Thee Comic Column 134: Star Wars The Force Awakens – A Reaction

Nien AckbarThis past Friday night I did what millions of other people did the world over – I watched the Star Wars: The Force Awakens footage that came out of SDCC. And, based on the reactions I’ve seen online and in my friends, like a lot of people out there, I teared up when I watched it. The point of this piece is to discuss the why’s and wherefore’s of that reaction – not because I inherently think it needs to be questioned; I actually think my reaction makes perfect sense if you take into account where we are as a culture relative to our relationship to Story (i.e. what some would call ‘entertainment’). That said, I feel that someone should ask if our relationship with our fictions is a healthy thing for a society or if it’s a product/symptom of trouble. This questions then leads into a lot of other, more nuanced issues that I’ve been thinking about lately and, while this isn’t an something catalyzed by regret or shame at my often intense geekiness, I have always been a fairly self-aware person and think that it is a healthy practice to balance any behavior or interest that defines your life with a frank understanding of it in the context of the world around you.

As I said, the general reaction to the The Force Awakens footage from people I know who are all within ten years or so of my age (39) is a mesmeric and tear-inducing trance of almost womb-like happiness. And as I said, I am absolutely no different. But what, exactly, does that say about our lives? I don’t mean to imply it says something bad, but such a strong reaction to what amounts to a major corporate product definitely bears discussing. To feel such intense emotional power for footage from a movie, well, it’s specific for the first time in history to my generation and younger. This is the type of emotional reaction previous generations experienced while buying a home, or a car, getting a promotion, etc. The idea that this emotional resonance has to some degree passed from social landmarks to fiction may initially seem out of whack – If you are grading things by the old playbook. I guess part of this article is an aruegument that posits that old playbook is irrelevant, but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit so more on that later.

With Star Wars there’s the obvious nostalgia factor for someone around my age. I’m not the biggest fan of the series but I am a fan. That said I haven’t watched any of the other six movies in at least ten years, haven’t read any comics, haven’t really even thought too much about what this new movie is going to be, other than another chapter in something I loved as a kid and still holds some sway over me. That’s pretty much the textbook on nostalgia. However there’s something else going on here as well. Something that’s deeper, almost ineffable in the way that we develop into our personas and tend to tuck things like motivations, feelings and any inconsistencies/insecurities that arise as a result of those personas into the little nooks and crannies of our psyche. And for me, a lot of these questions arose on the tide of comments that Simon Pegg made to Radio Times magazine back in May. Comments that I wholeheartedly agree with, even if I don’t agree with the way everyone – including Radio Times – has spun them in order to make Mr. Pegg’s words something they are not, i.e. an attack on Geek Culture – the very culture that the actor has carved his career from.

Even as a card-carrying, no regrets not-gonna-change-for-no-one nerd who hosts a show called Drinking with Comics, spends $20 to $30 bucks a week on comics and treats trips to the cinema as Holy, Holy experiences, I can’t dismiss what Mr. Pegg – a self-professed fan of most of the same stuff I am – as anything other than truth. And I believe it is important for us to recognize truths that define our relationship to the world around us, even if we do not act upon them. You know, if you’re an alcoholic you should be aware of it and not deny the reality. Does that mean you should change? Well, if it’s not hurting anyone else, to slightly adjust a line from Jimi Hendrix that I have always felt is one of the greatest insights into human existence, “You’re the one who has to die when it’s your time to die, so live your life the way you want to.” Let me also take a moment now to give you Simon Pegg’s quotes that Radio Times quotes as excerpt from the article on their website*:

“…Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema. But part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste.”

The excerpt continues: “Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!”

The Radio Times excerpts goes on with, “It is kind of dumbing down in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not htinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

The excerpt concludes thusly: “But I sometimes feel like I miss grown-up things. And I honestly thought the other day taht I’m gonna retire from geekdom. I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be. I’d quite like to go off and do some serious acting.”

simon

Simon Pegg for President!

Mr. Pegg eventually apologized for these comments because of course people cried foul. Here’s the thing though, he’s right. I’m not saying we need to change this, nor I think is he, but I think he is right. I’m thinking about that now after watching this amazing Star Wars footage and feeling somehow eerily completed in a time where, well, let’s just say of late my life has been a fractured, frightening thing. And the return of Star Wars is going to help me with that? With my real world problems? No, it’s going to trigger nostalgic and pleasurable endorphins in my head and make me feel good because it will in some way make me feel like I was when I was a kid and things were simpler. Is that irresponsible? Maybe. Is it bad? Well, no. Not for me. Not right now. Not in any way, shape or form. I agree with Mr. Pegg’s comments, that we are spending too much time wrapped up in the toy/cartoon/movie and comic franchises of our youth. I’m not going to stop this though. Contradiction? It’s more complicated than that.

