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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has been surrounded by such heightened fandom that even the film's 88-second trailer was an event, with fans seeing it in theaters on Black Friday. No argument need be made for the indelibility of “Star Wars” in pop culture. There is a small library of books on the impossibility of avoiding "Star Wars" and how fandom has affected us. Just as impressive as the intensity or longevity of its impact is the fact that it has managed to survive retroactive CGI alterations and the intergalactic skid mark that is Jar Jar Binks. In this age of engaging with culture almost entirely through routine obsession or excessive nostalgia, “Star Wars” makes for an interesting duality of the two presiding phenomena of fandom. So, what does that hyper-intersection say about the way we consume cultural objects?
“The Force Awakens” is the perfect example of big studio regurgitation that preys upon nostalgia. It’s a film built to metastasize overseas, like the sequels, prequels and remakes engineered before it (seemingly in a lab), and yet it maintains a certain value rooted in long-standing cultural relevance. “Star Wars” is our heightened longing for the past on futuristic space steroids. It is massively popular while enjoying the pull of community more commonly associated with niche interests. Really everybody -- except maybe some cranky Trekkies -- likes “Star Wars,” but you can like it and feel special through excessive knowledge of trivia, creative interaction with the myth or maybe particularly strong feelings about the loss of Jabba as a practical effect in the special edition of “A New Hope.”
Through this prism of seemingly immortal appreciation, “Star Wars” maintains the beautiful paradox that comes with proudly liking anything, old or new. Fandom endows the fan with both a sense of individuality and a sense of belonging. There is value in knowledge of something and social aspects to participating liking it. Except usually being a fan is all lovely hipster goodness only until the cultish curdles into macro-culture. Probably the most concentrated example of this is “Napoleon Dynamite.” Jared Hess’ student film gained cult recognition and then burst into popularity through its quotability, quickly breaching the realm of critical mass. As star Jon Heder said in an interview with HuffPost Entertainment, "It's like a leak at a power plant. It exploded and everyone was contaminated.”
That threat of nauseating popularity looms much nearer for current obsessions. The loud, seemingly random voices of social media are actually a carefully-curated echo chamber for our interests. We “obsess” (as is the current parlance for enjoying a thing) and others obsess. The hall of mirrors that is Twitter turns the thing omnipresent and suddenly it becomes un-special to continue liking it. As Willa Paskin wrote in her fantastic article on obsession for Slate, “When part of the appeal of something is that, suddenly, it feels as though it’s all everyone you like is talking about, then it doesn’t feel so great when everyone you don’t like is talking about it, too.”
The two trends at play with “Star Wars” make for a frightening glimpse into what the future looks like if these fandom phenomena continue in tandem. The obsession with obsessions and repetition of nostalgia makes for an endless loop that rejects the new. Pop culture sends up bright shining stars that implode when they reach critical mass (and we move on to the next thing). All the while these peak nostalgic objects continue to burn bright, seemingly inoculated to even the most Jar-Jar-ian attempts at modern day ruination. It's a cycle that forbids anything original to make a lasting mark on the pop culture canon. So, where does that leave us if these trends endure? We’ll all almost definitely have our own spaceships by the year 4014, but the downtime before takeoff will still be spent clicking through BuzzFeed posts with the microchips embedded in our brains, reliving all the things we started obsessing over pre-1999.
Follow Lauren Duca on Twitter: @laurenduca