Anghus Houvouras on Star Wars: The Force Awakens…
I’m excited about Rogue One. More so than any other Star Wars film that has been released since Return of the Jedi in 1983. I doubt anyone needs another sentence devoted to the dreadful prequels. The internet is currently composed of 18% meme, 42% pornography, 21% food photos, and 19% Star Wars prequel analysis. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, however, is still rummaging around our collective pop culture consciousness and if you’re like me it isn’t faring very well.
Criticizing a cultural phenomenon like Star Wars is an interesting experience because fans are forgiving to a fault. Applying actual criticism to a Star Wars movie is like trying to critique a time machine that transports people back to magical moments of their childhood. It’s like trying to Indian leg wrestle Terry Crews: You’re not going to win—and not just because Terry Crews doesn’t skip leg day.
The Force Awakens was weapon grade nostalgia. No matter how bad it was (and it was), we’re forgiving because it’s Star Wars. I watched, and actively participated in the group think that allowed intelligent, reasoning people to give awful Star Wars movies a pass. Watching The Phantom Menace was a weird experience, because no matter how wretched it was the nostalgic part of your brain was trying to convince you it wasn’t. You found yourself aimlessly wondering the world-wide web and embracing faulty narratives like “It’s not the same because these movies are made for kids, and you’re not a kid anymore”. Sure, that must be it. That’s why you probably didn’t enjoy a terrible written and acted movie: because you’re not a dumb kid.
The Force Awakens felt like a similar experience, culturally and critically speaking. Everyone was happy that we got a Star Wars film that wasn’t a train wreck directed by George Lucas. Instead, we heaped praise upon a passionless, unoriginal mess directed by J.J. Abrams.
No one is immune to the power of nostalgia. It’s why the goosebumps swell when we hear those familiar notes of the Star Wars score and see images of the Death Star in the Rogue One marketing. We’re excited because there is something deep within us that wants to feel that unbridled anticipation for movies that elicited passion in our youth. It’s the exact opposite of that sinking feeling of disgust that washes over you when you see something radioactively shitty like the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Your inner child wants to love it, but your adult brain knows what you’re watching is uninspired garbage. This creates conflict in your mind where your inner child and your logic wield light sabers and begin to tear through your cerebellum until your brain cells are little more than scorched bits of grey matter.
Nostalgia is the dark side of the force which asks you to forget what you know to be right in favor of a warm familiarity that enables a false sense of security.
The Force Awakens is a movie that I found slightly better than average when I first saw it. Like everybody else out there, I was forgiving of a recycled plot and an attempt to soft reboot the most popular film series in the history of the world. We gave J.J. Abrams a pass because he stuffed the film with reference and familiarity. It had a perky cast that mixed a handful of new characters with fan favorites like Han Solo and Chewbacca. The cinematic equivalent of eating at McDonalds: It’s not very good but the special sauce on a Big Mac reminds you of your childhood when the world was still an exciting place and the summer when you got your first erection.
I think we need to look at The Force Awakens without the Star Wars banner that frames it. If this wasn’t Star Wars, the movie would have been crucified for every aspect other than the focus on diversity. First off, people would have been screaming bloody murder over the derivative plot. And I think Lucasfilm probably would have gotten super litigious over the use of lightsabers and the Force.
All kidding aside, The Force Awakens was a film bereft of originality. A film so safe that it’s creative molecular structure is made of Nerf. Every character and location is an echo of the original film. There isn’t a single moment that challenges the audience. Now, far removed from the “YAY STAR WARS!” impulse that impacted our critical thinking, let’s call The Force Awakens what it was: kind of terrible. A nostalgic romp that attempted to molest our inner child. A barely average space adventure that would fall apart if the nostalgic framework was removed.
I won’t begrudge anyone who claims they liked The Force Awakens, because the power of nostalgia leads many to the dark side of the creative arts. The same dark side that continues to spew out passionless blockbusters more interested in strip mining the excitement of our youth rather than create something new.
It’s an old rant towards a new film, but I feel an obligation to continue to declare nostalgia an enemy of creativity. And for me, The Force Awakens (and nostalgia in general) is the bathtub woman in The Shining: In our minds it’s this young beauty luring us closer, but the reality is the rotting flesh covered cackling hag laughing at us.