Death by Nostalgia
A Stream of Consciousness Review of (a Second Viewing of) The Force Awakens and Pop Culture at Large.
I wrote this on a plane from Toronto to Edmonton, where I spent three and a half hours watching a 135-minute movie and scribbling in my notebook like some sort of super-nerd. This bitchy, over the top rant-review is the result.
The Force Awakens feels like a parody. There’s something about a second viewing, four months removed from the hype that leaves a slightly sour taste in my mouth. Scratch that, my gut. The reboot/remake approach seems to take better to the Star Trek universe than it does Star Wars.
Within the first ten minutes, I’m already bored of nostalgia and sick of the almost-originality. What hole did this movie fill in our culture? The original launched entire industries and movements, what has a seventh movie with this title done for us? For what reason, other than money, does this film exist?
I’d be lying if I said there’s nothing that appeals to me. The bromance between Poe and Finn is a lot of fun, and BB-8 is a welcome upgrade to the cynical, yet joyous R2.
Also: He cute.
But, these are the things that have become commonplace in movies today. Cute sidekicks that lend themselves well to merchandising blitz and heavy doses of bromance, just like Inside Out and the Fast and Furious movies.
Also: How is Finn so well adjusted for a child soldier? Four words: Beasts of No Nation.
Also: what kind of disgusting, morally bankrupt cocksucker builds a droid that experiences and displays emotions and physical pain? What keeps them in line from rebelling against their cruel masters? More programming? We need that movie; the movie about a jaded inventor of an entire species of emoting, pain-sensitive, logically and illogically thinking, sentient machines who are alive enough to know about free-will, but dead enough to be okay without it.
The droid suicide rate on Jakku must be through the roof.
I wish the dialogue was just a bit more serious. I know, I’m barking up the wrong tree, talking about dialogue in Star Wars, but seriously, if I was stolen in the night as a baby and broken like a horse, I doubt the phrase, “cute boyfriend!?” would ever leave my lips.
These new beasts, the whatevers. You know, the rolling, twirling, tooth-dicks. They just aren’t as cool as a Rankor, CGI or no. Something inside me doesn’t buy the training orb being inside the falcon still. It’s been thirty years and that thing must have been stripped at some point. That shit must be worth eight to ten portions easily! A tiny Antigrav engine and blasters!? Get outta here!
Ugh. The cantina scene.
Also: Why do we still have single terrain planets? In the 70s and 80s, ignorance about space was in vogue, but it’s 2016 now and we can take pictures of the fucking ice-caps on Mars. C’mon!
Why is there a god-damn cantina ran by a Yoda/Jabba type? Oh, the checklist. That’s right.
Sand planet housing the chosen one/plucky orphan: CHECK
Droids on the run: CHECK
Our best pilots retrieving secret docs: CHECK
The seeds of weird, potentially awkward relationships: CHECK
Father/Son(Daughter) dynamic with prominent figure from the wars of yesteryear: CHECK
A FUCKING CANTINA SCENE: CHECK
Cave hallucinations about Dad: CHECK
Tiny Mentor: CHECK
Nazi Imagery: CHECK
(they really lean into this one because remember: we’re competing with video games now)
Triple Power Death Star: CHECK
Say what you will about Lucas, but at least he was only plagiarizing himself. And yeah, I know Lawrence Kasdan wrote this one too, but JJ had his hands in the bowl, just after stickin’ his fingers in the original Star Wars bag-o-sugar, so now we have these old crumbs getting in the way of a cool new story.
Also: Why the fuuuuuuuuuuck does Han use the bowcaster for the first time in this Cantina battle? You mean to tell me that these two (former) scumbags (the furry one and the scruffy-lookin’ one) never got drunk and shot some old power converters off a fence for target practice (fun)!? C'mon!
Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. 2016 is the year needed for incredible Star Wars dogfights. (Think Maverick and Goose, not Michael Vick.)
Oh wow. I literally just realized that this is the events of A New Hope and half of Empire, culminating and climaxing in the same types of locations as Return of the Jedi. Minus the E-Woks.
I’m not quite there yet, but I’m already regretting watching three seasons of Girls in between viewings of this movie. Like it’ll spoil the Kylo Ren reveal for me or something. Here’s my original opinion on the goofy-lookin’ Adam Driver as the broken conduit to the dark side: a perfect casting job.
He, as a man, is the perfect juxtaposition to Kylo Ren. He looks like a Ben, he has the broken eyes and an air of hope trying to escape that drives the character into a new dimension as soon as he’s unmasked. A dimension that couldn’t be reached by throwing temper tantrums alone. His face gives them meaning and his eyes give them gravitas.
But, onto more pressing matters. Why does C-3P0 have a red arm? The answer to this, my friends is cross-promotion. Someone figured out that two lines of dialogue and less than three minutes of screen time can sell a few thousand comic-books. Whodathunk it!?
Dear God, this rebel (sorry) resistance base reminds me of the one on Yavin. Of course it does. Why’s R2 here? He’s depressed, too. Ugh. See above for my feelings on droid emotions.
Oh snap! A snow planet! Gotta catch ‘em all! (Yes, I know this is the Starkiller Base, but you’re kidding yourself if you didn’t think “HOTH!” as soon as you saw the snow.) Wait. Was that Yavin?
Aaaaand there’s Adam Driver. I keep thinking he’s gonna have sex with Rey and call her a diseased street walker, or something.
A lot of people (nerds (like me)) have had issues with Rey’s resistance to mind tricks and her “instant” powers, but the second time ‘round, it seems pretty easy to justify. I ask you this: how did you learn to tie your shoes? You watched it done, and then you tried it. That’s exactly what she does. And she sucks at first. James Bond hardly gives in at all, at first.
Oh shit! I forgot that Matt from Heroes is in this! I wonder what he’s hearing in the room right now? I bet Akbar is loud as shit, wondering and worrying about traps.
Oh, fancy that. They’re flying into the Death Star now. Blowin’ it up like they did in Jedi, after navigating a trench like a New Hope. I guess that means it’s Star Wars! Again. Even the first time I saw this, it annoyed me. This is lazy writing wearing a two-hundred-million dollar suit.
Despite my opinions on the writing and characters and locations and story, I like this movie. It moves at a quick and fun pace, like hopscotch, and hits all the nostalgia pleasure centers, again, like hopscotch. But, it has to be said: I am the target audience. I was a kid when the originals hit theaters again in ’97, when the prequels came out (I was young, and without cynicism and could appreciate them), through the 3D re-releases and now, I’m a young man at the door of thirty—refusing to let go of my childhood. I am the target audience. Why do you think there’s so many Transformers sequels? This movie, along with all the remakes and “reboots” coming out in droves, are an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia addiction of our culture. We seem to be doubling-down on proven formulas instead of finding a cultural void and filling it. To end, I’ll leave you with the words of the immortal Frank Zappa:
“It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice -- there are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia. When you compute the length of time between 'The Event' and 'Nostalgia For The Event,' the span seems to be about 'a year less in each cycle.' Eventually, within the next quarter of a century the nostalgia cycles will be so close together that people will not be able to take a step without being nostalgic for the one they just took. At that point, everything stops.
Death by Nostalgia.”
—The Real Frank Zappa Book, 1990