Star Wars Episode VII comes out tonight, and as I’m currently avoiding all of the internet except for my own site in fear of spoilers, while also listening to John Williams’ timeless scores, I’m being transported back in time to a simpler, more wondrous world.
Nostalgia is a tricky thing to make sense of and nail down. It relies on personal revelation and experiences instead of something rational, observable, or testable. I’m sure there is something specific going on in the limbic system of the brain that could coldly break the sensation down into chemical reactions, but that obviously feels like it settles far too short to anyone that experiences it. C.S. Lewis suggested that the power of nostalgia isn’t found in what we actually lived through, but only in our memory of it. As if the the beauty and the good that we attribute to these treasures of our past actually didn’t exist there at all, but only came through those experiences.
Enter Star Wars, the most beloved film franchise of all time in all the world. Why? Anyone with a good sense of filmmaking, and most without but still with a brain, will easily acknowledge they aren’t the best films. Even the original trilogy was full of nonsensical plot points (that trash compactor design would put Death Star engineer on the wrong side of a lawsuit), painfully cheesy dialogue, and completely suspended rules of logic and physics at times. Yet even still, people born decades after the original release, such as myself, find themselves transfixed and captivated by the story and the world.
J.J. Abrams thinks Star Wars was never about the science fiction, and I think it’s pretty clear that that is a low-key criticism of what George Lucas tried to do with the prequel trilogy, making it shinier, faster and cooler, and in turn lacking in the substance of the first three films that can only be described as magic. J.J. doesn’t care much about the scifi of it all; he cares about the stories and the people packaged up inside of the X-Wings and lightsabers. Much in the same way that Jurassic Park isn’t really about dinosaurs, and Jaws isn’t really about a killer shark, Star Wars isn’t really about battles throughout hyperspace; it’s about the hero story present in all of us. Abrams gets it, and to be honest, I don’t think there is any other person in the world that could successfully resurrect this world in the form of a tangible, 2 hour movie. Despite his monumental success, he’s still a twinkly eyed kid who happened to get mistaken for a big time director and has used his platform and opportunity with the most pure intentions to recreate, and in a sense, relive, the world that made him believe in something bigger than himself as a kid.
I think that’s the draw. I think that’s why I’ve never had a doubt in my mind of this movie being anything other than great. The man in charge of it remembers being a kid staring at the horizon, thinking and hoping that there’s more than what he can see. He remembers being taken on an adventure by his grandfather. He remembers growing up to be strong enough to make a difference, and he remembers that the more he’s learned and understood, the more questions he comes up with. In a sense, he remembers the heart David had when he wrote Psalm 8:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
(Psalm 8:3-4 ESV)
The reason I think people love Star Wars is because it called to their desire for something bigger as a kid. The reason I think this movie will never live up to the hype and the expectation is because as we got older we forgot to keep dreaming, we got weighed down with circumstance, we never got to see the stars, and we’re expecting a movie to take us back to them. A movie can never do that. But it can be a reminder of it. Star Wars will never fulfill me, but later tonight I expect it will absolutely remind me that more is possible for me than what I can see or dream up on my own.