“So this is how liberty dies. With thunderous applause.” –Padmé Amidala, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
Ever since the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” were first projected in 1977 onto just a handful of movie screens across America, fans have been mesmerized and obsessed with Star Wars. The story of an overpowered yet determined rebel alliance resisting a tyrannical, fascist empire stirred something deep and primordial in people’s souls. As fandom grew exponentially over the years, Star Wars geeks have found creative means of every manner, shape and form to live out their fantasies of being part of this universe: toys, games, cosplay, conventions, the sport of “lightsaber combat” and of course a steady stream of Star Wars books, comics, movies and shows to feed the mythology and keep it alive.
This kind of fan culture is wonderful, but I am here to say to Star Wars fans everywhere that you now have before you the realest, truest way there has ever been to live the mythology and to make it real. And it means joining the Trump Resistance movement that’s now underway to prevent our government from undermining the principles and foundations upon which the American republic was founded.
The Trump administration may not exactly be on a par with the Galactic Empire just yet, but one of the purposes of science fiction and fantasy have always been to make us more sensitive to the patterns of history. Empires aren’t erected overnight. They are built slowly, quietly, in the shadows while the people are distracted and complacent. And we have been distracted and complacent.
For Americans used to comfort and privilege—not as any wrongdoing on their part but just by virtue of living here—it can be hard to feel, on a visceral level, how events in the political arena may be threatening the very comfort and privilege they have become accustomed to and which, unfortunately, can serve as blinders to the threats that encroach upon us. But some of the Star Wars characters we so love and cherish came from privilege as well. Princess Leia, for instance, could have chosen to accept the political reality around her, and given her social status she would have still enjoyed a life of relative ease. But she chose not to. Driven by her compassion for those suffering under the Empire, she chose to fight.
There are millions upon millions of geeks out there who pore over every detail of the Star Wars canon as if it were religion. Imagine, then, the passion and force (Force?) that could be added to the already exploding Trump Resistance if every one of these fans, as much as they were physically and emotionally able, were to contribute their efforts in some way. Many of them already are already doing so. But the movement could become even more unstoppable if more of them did.
Even Steve Bannon, by comparing himself to Darth Vader, is harnessing the symbolic power of Star Wars. Are you going to let him co-opt your favorite mythology for his own nefarious purposes? Rise up, Star Wars fans. It is time to show the world that geeks are more than just a massive source of revenue for the entertainment industry to exploit. You have lived with these mythic stories of courage and heroism your entire lives. Now, when the real world beckons for you to join the fight, will you—like Anakin, Luke, Rey and Jyn before you—answer the call? Or will you find that Star Wars is, after all, nothing more than escapist entertainment?
This article is directed, first, towards Star Wars fans who are already politically active and wish to inspire other fans to become active. It is also directed, secondly, towards Star Wars fans who feel the call to action in their hearts but are trying to find the courage to answer that call. Here are some ideas for imaginatively merging political action with your love of all things Star Wars. When used well these ideas can accomplish two things: (a) make political activism fun for yourself so that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice of your personal time, thus making you even more motivated to stay engaged, and (b) make activism look fun to others, thus naturally attracting other potential geek-activists who need that extra bit of motivation to get them going.
Make no mistake: activism is serious business with serious objectives. But who said that it couldn’t also be fun and creative at the same time?
Use the symbolic power of Star Wars to inspire geeks towards action
While by no means all of them, many geeks tend to be an introverted, shy, sensitive and sometimes socially awkward lot. Some also face various kinds of personal challenges like mental and/or physical conditions, disabilities, self-esteem issues, bullying, dysfunctional homes… the list goes on and on. Because of this, they tend to naturally shy away from things like marches and protests which are crowded, noisy, and highly charged with emotions—in other words, stimuli overload. While this is completely understandable, now is also not a time when we can afford the luxury of simply avoiding things that make us uncomfortable.
Certainly, no one should ever be pressured to do more than they are able or willing. And as I’ve just said, there may be very real challenges that people are facing that hinder the degree to which they’re able to be politically engaged. Being stuck in a crowd, for example, at a protest with no quick exit point can be, for someone with anxiety issues, a genuinely horrible thing. But sometimes people are reluctant to become engaged not due to a legitimate inability but simply out of discomfort or lack of enough motivation. In such cases, never underestimate the power of mythic symbols and imagery to inspire them.
We live in a world in which fantasy is often more compelling for many people than reality. Therefore we should harness the imagery of fantasy and use it in reality. People will be galvanized by seeing their favorite fandom come to life in such a meaningful way. They will see how the struggles and conflicts of Star Wars are being played out before their eyes and they will be inspired to join the movement.
