Star Wars and the Future of Optimism

Is it possible to get nostalgic for a time period that you didn’t experience yourself? The easy answer would be no. That’s also the answer that makes the most logical sense, at first sight. But the truth is more complicated, as I found out. There’s a sense of second hand memories that can pass over to you from the previous generation. Media plays a big role in this phenomenon.

A good example is the warm feeling of nostalgia I experience when I play Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The game is one big tribute to the 1980s and specifically the popular media of that decade. I was born in ’84 myself. I didn’t consciously live through that time. My earliest, and very foggy childhood memories are from about 1987/88. Hardly anything to go by.

So why do I feel happy when playing Vice City? There’s bits and bops of 80s music and TV that keeled over into the early 1990s of course. I have photos of that time and family that vividly talks about it. Television shows like Miami Vice and the Dukes of Hazard that had dozens of reruns. Comics and magazines that my older brother and sister left behind with ads and articles of that time. I didn’t exactly live through the 80s, but it rubbed off on me.

The Riga Connection

I was introduced to Star Wars at the tender age of 21. Wait, what? Yes, I didn’t know or care up until a warm summer day in 2005 in a cinema somewhere in Riga, Latvia.  And it would even take to halfway the movie before I really started to get into it. See, I wasn’t raised with Star Wars, or any form of sci-fi or fantasy for that matter. My parents and older brother and sister have a solid dislike of any of such fiction. I was brought up with historical fiction, detective novels and spy thrillers.

It would take a particular set of friends, a Star Wars obsessed girlfriend (now wife), and Ian McDiarmid to change that. It was during his scenes that I started to get intrigued by the plot of Revenge of the Sith. “That chancellor is a nice person”, I thought to myself. “He seems wise and reliable.” But my significant other of course knew what was up.

“He’s lying”, she hissed next to me. “He is luring Anakin to the dark side.”

“Really?”  I sat straight up and watched the rest of the movie with a growing interest in this ominous manipulating chancellor.

Fast forward ten years and you’ll find me in a cinema again; in the Netherlands now where I live with my wife. We go on premiere day and pose for photos with cosplayers beforehand. I cheered along with the audience when the LucasArts logo appeared, and clapped at key moments in the movie and at the end credits. But what happened in the decade between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens?

Childhood Sentiments

I could pen down an essay on the merits of that Galaxy Far Far Away, but it will be a familiar and derivative story. Every fan knows about the appeal of that vast universe with its many peoples, factions and species. Many a nerd raved on about this rich, inspiring world where everyone can find something of their liking. The latter might be the biggest factor in its long lasting success, and why it spawned such a wide variety of spin off media. Star Wars is approachable from many angles. There’s the heraldry and mysticism of the Jedi, the noir crime feel of the bounty hunters and smugglers, the sec military action and sensational bravado that comes with stories about the clone- or stormtroopers. And let’s not forget the family tales, love stories and tragedies that were so often featured in the main films.

When the prequel trilogy disappointed, many fans and critics considered the franchise to be a permanent happy memory. It’s done, over and finished. Let’s try to forget the newer films and just remember Star Wars for the nostalgia and happy childhood sentiments. Of course, the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons weren’t bad and some decent books, video games managed to carry the legacy. But the cinematic universe was considered done and over with.

And then there was The Force Awakens.

A New Hope

There was The Force Awakens, and there was Rey and Finn and Poe Dameron. Star Wars became modern, inclusive and heartwarmingly familiar at the same time. I sat in the cinema smiling like an idiot and feeling like Star Wars was back where it belonged. Was that feeling genuine? Did I deserve to feel that way? I didn’t have childhood memories, I didn’t think the prequels were that bad, and yet, the dominant emotion was that of fuzzy, warm comfort and good memories like a hug from mom.

I think what secured Star Wars’ cinematic future, even though Disney’s intended strategy of spawning movies every year sounds like unmistakably greedy commercialism, is a new generation of optimism. The younger generation of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, such sweet and intelligent people. A generation that will make us think about liberalism, equality and empowerment. They are closer to their audience than ever, their voices reach farther and louder.

Star Wars has long been associated with bitter, pessimistic geeks that were pedantic and angry. Star Wars was about complaining, about George Lucas and his edits of the original films and about everything that was wrong with new trilogy. Star Wars was a thing for thirty somethings, for disillusioned white men that longed for the good old days.

But it’s about time to retire that pop culture trope. To do away with the image Ross Geller in Friends who wants to dress up Rachel as Princess Lea in golden bikini, Simon Pegg and his sketch of scolding a young boy who wants to buy a Jar Jar Binks figurine, Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother who wants to have bro-time with his friends by watching the Star Wars trilogy. We got to get past that.
Let’s embrace Star Wars as it is today. Star Wars is Rey and Finn and Ahsoka Tano. Star Wars is the LEGO toys and the Saturday cartoons. It’s my colleague’s son who wanted to a Star Wars birthday party, or these kids I read about, who are playing Star Wars and arguing who gets to be Rey (a boy and a girl). Star Wars is theirs now and things are going to be even better.

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