25 Years Later, The Phantom Menace Remains an Uneven Yet Thrilling Nostalgia Trip

25 Years Later, The Phantom Menace Remains an Uneven Yet Thrilling Nostalgia Trip

6 min read

Among everything else that could be said about Star Wars, there's this: Much of the emotional charge that comes from watching it is Pavlovian in nature. It doesn't matter if the new Star Wars is exceptional or forgettable—every emotion is given shape and sustenance by nostalgia for what was.

Even though Hollywood and advertisers have been strip-mining nostalgia for most of my adult life, I remain very pro-nostalgia.

Some inner part of me is forever thirteen, frozen as surely as if I'd been given a Carbonite dip. Something inherently me—my upbringing, my personality, my midi-chlorian count—has made me uniquely attuned to channels that broadcast familiar signals. I'm not alone in this. Like an illicit army of clones, there are millions of us, and millions more on the way. We gravitate to new Star Wars because we first loved old Star Wars. Old Star Wars for me means the original trilogy. It could be something else for you; it doesn't even have to mean old old. Just old enough for you to have fond memories, which is where nostalgia begins.

Nostalgia is an unreliable guide. The emotions are as real as real gets, but the thing we are nostalgic for no longer exists. Luke flying down the Death Star canyon while Obi-Wan hypes him up may still give me a tingling buzz, but no amount of rewatches will turn back time. That's nostalgia's lie—that by brandishing familiar tokens, we can glimpse what was and is now lost. Even if you are only truly nostalgic for the singular, moving power of a film, you can't return to the person you were, who loved a movie so much you will eventually reminiscence about it.

Nostalgia is an empty promise, but I pursue it anyway.