dbz’s influence on my 13 y/o self is unrivaled, as i spent more class time drawing pictures of frieza than taking notes. the memories from this time are exhumed by discovering the relics of my forgotten habits: the labelled collection of vhs’ that i taped daily from cartoon network is one of them. without even watching an episode of dbz my present self is temporarily transported to a chapter of my life that has been closed for many years, and because i no longer think about dbz on a daily basis the show is married to a blissful time in my childhood. the intensity of this overwhelming affection would be greatly decreased if this ritual was performed more than once every decade, because like drinking, nostalgia is dangerous in excess.
my taste and my habits have grown with me. nostalgia for the circumstances of viewing (on dvd) is less prevalent for my memories of the sopranos’ because i still enjoy the show and feel more of a fondness for remembering forgotten characters and the story lines. any new iteration of either dbz or the sopranos’ would be naturally compared to their previous masterpieces, and pitted against a formidable enemy: my personal nostalgia. (it would not be a fair fight.)
star wars fans are far less reasonable. a new hope was immediately unique for starting in the middle of its saga, (like matthew barney’s cremaster 4 and kafka’s the metamorphosis) and it became a religious experience by breaking ground with its uncanny creations and ancient storytelling techniques. furthermore, the films that followed in its trilogy either improved it or matched it, which lead to its iconic stature across american pop culture. star wars has thus been referenced so often that the movies are seen second hand. learning that someone hasn’t seen the films in childhood is almost akin to the reaction of them admitting their virginity at 30. for hardcore fans a new hope is nostalgic for the passed circumstances of its viewing (enthralled either as a child or as an young adult multiple times in theaters) as well as the density of great moments in the films themselves. any material reminder of the movie can spark intense emotion, which is why new star wars toys were still being sold in the sixteen year gap between films.
but the force awakens can never be a new hope because the entire star wars galaxy has been established and solved. instead of using this clean slate to create new mysteries, the filmmakers chose to satisfy fans with recycled tropes from a new hope and have created an average film. fans that are looking for a religious experience are missing the point, and doing damage to their beloved franchise by holding sequels to the standards of the originals. the original trilogy can never be recreated, and every attempt will fall short.
fans deemed the now infamous prequels horrible by the standards of the originals because they were average by standards of modern blockbusters. sci fi fans are the most opinionated, inquisitive and thoughtful fans by nature, and take canon very seriously. their disappointment in the risk taking creator resulted in a huge backlash, which forced the creator to make changes in a desperate appeal to save his fan base. (they saw all of the films anyway.) there wouldn’t have been such backlash if these fans understood that the originality of star wars can never be matched. but if they knew this, they would lack a trait inherent to all sci fi fans: faith.
for a secular fan there is plenty to enjoy about the force awakens, (my favorite scene was when the aliens made weird sounds) but there isn’t any attempt to create something new. fans think they are satisfied, and non fans know they are indifferent. history will not forget the amazing box office numbers, but it will forget the characters, the plot, the music etc.
my interest in the force awakens was a result of an unrelated fan theory that posits jar jar binks was actually a sith master. (jar jar binks was so hated by fans that he practically disappeared for the rest of the prequel trilogy, and any arc that george lucas had in mind was scrapped for sake of the fan’s ill conceived preservation of nostalgia.) this theory is more compelling than anything in the force awakens, and the fans are to blame for its never being realized. fans are enthusiasts, not creators. they do not have any authority to harass a creator into submission, but their complaints are heard by a much higher power…
disney will appeal to star wars fans with manufactured nostalgia and stale storytelling because it knows that fans will overlook mediocrity to keep an impossible ideal satisfied. this is an easy way to satisfy the movie’s free champions and make an acceptable movie. they will think they have finally won until they watch a new hope like i did and realize that they lost–again.
disney is protecting its investment, and to their credit, it is easier to repackage an old story with flashier effects than it is to be risky and create something new. (angry fans can mean the destruction of the empire.) as much as i want to have faith in rian johnson’s (brick, looper, breaking bad) follow up, disney will ultimately get in the way. rian johnson has succeeded in the past, but as this is not his creation, these are not his calls to make.
until then i’m expecting rey to make an appearance in a bikini and to be rylo ken’s cousin.