Being self-aware enough to know that my insanely voracious appetite/knowledge of comic books, movies, etc. is, to a degree, irresponsible, does not mean that voraciousness for these things is a bad thing to me. These things offer me solace as I age and move through life, shoulder my responsibilities the way my parents taught me and generally get smacked in the face by life along the way. I’m not complaining – it happens to everyone. Btu you find your way to deal with it, to feel good, in your free time. Why shouldn’t I lust after absurdly obscure comic book continuity data when I’m not at work, or commuting 15+ hours a week, or working overtime, or cleaning the pad, or going to the DMV, or whatever. It’s healthy to receive those endorphins and this is the way I’m geared. I’m not going to grow out of it and receive those feelings via a new car or a house or an interest in a political party because these are things previous generations ear-marked as important but have become scarce in our lives because we are locked out of a lot of it by the state of the world in general. I mean, I don’t want to place the blame for all this on previous generations, but let’s face it, one of the reasons Hunter S. Thompson’s The Death of the American Dream cycle has hit such a universal note with people – especially people from my generation – is because the people who were in charge in previous generations designed a system – the aforementioned “American Dream” – that could not sustain itself. Not all of them knew it – certainly most of our parents didn’t realize that their kids were not going to have the same things they did (lifetime employment, 401k, insurance, affordable living, savings, education, community). No, as humans do on this planet, our parents and their parents, etc, were simply going through life, taking it as it came, trying to get along, get ahead and make things better for their kids. Is that bad? Well, clearly it didn’t work, but no, it’s not bad. Like most of life down in the trenches it just is.

HST

Thinking of our parents and the generations before them we inherently understand that our lifestyle is more irresponsible than theirs because they didn’t concern themselves with the preoccupations of their youth because, well, WWII, industry, lack of technology, etc. When an eighteen year-old was faced with storming the beach at Normandy it’s no wonder their childish things – The Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, Radio serials, pulp, whatever – didn’t hold their attention. Also though, those stories, those franchises (to impose a modern word on older ideas) were either supplanted or incorporated into the wave of children’s products that began in the late 70s and into the 80s. Star Wars, GIJOE, X-Men, Marvel in general, Batman, etc… these things have all become our American Dream because their consistency and their stories are more real than the world we live in day to day. I’ve had the same job – a good job in the arguably recession proof industry of reproductive science – for four years next month. The company is awesome beyond words, there’s total stability, but what else? Everything else in the world around me is so ephemeral, so unsteady that it makes the stability of my existence one leg on a chair whose other three legs are questionable at best. Maybe every generation feels this way, but come on – water scarcity is an issue here in southern California but it’s been an issue in A LOT of other countries for years now. If you listen to a lot of scientists it’s going to be a global issue in our lifetime. The idea of economy has reached a point of crisis. So many issues that were ‘down-the-road’ problems to previous generations are reaching critical mass. So why shouldn’t I get emotional for a movie trailer when I’m probably not going to have a chance to own a house. I’ve already chosen not to have kids, I don’t anticipate any enormous lifetime achievements in anything beyond my interests and although I have voted since the age of 18 every election and every hopeful elected official only serves to prove to me that I have no power – none of us do. So if I want to tear up at the return of Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb, why shouldn’t I?

The answer, my friends, is I should. Rant complete, Baker out. And may the force be with you!

* I’m purposely excluding the beginning of this excerpt, where Mr. Pegg speaks forlornly about the more seriously artistic and thought-provoking films that used to dominate the box office and the center of the discussion on American cinema because I agree there too and frankly, it’s just too big and complicated an issue to get into here.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Comic Column 134: Star Wars The Force Awakens – A Reaction
  1. Tommy Reply

    Awesome essay Shawn. I agreed with everything Pegg said. Our cherished childhood loves and obsessions have become a kind of metaphorical return to the womb, heart-felt nostalgia with both pros and cons. That being said, every new piece of information and footage that comes out about The Force Awakens is exciting the hell out of me.

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