representative Bruce Poliquin-assisted) complete legislative victory, movement progressives have spent a year waging battles locally and nationally, racking up improbable stalemates and victories despite conservative control of most of the avenues through which political change might be achieved.
In Maine, we saw the initial elation of the victories of the 2016 citizen initiatives give way to the frustration of compromise in the midst of a government shutdown, which in turn fueled determined campaigns to fight and win at the ballot box again. Nationally, many Obama-era legislative victories, imperfect as they are, have been left bloodied but as of yet unbroken, while Trump has spent his time trying to hollow out and reshape the judiciary and the administrative state to become generational tools of corporate power. Around the country, off-year and special election victories have shown that the momentum of the of the political left continues to build toward the 2018 elections, but the somber fact remains that eleven months stand between us and November 6, 2018.
And even when 2018 comes and goes, many–such as myself–who are young and relatively new to the grind of movement politics are coming to realize that even if Democrats sweep every available seat in the next election, the cultural and political fault lines that have been laid bare these past months will take generations of cyclical battles to overcome. Systems are complex and systemic change is the result of millions of victories, big and small, against forces that will array themselves into new shapes to protect their power. The Empire is always hard at work on the next Death Star.
However, even when you’re walking out of the theater more somberly than you expected, there is a certain hopefulness that can arise when you stop emotionally banking on that decisive victory at the hands of the Chosen One. That perspective gives us a sense of agency as heroes in our own stories, and a reminder that as we look ahead, living to fight another day is sometimes a victory all on its own.
As we put 2017 behind us, it’s worth remembering that the politics of survival being honed today will make us more resilient tomorrow, and that by keeping the fighting spirit alive even in the midst of hard wins and harder losses, we are planting the seeds of our next victories and ensuring that the next wave of battles have a better chance of being fought on our terms.
From the middle of that cycle, that might feel like cold comfort, but here’s hoping that by the time Episode IX rolls around, the payoff is felt both on up the screen, and here on the ground.
Last Jedi promotional image.