Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

19 December 2015


Nostalgia Wars

I haven’t seen the new Star Wars yet, and — oddly — I don’t feel any urgency to do so. This doesn’t have anything to do with the residual scars from The Prequels That Must Not Be Named, I don’t think, and it’s not because I’m afraid it’ll suck — early reports seem to be very positive.

It’s not because I don’t think you can improve on the originals, either: you could argue that only one of those movies was truly great. And I don’t particularly care whether the Star Wars Universe is in good hands again. That is, at best, debatable. 1

No. I don’t particularly need to to see it because, for me, it’s enough that there’s a new Star Wars movie in the world.

That was made abundantly clear to me the other night, when I walked past a theater and looked up and saw the words STAR WARS on the marquee, bold capital letters on a bright white background, and almost broke down in tears.

Nostalgia’s weird.

If the future is an undiscovered country, the past is, in many ways, a mythical one. I had a lucky, happy childhood, but I suspect it wasn’t anywhere near as happy as my ossifying old-brain thinks it was. Whenever I walk around my old neighborhood, or catch a whiff of freshly-baked pita bread, or hear terrible 80s tunes I used to love, I’m deluged in this warm, sticky torrent of nostalgia.

I’ve learned to distrust nostalgia, almost as much as I crave it. For me, it’s a happiness doppelgänger: a yearning for the good old days that’s only superficially similar to actual happiness, like the sickly sweet smell of a ripening corpse.

Because things weren’t perfect back then, as I keep telling my brain. “Brain!” I say. “You know how shitty high school was for us. You were there! We couldn’t wait to get out. Things are better now. Pretty much everything’s better.”

And even as I’m saying it, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m right, I’m pretty much convinced I’m wrong.

It’s hard to reason with your brain.

Anyway. That’s why every Star Wars sighting lances me with sadness-joy these days, I think. It was an amazing experience that happened to land in the middle of this imagined, retrospective Eden that my brain keeps conjuring into existence. It’s not the movie, as good as the movie is. It’s the time and place it evokes.

But that’s not nothing. As much as I distrust nostalgia, I can’t help but love the guileless simplicity of it. Left unchecked it’s a force for ill, dragging you away from the present you should be living in. 2 But it’s also ballast, if you use it right. Someplace to flee, for a while, when now becomes unbearable.

I’m going to see the movie, of course, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it — but not as much as I’ll enjoy glancing up at the marquee on my way into the theater, and feeling that bracing melancholy beautiful flood of helpless yearning.

  1. In fact, you could make a fairly convincing argument that Disney is going to be both the best and worst thing to happen to the Star Wars Universe since Lucas fouled it with Ewoks and Jar Jars. It’s a shot of fresh energy and a solid decade of soulless, cynical marketing. 

  2. Because, let’s face it, your average lifetime doesn’t have all that much present to burn. 

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