Nostalgia’s Trickery in the New Star Wars Saga
The key to the recent state of Star Wars, Lucasfilm, Disney, and its fanbase is found in a single moment released in the marketing campaign of The Force Awakens, the practical second-coming of pop-culture properties. At the end of the second teaser, which dropped on April 16, 2015, after a barrage of new images and snippets from the long-awaited juggernaut entry, a voice echoes over a black screen, immediately unleashing screams and tears of joy across the internet. That voice, of course, was none other than Han Solo, standing alongside Chewbacca—blasters in hand—while uttering, “Chewie, we’re home.” The response from the furry side-kick, a triumphant roar, was akin to a mic-drop following a mic-drop, and yet it was never anything less than necessary. It was a culmination in precise marketing, the kind that makes you say, “Damn they’re good”, as you desperately try to reject the happiness of seeing Han and Chewy back on screen. That didn’t happen. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and almost everybody is these days, it was surgical in its effectiveness. You didn’t even know what hit you.
And then the wave of posters, action figures, trailers and TV spots and interviews and early reviews came. The days before my Thursday night showing lulled into a perpetual state of molasses. I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. It was just another movie. And here I was, going out and buying plastic lightsabers with my friends so we could bring them along to a long-awaited screening (I bought a Return of the Jedi green one). “Maybe it isn’t just a film?”, I started to think. My friends and I thought we were a part of something, and in a sense, we were (the memories will forever linger), but the real answer to my question is a sobering one—The Force Awakens was simply an ignition for our memory banks, and a film, as spectacular as it was, provided a gateway back to the past installments, merchandize, and older, dustier tales of our own innocence. It made the world excited about escapism, a kind that didn’t, at least as plainly, visualize its systemic, commercialized core. Audiences knew that they could go to a Star Wars entry and not care about signing an unconscious six-year contract because it was so light, fun, bright, and caring. These movies matter to the populace, although not always for the right reasons.
The films should matter in regards to the universe being explored, the endless depths of the possible stories, and the creativity that inspires young artists, but many Star Wars ‘fans’ have instead found another, more sinister reason for going out and supporting the revitalized property. They can bathe in their memories and, to put it bluntly, they refuse to grow up, instead clinging to their version of Star Wars and not the version it is destined to be. It’s why this new saga, comprised of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, might just be more delightful than the original films; it’s about exposing myths and legends for what they are—stories (which, on their own, aren’t inherently graded in terms of importance). J.J. Abrams’ version brought back nostalgia in spades, but the mysteries hidden within were just that, and with The Last Jedi—now seen as a game-changer for the trilogy’s trajectory, as well as a phenomenal auteurist work—dismantling them, the one truth mined from it all is that putting your faith in nostalgia never works. It’s hopeless to cling to the past, because it never changes, and change is a natural, bittersweet occurrence.
But a vocal minority of its fanbase refuses to move on, trudging along in a feeble attempt to manufacture their perfect individual version of Star Wars for the satisfaction of their wet dreams. The Force Awakens may have been dangerous because it reinforced reminders of the old, but the backlash was strong, even though it utilized structural similarities and plot developments for the sake of mystery-box subversion. Many viewers hated Abrams’ film because it exposed their reverence and mythologization of the original trilogy to an absurd degree and refracted it back in the characters’ personalities. Cries and whimpers of “It’s the same thing as the original Star Wars!!” might as well be re-worded into “I didn’t like it because it gave me exactly what I’ve been worshipping for the last thirty years!!”.
Such a claim is bold, but The Last Jedi completes this line of thinking, as it is very much focused on the evil of nostalgia, of not allowing yourself a chance to move on from the past and the terror of grasping onto old myths. While The Force Awakens, in a sense, weakened those who have never moved on from the original trilogy, The Last Jedi leaves them in the blood-red dust. It soars off into the galaxy with a fresh twinkle in its eye and a comical, sly reverence for Star Wars itself and not the version so many people have fabricated in their fantasies. The characters have been freed from their ties to Original Trilogy characters, and while they will always carry them within their hearts, The Last Jedi teaches a method of never reaching the level of ‘master’, because you never stop learning. Johnson showcases that no progression can be unearthed without change, and change is the opposite of stagnantly committing to ancient fandom favorites just because that’s how they’re remembered. The truth hurts for the personalities in The Last Jedi and the audience observing it play out across the screen; they have realized their stories are just that. It’s what you take away from them, and where you go from there that matters. Star Wars is now a status where, when a new trailer for Episode IX releases in a couple years, the excitement will come from a collective public who is ready to dream again, and not simply recall past lives. This gargantuan space-opera train is finally back to square one, freed from the constraints of its sickening fanbase and bursting into hyperspace towards the future. Time to let go.