Gaming | Film | TV
Gaming | Film | TV

Star Wars, and the commodification of nostalgia

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May the 4th be soon upon us, but is Disney just exploiting our nostalgia for profit with Episode 7?

Sunday May 4th is Star Wars Day and, to commemorate, the cast of the upcoming Episode 7 was announced this week. Fans of the original films are drooling over the impending continuation of the ‘Holy Trilogy’, with cast members returning to reprise the roles they originated almost 40 years ago. But is this really something to get excited about? For Disney, who now own the rights to Star Wars, most certainly. But for fans, well, maybe not so much.

Studios have noticed that 30-somethings have a lot of disposable cash and not much sense. We are blinded by nostalgia

Mainstream cinema is moving into an age of pop culture nostalgia that’s quite frankly mind boggling. The success of superhero comic book adaptations has paved the way for a deluge of films based on books, television shows, board games and toys from the 1970s and 1980s. Studios have noticed that we thirty-somethings have a lot of disposable cash and not a lot of sense. We are blinded by our deep affection for things we enjoyed as children, and those of us who have children of our own are desperate to share this nostalgia with them. But that way lies madness.

Take a look at Star Wars. Disney, who never met a penny they didn’t want to vacuum up into Scrooge McDuck’s money bin, understand that die-hard fans have been wanting to see the continuing adventures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia for decades, but do we really want to see a 70-year-old Han Solo? No, we want to see a 40-year-old Han Solo, but since we have to settle for the former we’ll run over our own mothers to get the first tickets to the midnight screening.

Harrison Ford Star Wars

Disney seem to think that we hated the prequels because they weren’t sequels. No, we hated the prequels because they were terrible, terrible films. They still made enormous bank though, so quality is not really their main concern. Disney could release a video of Mark Hamill in an Ewok costume playing the Imperial March with his armpit and it would still make a gazillion clams as long as it begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” followed by that unmistakable orchestral stab. A little nostalgia goes a long way.

One of the finest shows on TV right now is Hannibal, which is NBC’s attempt at cashing in on the nostalgia for Hannibal Lecter

The commodification of nostalgia is not limited to Star Wars. Currently in production or pending release are new films about the Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Godzilla, Planet of the Apes and The Goonies. But a film has just been announced that proves the transparency of Hollywood’s cynical nostalgia cash grab: Jem and the Holograms. At first glance, the film about an all-female rock group appears to welcome women through the door of cinematic adaptations of beloved childhood touchstones, but scratch the surface and it becomes apparent that the studio responsible doesn’t care about you, only your money.

A look at the credits of the film reveals that, despite a few exceptions, the primary members of the creative team are all men. But then to expect an authentic voice in the adaptation of a 1980s cartoon is to shoot the moon. However, just because a film or television show is cashing in on the nostalgia dollar doesn’t automatically make it terrible. One of the finest shows on television right now is Hannibal, which is a network’s attempt at cashing in on the nostalgia for Hannibal Lecter. Rather than just rely on the audience’s familiarity with the character, Bryan Fuller has taken it as an opportunity to make a gorgeously rendered horror-opera and produced a work of art in its own right, separated from its nostalgic origins.

More on remakes: Is now the perfect time to reboot Dune?

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At the end of the day, all reboots, remakes, re-imaginings, adaptations and sequels rely on nostalgia to attract an audience one way or another, so it all depends on the intent behind it. The new Star Wars is directed by JJ Abrams, who has a strong directorial voice and used nostalgia to great effect with his very Spielbergian film Super 8. On the other hand, his Star Trek: Into Darkness used nostalgia in the worst way imaginable, so the jury is still out on what Episode 7 will actually look like (plus or minus a few dozen lens flares).

Hollywood doesn’t really care about authentic voices though, only ticking boxes. Sure, sometimes you get an Abrams or a Christopher Nolan who can make something that is inherently theirs within the system, but most likely your beloved childhood cartoon or comic book will be given to Zack Snyder. I guess the challenge is to ignore the current attempts by money grabbing studios to quote/unquote “shit all over your childhood.” Have you actually even watched these beloved shows or movies as an adult? If not, you should. When you do, you will realise that you won’t need to wait for Hollywood to shit on your childhood – you will probably do it yourself.

 

More on Episode 7: Star Wars newcomers: Their best moments in clips

 

Featured image: 20th Century Fox

Inset images: 20th Century Fox; NBC

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