The Power of the Past: Nostalgia and “Coming Home”

Nostalgia is a powerful connection to the things we love.

Through all of our senses, it ties us to our memories. When you smell that food that brings you back to your childhood dinner table. When you hear the song that reminds you of that friend or family-member you don’t talk to anymore. Or even that movie that you saw as a child that conjures memories of those listless summer days when you recreated the hero’s adventures.

Nostalgia is a force to be reckoned with. We truly cherish and love our past, and the producers of popular culture know it.

Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as “the state of being homesick.” Or “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for the return of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”

“Coming home” is a phrase we often use as a way of accepting our return to the familiar. Movie directors and Hollywood executives use this trick continuously to tickle the memories of the public and garner attention. The properties that we hold dear are often coveted to such a degree that we elevate them to a near holy status.

Our culture takes those movies, books, video games, and cries foul when the next entry is not as well-liked as the first. Fans take to the internet and scream themselves hoarse (metaphorically) when the property doesn’t adhere to the original. In an age of reboots, remakes, and re-imaginings these properties cannot be touched. Yet fans still cry for more. They want to go home.

“Chewie… We’re home,” Harrison Ford’s character, Han Solo, incredulously utters to his furry companion in the second teaser for 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That trailer has been viewed on YouTube nearly 80 million times since its release in April 2015. Fans went ballistic. Excitement for new Star Wars and a return to the old movies was at a fever pitch. We played into Disney’s hands perfectly.

Image Credit: Lucasfilm
Han is referring to his reclaiming of his ship, the Millennium Falcon, from the previous movies, but it’s a not so subtle assurance to us that the film is going to bring you back. To bring Star Wars home.

But Star Wars can never come home again. It’s already there. Happily dancing in your memories, swinging lightsabers and flying starships against the evil Galactic Empire. You see, it never really left. That’s the thing about nostalgia; It blinds us to what we have. Force Awakens is a fine film, but it’s the “safeness” of it all that I want to talk about. Not just the “safe bet” that it displayed, but other films as well.

Star Wars is not the only classic franchise that Hollywood knows will sell. It has attempted numerous reboots to varying success over the last few years. Universal’s Jurassic World, Sony Picture’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, and Lionsgate’s Power Rangers all had tremendous commercial profitability but were critically panned.

Though they lacked cinematic substance, it’s hard to deny their successes. Jurassic World made a total of 1.67 billion dollars even though it lacked the cinematic intelligence the original film had.

Though how could the movie fail? Its predecessor, Jurassic Park, was a key movie in the formative years of its general audience. Universal knew that and capitalized. By referencing the past film just enough in the trailers, via music and sound queues mostly, audiences plopped down in seats to “come home again.” They got a big, loud, dumb mess. That’s a subject for a later feature however.

It’s not of the opinion of this author that big studios and filmmakers stop trying to make money. This article is not meant as a condemnation of their efforts. It’s my belief, however, that these shallow attempts to re-vitalize past glories be stopped. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Blockbusters don’t have to be safe. They can take risks. We wouldn’t have a rich,cinematic history without Jaws, Star Wars, or Jurassic Park. What made those movies special was the daring attitudes of the directors and producers. Not the safe bet. They were risky films that led to the dearth of classics we have today.

Sadly the age of the blockbuster has turned into a gaudy, obnoxious assault of samey properties from yesterday. Everything is focus-tested and done by committee. It’s a scary cinematic future we’re looking at and sometimes I just want to go home. But you know what they say: “You can’t go home again.”

coming home feature 1

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