' ' Cinema Romantico: Star Wars & Nostalgia

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Star Wars & Nostalgia

As a staunch “Star Wars” prequels adversary, both with their existence and “artistic” execution, there is nonetheless a single moment near the end of Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith”, that I find positively delightful. It was a sudden and remarkable realization that Bail Organa was strolling through the snow white hallways of a fairly familiar looking spaceship. “That’s Leia’s ship!” I internally screamed like Bruce Springsteen had just ascended the stage. It was the same ship, the storied Tantive IV, in which this and that galaxy’s most famous Princess (sorry, Kate) tried to flee the Imperial Starfleet. It was the same ship as a kid lo so many years ago I would pretend to be in as one of the hapless rebel soldiers trying to stave off the small-scale storm trooper invasion. It was the same ship that sent a whole film franchise, for better or worse, spinning into orbit, and now it was on a screen in front of me and I was overjoyed.

Of course, that joy stemmed not from whatever context in which Leia’s ship was currently being used in “Episode III.” I’d be hard-pressed to provide even a vague description of why Bail Organa was strolling through its snow white hallways. But that’s because its role in the story was beside the point; its presence was all that mattered. Seeing it again flooded me with a sensation as precarious as it is liltingly potent……nostalgia.

I felt the waves of nostalgia rolling in once again when the latest teaser for J.J. Abrams’ brontosaurusly hyped “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (release date: December 18th) made the rounds last Thursday. The Twitters were aflame with social media fanboy screams and Facebook status updates confessed to goose bumps aplenty. Adults became kids – specifically adults of my generation, that is, and that makes me wonder what truly provoked all these screams and goose bumps? After all, no one seemed to be mentioning Daisy Ridley fleeing an explosion like a Michael Bay guest directed spot. That’s not what thrilled us.

What thrilled was the voice of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker reciting recognizable dialogue (“The Force is strong in my family” – aiyeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!). What thrilled us was the sight of an Imperial star cruiser, crashed and burned. What thrilled us was the Millenium Falcon mid-soar. In other words, what thrilled us was a Thursday afternoon wistful remembrance of the way things were. These are sights and sounds of a time gone by, resurrected for a fleeting moment, perfectly captured in the wink of a teaser trailer that doesn’t have to follow through any further than ninety seconds later. Yes, Oscar Isaac looked pretty fly in that X-wing pilot suit but that image of Oscar only left me pining for an appearance by Wedge. The teaser felt like flipping through a photo album and focusing on the faces we once knew with such immense fondness and haven’t seen in a long, long time. And that makes me wonder, are we really anticipating “The Force Awakens” or is its hype overdrive merely waking the echoes?

The most indelible image of the teaser was Han Solo & Chewbacca standing in what appeared to be the innards of Earth's favorite spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon. “Chewy,” Han says in the least gruff timbre Harrison Ford has managed in at least a decade, “we’re home.” It’s a line overflowing with audacity, a deliberate flouting of Thomas Wolfe’s infamous observation. “You can't go back home to your childhood,” he wrote and yet that’s precisely where the teaser takes so many of us. It transports us to the past, to our youthful homes and our glorious childhoods when we were so young and so naïve and the world seemed full of such hope and wonder that we really did feel like we could take on the whole empire ourselves. God, it's dangerous. The gorgeous blue illumination of the Falcon's engine grill calling out like a beacon may as well be a flashing green light across the harbor.

J.J. Abrams has trafficked in this sort of nostalgia before, of course, with “Super 8”, an insistent homage to Father Spielberg. Yet that film worked for me; at least, that film worked for me in real time inside the movie theater where I was subsumed by nostalgia. Outside, afterwards, on the long walk home, in a blink, the whole damn thing fell to pieces, and I realized the film was just a hollowed out spectacle, not unlike the Tantive IV of “Revenge of the Sith”, a gleaming re-creation, not the real thing. I felt sad. I also felt satisfied. It was just a trick, but for two hours that suspension of disbelief kept me riveted, to hell with hindsight. And if for just a couple hours J.J. Abrams can trick me into thinking that, yes, old sport, you can repeat the past, maybe, just maybe, that will be enough in spite of the emotionally bankrupt charlatans telling me to mind my sentimentality. Like Janis sang, “I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”


Wretched Genius said...

I've been very resistant to any new Star Wars properties ever since the reviled Special Editions were released in '97. Yet I find myself hoping that this new film will be good, because I remember how amazing the original trilogy seemed when I was a child, and I want that amazement again.

There are a few other specific reasons for hope, as well.

-Abrams is a talented director (if he can resist his horrible obsession with lens flares), and does his best work when NOT filming scripts by Orci/Kurtzman/Lindelof.

-Lawrence "I wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi AND Raiders of the Lost Ark, mofos!" Kasdan is on board as screenwriter (along with Abrams). George Lucas is relegated to only a "Characters created by" credit.

-Due to having a young son, I have recently started watching the Clone Wars animated series. It's actually not bad (for a children's animated series), and shows that there is plenty of quality storytelling that can still be mined from this franchise's universe when someone other than George Lucas* is in charge.

-I never thought there would come a day when I would defend Disney's creative strategy, but they have actually hit gold with the way they've handled the interconnected Marvel films. Films are given to auteurs and/or unlikely directors with a broad template of how to fit the film into the larger universe, while leaving the filmmaker ample space to include their own personality. They appear to be going the same route with Star Wars, bringing in directors with a distinct style, like Abrams and Rian Johnson(!), and emerging sci-fi talent like Gareth Edwards and Josh Trank. Hopefully it yields the same kind of quality results.

*: Lucas is technically billed as the series' creator, but does not have a single directing or writing credit throughout the show's 120+ episodes, nor did he serve as the showrunner.

Nick Prigge said...

You know, I wrote this before that "Rogue One" teaser and plot line dropped but I have to say.....that one REALLY intrigues me. I really, really like that idea and I really, really like Gareth Edwards as the director for it. That idea sort of reminded me of the old NPR Star Wars radio dramas - which I loved - where they would just expand around the universe of the films already in place, honoring what existed while still finding their own niche.