A successful model for this already exists in the area of charity work: The 501st Legion, a worldwide cosplay and volunteer organization. Under their “bad guys doing good” motto they dress up as Stormtroopers, Empire officers and Sith lords and practice various kinds of altruistic acts. They most certainly could go about these activities in plain clothes and it would be no less important. Charitable work and political activism are both complete in themselves and need no additional dressing. But there is no harm—indeed, there is only added benefit—in harnessing the visual imagery of Star Wars in this way. It brings additional attention to the cause and inspires those who might not otherwise be inspired. We can learn a lot from these guys and their creative meshing of charity with geek fandom.
Trump and his cohorts got to where they are by working up people’s emotions. We can play that same game, only in a far more constructive way. Star Wars arouses a certain fanatical emotion in its followers like nothing else apart from religion. Tap into that. Exploit it. Make political engagement and activism seem fun for shy geeks. Then watch the numbers in the Trump Resistance grow.
What are some ways to harness the symbolic power of Star Wars in your activities? Here are some small ideas to start with:
- Protest signs: I got goosebumps seeing all the many wonderful ones inspired by Princess Leia during the Women’s March on Jan. 21. And I am certain I was not the only one. This is the kind of visceral power that mythic symbols and imagery have to stir something deep within us.
- Cosplay: There have been some promising indications of cosplay’s potential as a creative adjunct to political activism. Combine cosplay with Star Wars-inspired protest signs at your next march for an effective 1-2 geek punch!
- Graphics and memes: For sharing on social media, using on t-shirts, etc.
- Star Wars themed activist groups/clubs: Starting a group on Facebook or Google+ (see “The Rebellion is Organized” below) could be a way to spread the contagious spirit of activism made fun.
Build upon these ideas with your own!
Turn political activism into a Star Wars game
New Star Wars video games and board games that get released are consistently popular. This is because, as noted, people love this franchise so passionately they want to live it as closely as possible. But as I’ve argued in the intro to this article, nothing else comes as close to actually living the Star Wars mythology as taking political action at a time like now.
It is admittedly hard to reconcile the difficult nature of real life with the much more glamorous and exciting fantasy of being a Jedi or an X-Wing pilot. Fortunately, there is a way to make the two virtually one and the same: turn the real activism itself into a Star Wars role-playing game. There are a number of ways you could do this and all it takes is a bit of imagination and creativity. To try this out, I might suggest two ways to experiment with.
1. Use SuperBetter: Get the book SuperBetter by futurist/game designer Jane McGonigal and read it. Then download the app. Or just use pen and paper as McGonigal herself suggests in the book. Using the basic template she provides of Power-Ups, Quests, Allies, Epic Wins and Bad Guys, create a Star Wars SuperBetter theme in which you categorize various politically engaged actions and goals as Power-Ups, Quests or Epic Wins. Decide which things are Bad Guys (things that make you feel physically or emotionally bad) and deal with them in a constructive way. Take ongoing stock of the points you earn and level yourself up when you reach a milestone!
2. Tie it into a Star Wars RPG campaign. Another way to experiment with is if you’re involved in a Star Wars role-playing game campaign. Get together with your Game Master and fellow players and discuss the idea, if they’re open to it, about giving your character experience points or special items as rewards for various kinds of real life actions. Just determine the amount of XP points that each political action deserves whether it’s sharing something on social media (a small amount of points) or something as big as taking part in a march (a lot of XP points!). By doing this you’d be creating your own positive reinforcing mechanism. Go ahead and reward yourself in this way! Why not?
So long as we understand that political change can ultimately only be fought for on a practical, real-life level, then turning political activism into an imaginative game does not necessarily have to trivialize the activism nor lessen its effectiveness.
The Rebellion is organized. So get organized.
When watching or reading Star Wars media you can see how organized the Rebellion (if we’re talking original trilogy) or the Resistance (if we’re talking Force Awakens) is. After all, they have to be. They are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to resources and military might so they have to compensate with coordinated effort. So too must aspiring geek activists become organized. In fact, an excellent manual by the Indivisible team argues that it is their adeptness at organizing at the local level that allowed the Tea Party to command as much influence as it did. They suggest that progressives study and learn from these methods, emulate them even.
