Yesterday the new
Predictably the love for Robert Zemeckis’ 1985 classic is buckling under the weight of a Droste effect of borrowed nostalgia today. Inboxes pile up with BTTF-themed PR emails, Twitter is aglow with BTTF Prediction posts, and we sometimes seem to be farther removed from the love of the films than ever.
But it’s more than a shrewd business move, or nostalgic overload; it’s the fulfillment of a promise, one which was pinpointed nicely by the reaction to the new Star Wars trailer.
The coming of a new Star Wars trilogy marks the return of a cultural comet. Every twenty or so years it flies towards us, blocks out the sun for a while, and then goes on its way leaving us watching the skies. Some of us wait in permanence for its return; we watched in 1999, just as we did in 1977. Time, it seems, stands still for Star Wars.
A common reaction to the various trailers for JJ Abrams’ forthcoming film was that the viewer felt like a child again. John Williams’ iconic score stirred the soul while dramatic scenes, until now only seen in our imagination, were bought to thrilling life on screen. Film has an acute ability to transport us in time, like a portion of Anton Ego’s ratatouille, and herein lies the power of both Star Wars and BTTF.
One of the reasons the Back to the Future films succeed is the potent narrative of discovery and destiny. The line between childhood and adulthood is crossed when we realise the fallibility of our parents, and understand (and accept) that they are ordinary and were once like us. Returning to 1955 in the first film Marty actually sees this realisation play out, kicks himself in the Oedipals before setting things right and inventing Rock ‘n’ Roll. Again in BTTF 2 when he travels forward in time he comes face to face with his own future, and his own kids, and with his own mortality.
These ideas are essential to our development, not least the ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ aspect of our childhood but from this point in time, when we are living a future very different to the one we dreamed of. The big question for many after seeing the latest Star Wars trailer is ‘Whatever happened to Luke Skywalker?’ and this is key to the film’s resurgence, and our expectations of it.
This shot of Rey watching a distant ship hitting the atmosphere on its way off of Jakku is a mirror of the famous binary sunset from A New Hope. Whether or not the two characters are related by blood, they are linked in our minds by this image, their dreams of adventure far off. Rey’s journey is just beginning, Luke’s has run its course and we have no idea where he ended up. That’s JJ Abrams’ big reveal, his most formidable weapon.
Over the last few years many of my friends have become parents, and while their interests and situations are incredibly diverse there was, for each of them, a Facebook post of them sitting down to watch Star Wars with their kids for the first time. It is inevitable. It is our destiny. It is an important shared moment. Part of what excites us about this pivotal moment, beyond sharing a well-told, hopeful story with people we love, is because it reminds us of ourselves at their age. Star Wars is our DeLorean, running at 24frames per second rather than 88 miles per hour.
The point to the end of the BTTF films is that the future is not written, you can make of it what you will. Marty’s visions of the future, celebrated today with hashtags and predictions ranked and so on, are not set in stone. He, like his audience in 1989, can do anything. Our potential is limitless. Those of us who share films like Star Wars with our kids do so because they embody that potential, and those of us who feel like kids again watching the new Star Wars trailer are overcome because it reawakens that potential in us.
Hints dropped in the new Star Wars trailer point to the bold ideas, the forces of good and evil in the original trilogy being forgotten; ‘It’s true,’ says a weary looking Han Solo, ‘All of it.’ Though spoken to Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s characters we are the intended audience, he is speaking to us: those children who sat awestruck at the films way back when. He is reassuring us that our faith has not been misplaced.
I booked my tickets to The Force Awakens yesterday. I’m going with the friends who sat with me around our old TV some thirty years ago watching Star Wars and Back to the Future on repeat. The same friends who then ran out into the garden with crap plastic guns and squeezy bottles, who tried to imitate Darth Vader and ended up hurting our throats, collapsing into laughter. We’ll be at a different stage in our lives seeing the new Star Wars film, but I have a feeling that while watching it we’ll not feel a day over 7.
The endurance of Star Wars, like Back to the Future, occurs because it is about our relationship with time. We marveled at what our future would bring once we left our own binary sunset, and as the promised future of Marty McFly becomes permanently part of our past I think we’re ready, that it’s time, for a new adventure.