Has Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ Success Advanced Hollywood’s Agenda To Capitalize On Nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a drug, and we are all addicts.

Like many of you, I spent this past weekend attending one the opening night showings of the eagerly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Even using the phrase “eagerly anticipated” doesn’t seem to encapsulate the semi-mass hysteria surrounding this film’s release. I too have been swept up. Star Wars means something to us that just speaks to the warm, fuzzy center in our bellies. It’s no surprise that the film was released near Christmas time, when we are all either already primed for that warm and fuzzy feeling, or at least searching for it through Peppermint Mocha Latte’s, re-watching A Charlie Brown Christmas for the 1000th time, or feasting on comfort food to the point of discomfort. At least in American culture, those feelings arise because it hearkens back a time in to childhood when we literally believed in magic.

Like Christmas, Star Wars feels a little magical, and this new film was all about a serious attempt to recapture that magic. Although I really enjoyed the film, I found myself distracted from time to time, because the film made sure to nod and wink to the old characters and architecture. Even the plot itself is like a really good cover song of the original Star Wars: A New Hope. I understand the need to pay lip service to the rabid fanbase who has been obsessed with the franchise for 30+ years, and who felt betrayed by the series of prequels that were released more than a decade earlier. Personally, The Force Awakens felt most vibrant when it leaned on it’s new characters and exceedingly likable, young cast. I preferred the new tastes in this familiar world, but I know my opinion is in the minority. Most of the Star Wars super fans are on board with the new film’s call backs to the original trilogy.

I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m coming down on this new Star Wars entry. I think it has been handled about as well as we could have hoped, and I give J.J. Abrams and everyone involved their due credit for resurrecting this enchanting universe. With that said, between the record shattering box office sales of The Force Awakens and Jurassic World being the top grossing film of 2015, it’s clear that we are a culture that has become fixated on nostalgia.

I want it to be clear that I am not metaphorically throwing stones, because I live in a glass house. Here is a collage I made while at work last year to entertain myself.

If you don’t know, there are references to Prince, Back To The Future, The Big Lebowski, Saved By The Bell, Lord of the Rings, Alien, Demolition Man, Breakin’, and Jean Claude Van Damme – most of which are relics from my teenage years that make me feel giddy. I’m the guy constantly quoting Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas, and who has a True Romance tattoo. Us movie nerds would rather watch Cliffhanger 50 times than climb an actual mountain. I’m calling bullshit, because I kind of am bullshit, and understand the escapism that draws us all to this magical art form.

But I wonder now if this has gone too far. I wonder if there is something about this current era and the age group between late 20s and late 40s that is particularly fixated on the past when it comes to our pop culture, and specifically Hollywood films. Are we a generation of people stuck in the past because it feels comfortable and reassuring? Are we unwilling to create new, fond memories? Or are these properties our only options because Hollywood has stopped producing original, big-budget movies?

Whether it’s the chicken, the egg, or just some vicious feedback loop, this is the current media landscape. The superhero movie boom of recent years is really just wish fulfillment from our childhoods that our favorite comics could come to life. Just in the last five years, we’ve remade, rebooted, or made long after-the-fact sequels to Total Recall, Robocop, The Terminator, Evil Dead, The Thing, Point Break, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider Man, Superman, Star Trek, Carrie, etc. They are stripping our childhood for spare parts until there is nothing left. I’m not generally opposed to idea of remakes, reboots, or sequels, but many of these are ill conceived, unnecessary or both. In the last week, I just saw the trailer for the new Independence Day sequel, and it only seemed to play on the notion of, “Remember that awesome thing from your childhood?”. I feel like we are suckers, and Hollywood was taking advantage of our emotional attachment to these staples.

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