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You Can’t Go Home Again: The Force Awakens and Nostalgia

Beware of spoilers ye who enter

Long time readers will know that I am a huge Star Wars nerd, but I wasn’t exactly excited about The Force Awakens. I avoided the trailers because it seemed like the thing to do, not out of any earnest spoilerphobia. Part of me wanted the film to be good; another part of me wanted it to be bad so I wouldn’t feel compelled to watch it. There was a general sense of burn out and as Brianna Wu put it on Twitter, Star Wars is a brand and what we feel is brand loyalty to average products. But enough people on Twitter, people whose opinions I trusted said it was good and I ended up buying a ticket. And it turns out the film is entertaining at the very least. One of the more interesting things with a commercial film, produced by Disney’s mass media empire and curated for maximum public appeal made me feel something. That and the reasons why make the film worth discussing. Let’s not waste any time and jump right in.

The emotional crux of the film isn’t Rey’s visions or Fin’s defection or Han’s death. It’s Han saying, “Chewie, we’re home.” That moment brings all the fanservice, all the nostalgia and all the copied story beats from ANH more than their individual parts. Star Wars is a galaxy that was empty and filled with wonder, populated and now depopulated for new wonders. That’s the home the viewer is promised, through the focus of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon. There’s just one problem though: You can’t go home again.

While the film plays on nostalgia it’s also setting up a new generation of heroes (a generation of heroes that rebuke the monochromatic masculine view presented in ANH). But this also comes with an epilogue of futility to RoTJ, the Empire has remade itself, the Dark Side of the Force is again on the rise, the sorrow that Han, Leia and Luke all feel and express, the galaxy is a different place. The galaxy is a graveyard and whatever sense of home it engendered is an echo.

It seems fitting that the strong invocation of nostalgia would make me think back to Don Draper’s sales pitch in the season one finale of Mad Men, that “nostalgia literally in Greek, means the pain from an old wound…takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” This so conveniently explains why the film appeals to so many people. If this new trilogy is to succeed though, to have any sort of cultural impact instead of being a monument to box office hits with no cultural footprint like the recently dethroned Avatar, its creators have to realize that they can’t go home again, but maybe they can build a new home out of the ruins. The next generation can’t just retread the steps of the old.

Next week, I’ll be talking about The Force Awakens in relation to the Legends EU. Till next time.

 

 

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