People Are Finally Getting Sick of Nostalgia in TV and Movies
We can learn a lot from the latest Star Wars, Star Trek and Jumanji instalments.
2017 was the Year of the Revival. May saw the return of Twin Peaks (1990-91); September heralded the third season of Full House (1987-95) sequel Fuller House and the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery; last month, Psych (2006-14) returned in a made-for-TV movie, and there were new film installments in the Star Wars and Jumanji franchises. In 2018, viewers can expect new episodes of The X-Files (1993-2002), a Roseanne (1988-97) reboot, a new season of Arrested Development (2003-6), and the return of The Office (2005-13).
All these reboots, remakes, and revivals have me thinking that I should probably hold on to any flared, frayed jeans and fedoras in the back of my closet a little longer (hey, if Jumanji can make a comeback, anything can). Indeed, nostalgia is powerful: It makes high school seem fun, brings exes together, and spawns more Jumanji movies (sorry, I can’t get over it).
The intellectual properties that had new life breathed into them in the last year are classics, and I certainly understand why studios would be interested in bringing them back. Nostalgia sells, and many of these franchises have large fan bases ready to line up for more. Add the potential for bringing in new viewers, and it seems like anything possessing a nostalgia factor is a guaranteed instant success.
But after the nostalgia buzz wears off, most fans are left hugely disappointed in a revival. Rotten Tomatoes has determined that only 49% of the audience positively reviewed Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Many fans say it’s ruined the franchise forever by ignoring continuity, decimating Luke Skywalker’s character, and mocking the Jedi legacy. When it comes to public opinion, Star Trek: Discovery’s fared little better: it has a 55% rating by the audience, who claim it’s the worst Trek in years and cite the darker focus, emphasis on a season-long story arc, and unrelatable characters.
And audience opinion has rubbed up against that of the critics’, as reviews of The Last Jedi and Discovery have proved overwhelmingly positive—90% and 82% on RT, respectively. In both cases, the consensus is clear: There’s a lot to be admired in these new installments—so why aren’t fans liking them? If nostalgia is so powerful, what’s with all the hate?
Enter nostalgia fatigue—specifically, exhaustion caused by overexposure to reminders of a sentimental past. If those Rotten Tomatoes scores are any indication, it’s happening to television and film; in some reviews, fans who have followed these franchises for decades claim they won’t be continuing to. Amidst all the cries of “They ruined it” and “Everything’s changed,” a few questions plague my mind: Could it be audiences have finally had too much of a good thing? Is this insistence on bringing back old media television doing more harm than good for these beloved franchises?
Nostalgia is comforting because it’s familiar, and fans looking for the nostalgic factor don’t want things to change—but when a series is revived, the new episodes can’t engage with modern audiences without evolving. By extension, change often makes people upset, as audiences can feel like they’ve lost something close to them. Luke Skywalker’s arc in The Last Jedi is a perfect example: In the original trilogy he was moralistic, idealistic, and romanticizing the Jedi Order. In The Last Jedi, age and experiences have taken their toll, and as a result the change in his demeanor angered fans. It was a necessary change: continuing to possess a blind idealism would’ve seemed strange and potentially could have weakened the film’s quality—which would’ve also likely upset fans. It’s a lose-lose situation.
In contrast, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle—essentially a reboot instead of a continuation—doesn’t bring back any original characters and currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 75% for critics and 90% for audiences, delivering on nostalgia without triggering fatigue. Of course, another probable reason why Jumanji has been more popular among audiences than the new installments of Star Trek and Star Wars is because the stakes are lower: the fans of the latter two franchises are opinionated and devout, but such a fanbase doesn’t exist for Jumanji. Fans of larger franchises possess such dedication to the that, arguably, there’s no reasonable hope for any new installments to meet their expectations.
Nostalgia can act as the ultimate comfort food: No matter how much changes in your life, you can always go back to the Enterprise, or a galaxy far, far away, and finding those places have remained unchanged can be comforting. But nostalgia also requires some distance from what one is nostalgic for, a distance that isn’t always afforded to us. Reminders of “the way things were” are always around. And therein lies the problem with nostalgia culture—while nostalgia can be comforting, an abundance of revivals over a relatively short period of time can ultimately leave audiences more fatigued than revived.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.