Everyone’s talking about Star Wars.
I can’t go into work lately without co-workers or customers bringing up The Force Awakens. Every day since its release, a different friend will text me about it (usually in all caps). It’s inescapable. “Have you seen it?” “Did you love it?” “How many times have you seen it?” “What’d you think?” “When are you seeing it?” “Wasn’t _____ awesome?” “Do you think _______ is good or bad?”
At this point, the conversation is like The Neverending Story, but with less luck dragons.
We all knew this was coming. Ever since its release date was announced, The Force Awakens was going to be THE cultural touchstone of 2015. So naturally (and since I’m a mega fanboy), I planned to write about the movie on its release. But then I saw it…and I was speechless. What was there to say? I absolutely loved the movie (and as I type that, that feels like a criminal understatement), but from an analysis standpoint, what was there to say that hadn’t already been said? Everyone’s writing about how it was a refreshing return to form, how the new characters were both engaging and a fantastic example of diverse casting, and how we are all going to spend the next year and a half endlessly speculating over the contents of the next episode. All of that’s true, but it’s been said, and it feels tired reading people write about it because it’s just regurgitating what everyone is already talking about.
It’s the fact that we talk that really gets me jazzed.
I love the idea of culture as conversation. This is the point of pop culture, that that onomatopoeia is audible; these massive works of art should appear and act as shots heard round the world.
This idea is especially meaningful to me as we enter into another election season, this one even more painful than the last. It excites me because the world is full of terrible things, and people are hurt and their pain reaches the rest of us. I think these are all things we should engage in. Everyone has an opinion, and that opinion should translate into a vote. You see people hurting, whether it’s across an ocean or across the street, you should do what is in your means to help them, even if it’s just a kind word or a prayer.
But escape is important too.
Pop culture provides us with an opportunity to step away, to look at the things that are hard and not be consumed by them. Escapism isn’t an excuse to disengage, but rather a chance to celebrate the things that are worth celebrating, instead of just crying about the things that deserve our tears. There’s bad in the world, and there is good as well. Art is such a great example of what needs to be celebrated, and so I love hearing it take over a conversation. I love it, because I see faces shine when discussing their experience watching the new Star Wars in a way I will never see anyone glow after watching Donald Trump’s latest offensive-to-the-point-of-being-vomit-inducing rantings (another seemingly criminal understatement). Especially in this world of social media, where it’s so easy to let negativity snowball, I’m thankful for the things that make people smile instead of grit their teeth, and the things that make people feel a need to discuss rather than lash out.
There was a skit on Saturday Night Live a month or two back showing a family Thanksgiving gathering that kept digressing into hot button topics, only to see the occupants of the dinner table continually distracted by an Adele sing-along. Naturally, it was played for laughs, but I think it was a kind of beautiful. Sure, I was weary of “Hello” before I even heard it, but I would much rather talk about how I’m tired of Adele than argue about whether or not a potential presidential candidate’s blatant racism is a deal breaker (spoiler alert: it should be).
That’s the thing about really “pop” art: it unites us. Most everyone loves Adele, and that’s something that brings all those people together. It’s going to distract in a positive way when that new single comes on the radio and demands that everyone sings along. This new Star Wars movie has reached that point that requires people to pause and discuss, to take a break from the day and enjoy something. Now, this kind of art doesn’t have to be the hit single or the top movie at the box office, but when art resonates with us so strongly, that’s a sacred sort of interruption.
When art is so significant that it grabs our attention, well, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? It’s not so much escaping to a galaxy far, far away as something that we can’t escape, and I’m alright with that.