Is Nostalgia Killing 'Star Wars'?
On Nostalgia and the Toxic Fandom that Sometimes Follows
Nostalgia. What does it really mean? Why is it important? Why does it hold so much power over us?
It is difficult to say. The past is the past, yet it affects our future in more ways than we realize at times, especially in the entertainment industry.
I was not born in the era Star Wars came to be. I was not that lucky. But perhaps it is a blessing in disguise I wasn't. I grew up during the times of the prequels, the era many claimed was the end of Star Wars with May 19, 1999 being the day it died, according to many die-hard fans of old.
The prequels had their problems for sure. From a film perspective, they are poorly written, the acting is often wooden and uninspired, and the special effects are a CGI ridden mess. However, that has little to do with why the prequels were hated so much. It is because they are nothing like the original films. No scruffy looking nerf-herder to add his charm and humor. No princess with her wit and beauty. No farm boy destined to become the last living Jedi. Few practical effects. And most importantly, it lacked the heart and soul that is Star Wars.
I, for one, do not hate the prequels. Even through everything that was terrible about them, it had its moments. Revenge of the Sith was an excellent film compared to the other two, despite some of the same issues existing in that one, and think it is a better film than The Force Awakens. Regardless, there are many fans that don't.
In most cases, that would not be a problem. Most people with a healthy state of mind would simply say they did not like them, state their reasons why, and move on with their lives. Unfortunately, there are many fans who treat Star Wars as a bonafide religion and the prequels are blasphemous and must be condemned. Or better yet, like drug addicts looking for their next hit, only to find it doesn't have the same effect as before.
Saying they do not like them isn't enough. As Mark Hamill stated in an interview with Vulture, "I couldn't believe some of the things they wrote about the prequels, you know? I mean, but really beyond 'I didn't like it'." He went on to talk about how he was nearly tricked into giving an interview for the documentary 'The People Vs. George Lucas', calling it an "open invitation to trash George."
But the prequels have come and gone. Now let's move on to the sequels. So far, they have been much better received than the prequels. The Force Awakens was a huge box office success and was well received by most fans and critics. The Last Jedi has also been successful and garnered excellent reviews from critics. Fans, on the other hand, not so much. I am only speaking strictly about the sequel trilogy, of course, and not the standalones (Rogue One and Solo).
Many have noted how The Force Awakens had a similar narrative to a New Hope, and fans were hoping they would not get something similar to Empire. Fortunately, The Last Jedi is not much like Empire, though there are several nods to that film. It is certainly a different movie overall, but if the audience score is an accurate indicator, it is not the different most fans were looking for.
Sitting at a dismal 45% with audiences, according to Rotten Tomatoes, there is a clear divide between critics and fans. Complaints range from the length, lack of character development, and how they portrayed Luke (this is perhaps the most egregious one). But most of all, some are saying it is on par, if not worse than the prequels. That it doesn't feel like a Star Wars movie. That, once again, it lacks the heart and soul that is Star Wars.
TheLast Jedi has its flaws, no doubt. There were aspects I liked and others I thought were quite disappointing. There are things in the movie I could have done without. But it does deliver on the promise we would get something new while still maintaining some of the similar story arcs of the original trilogy. And yet, it still isn't enough to whet the appetite of most fans. So much, in fact, an online petition to remove The Last Jedi from canon actually exists. We find ourselves right back at square one, beyond the "I liked it, I didn't like it" spectrum. And it all boils down to the originals. The trilogy that started it all. The feeling fans had when they first laid eyes on the first film and is longed for yet again. And so far it has not come. Disappointment prevails, with many proclaiming Disney has "ruined" Star Wars the same way George Lucas did. It has gotten to the point virtually anything released from now to kingdom come will never be good enough. Is nostalgia to blame? Since we are now living in an era chocked full of reboots, spinoffs, sequels and prequels, it very well may be. To be more clear, not just nostalgia, but toxic nostalgia. The toxicity of the Star Wars fan base has been well documented, most notably harassment of former/present individuals associated with the franchise.
Our obsession with the past has removed any willingness to welcome anything new from what has already been created in our minds of what Star Wars "should be." Solo is one example of Hollywood riding the coattails of nostalgia, providing a film no one really wanted but thought we wanted because, well, it's Han Solo.
It's time to accept the original trilogy, like the prequels, have come and gone. There will never be another original trilogy. Ever. To quote Mark Hamill once more in an interview with The New York Times, even he believed that this wouldn't be the case. "I thought why mess with it? The idea of catching lightning in a bottle twice was ridiculously remote." And so far, he is not wrong. Even I must admit I am less than thrilled with how Disney has handled Star Wars so far.
It is a hard truth to swallow, I know. But it is true nonetheless. Thus, we must move on from what we believe "should be" and open our minds to what is in store for the future. But most of all, we should cherish the past only to an extent. We should not allow it to dictate the future. That is not to say we should be happy with any and everything they release, but more so being more accepting of what is to come and what already is, for both the good and the bad.
People often forget Star Wars is a fictional universe. There is no right or wrong. There is no "should be" or "shouldn't be." It is a universe with endless possibilities. And not everyone is going to like what those possibilities bring forth. And that is okay. It's okay to disagree with what has been and what is currently being done. I know I do on some things.
But what isn't okay is to act like someone killed your childhood just because it didn't pan out exactly as you imagined it would or it didn't match up with what's already been done. It is not okay to bash those who do enjoy the prequels and the sequels. It is not okay to pretend your opinion of any and everything Star Wars post-originals is the difference between life and death itself. And if it is nostalgia preventing this, the longing for times past, then it is time to lay it to rest. Otherwise, we may witness the death of Star Wars altogether. And I'm sure there are some who would not care, particularly those who believe it has died already.
But I'm also sure there are many others who wish to continue seeing Star Wars films, no matter what judgments Star Wars zealots may pass.