A little more on nostalgia.
One thing I noticed on my list is that some of the cultural touchstones of my generation—Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, particularly—aren’t on my list of nostalgia movies. And I really do love Raiders, and I really did love Star Wars. They’re great movies, and came out right at the perfect time for me, when I was 8-11. Pretty much zero hour for nostalgia.
I guess the difference is: They kept coming out. Empire followed Star Wars, and was even better… but then Jedi came out, and it was good… but also kind of a letdown. I was in high school rather than elementary school, and instead of a mind-blowing experience, I got a really good action movie. And then neither of the Raiders movies grabbed me the same way as the first. Partially because I was older, and probably also because it’s breakneck pace simply wasn’t as new to me. (And maybe they weren’t as good. It’s been years since I’ve seen Temple of Doom or Last Crusade, and I didn’t even bother with the one this summer.)
And Star Wars, of course, returned with awfulness, to an extent that I’m surprised how thoroughly it killed my interest even in the original movies. That shouldn’t happen, but it did. But I don’t think it’s so much the drop in quality that makes me less nostalgic for these properties. It’s that, well, they’re properties. They kept coming out and were a constant presence at the time when I was growing up and realizing that these movies weren’t just amazing flights of imagination, but also launching pads for toys and games and lunchboxes and happy meals. If there’s just been one movie of each, the phenomenon would have passed before I recognized it. But since they kept coming out, each new movie was born to someone growing more cynical about the whole process. I was hardly a hard-nosed cynic at 14, but I was aware enough to know that people wanted to sell me things.
I wonder if the sweet spot of Star Wars nostalgia isn’t maybe 6 years younger than me, where the kids would have seen the first two movies on VHS or in the theater rereleases, and then they were taken to see Jedi for the first time. Their minds would be blown, just like mine was with that first movie. And then they would have had fifteen years of nothing… the perfect soil for nostalgia to take root. But since I first saw Star Wars, one thing has been layered on top of another so many times that the original moment I could be nostalgic for is lost under layers and layers of extraneous stuff.
and by the time this comes out, who cares?
Strangely enough, I am still nostalgic for certain runs of comics I read as a kid: The Bates/Swan Superman of the 70s, the Bates/Novick Flash, the Levitz/Giffen Legion. I think, in their cases, there’s an opposite effect to a constant presence killing nostalgia. These books came out every month—so often, and with so much work produced, that I could be nostalgic for specific stories and runs without mixing it up with the properties themselves. I might not have noticed the departure of Irv Novick originally, but by the time Don Heck was drawing Flash a few years later, I knew my personal golden age on the title had passed... and later figured out when. And the Levitz run of Legion stood so high above what had come before that it was like comparing Star Wars to Solar Babies. It was incredible, world-expanding stuff. And even more important, it felt like it was mine.
Maybe that’s what nostalgia is. A sense of ownership of the material you love, and a true ownership of your own personal experience of reading/watching/listening to it. I remember hearing Styx’s “Too Much Time On My Hands” for the first time over the radio when my friend Tom slept over in 1979—the first time I ever listened to FM, top-40/rock radio. I’m not so nostalgic for that song, but man, do I remember that listen. That’s nostalgia.
We can’t own pop culture: it’s for everybody. It’s pop. But we can own our memories, and how these things touched us. I heard a story on the radio a while back about how when you remember an event that you’d forgotten for years, it’s much stronger and more precise—and more faithful to the truth of the event—than something you mull over every day. Which might be why Star Wars had progressively less hold on me when I got older and saw it in more and more contexts, and why Airplane—a movie I saw a lot in a specific time, and then not again for decades—hits me so much more strongly.