So join something, anything, in which people are pooling their efforts in the Trump Resistance. Join a non-profit organization or just join a Facebook group if that’s where you’re comfortable starting with. Start your own group or organization if you feel there’s a niche that needs to be represented. Start a “Star Wars Fans Against the Trump Regime” group or something like that. But take care that the efforts of your groups and organizations don’t become too scattershot. Ally yourselves with larger groups and organizations so that you can combine your efforts. The Women’s March, for instance, was not comprised of a single, monolithic entity. It was comprised of a diverse array of peoples and groups. But they were all connected in some way such that they were able to effectively spread the word about the march, motivate people to participate and thus make it a truly historical event by force of numbers.
Are you currently a part of any Star Wars fan groups? If you have physical meetups, show them this article at your next gathering. Present this idea to them of harnessing the symbolic power of Star Wars in political activism. Then brainstorm specific ways to do so together. If you don’t have physical meetings, then share this article in your online group and see what people think. If they think the idea’s stupid or silly, well, at least you tried. If they seem game, then put your heads together and brainstorm!
The Rebellion needs different talent and skills. Use yours.
When you look across the various media of the Star Wars franchise, you see that the Rebellion/Resistance is made up of a myriad of specialists in different fields, each contributing to the larger cause in their own ways. Pilots excel at flying their fighters but probably wouldn’t be very good at wielding lightsabers (unless they’re last name is Skywalker). Communications officers focus on the transmission and reception of information and probably couldn’t fly X-Wings very well. Foot soldiers excel at ground combat and wouldn’t be very good at espionage. And so on. And yet each of the their contributions are vital to the Rebellion’s overall success.
Not everyone is equally good at all kinds of activities. That is okay—the Rebellion needs all of your talents and skills. Whatever you naturally excel at, do it. It is important. It is needed. Not everyone is the type to lead a march while yelling catchy slogans through a megaphone, just like not everyone is the type to lead an X-Wing squadron through a Death Star trench run.
Now, the time may come when things get so bad that each and every person who gives a damn simply must take to the streets and nothing less would save our democracy. Hopefully such a day won’t come. But if you’re just looking for an entry point into political activism that isn’t intimidating or scary, then start with doing the things that you do best, and that you like doing, done in service of the cause. You’ll be far more likely to keep it up.
The Rebellion fights battles on many fronts. Choose yours.
In the coming weeks and months, many important issues will be at stake. But not everyone will be able to devote equal amounts of time to all of these, not even if you were to become a full-time activist. Therefore by all means speak out on and support all the causes you care about, but to create the most impact focus the majority of your efforts on a handful of issues. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about other issues. It means you have to balance your activism with the physical reality of going to work, paying the bills and getting enough sleep in addition to whatever other challenges you may be facing.
Remember how, in Return of the Jedi, Han and Leia lead a ground team on Endor while Luke confronts Vader and the Emperor on the new Death Star? Or remember how, in Rogue One, everyone focuses on the job they have to do: the pilots in the air and in space, the soldiers on the ground, and our heroes Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, Baze, Bodhi and K-2SO each on their respective missions. Focus on the fights you’re fighting and let the big picture take care of itself. But if you try to be everywhere and do everything at once, you will only make your efforts fall short and, moreover, you will set yourself up for burnout.
The Rebellion needs the less visible stories. Honor yours.
One of the reasons why Rogue One is such a powerful, important entry in the Star Wars canon is because it tells a smaller story that hasn’t been told before despite how obviously important it is. Without that story, the one in which Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo lead the Rebel Alliance to victory could not be told. The fact that we didn’t know about the heroics of Jyn and her team until now didn’t mean that their story didn’t exist. It was there the whole time. And now, thanks to Rogue One, we all know how vital a role they played. I find this to be a beautiful, powerful metaphor for the importance of everyone’s role in social and political causes. Honor, therefore, your role, however small you may think it to be in the grand scheme of things. And the truth is that it isn’t small.
Don’t forget the practical actions!
The point of this article has been to make the case for how galvanizing a force mythic symbols and imagery can be, and how Star Wars—particularly Rogue One, with its thematic timeliness—can be a source of inspiration for the geek community to draw upon to spur themselves (and others) to action. And it provided some ideas for how to do this. But going further into depth about all the tangible actions you could possibly take as an activist would be beyond the scope of a single article. I’ve therefore included several links at the bottom that you can check out for more concrete ideas.
So what are you waiting for? This is a rebellion, isn’t it? Go rebel.
Oh yeah, and…
Further reading for the Trump Resistance:
- Twelve Ways to Resist the Trump Presidency, Newsweek.com
- Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, IndivisibleGuide.com
- Here’s a Helpful Tool to ‘Resist the Trump Agenda’, HuffingtonPost.com
- Why Star Wars is a Political Force to Be Reckoned With, TheGuardian.com
- Corruption, Exploitation and Decay: The Politics of Star Wars, StarWars.com