Two random Star Wars inspired ideas linger with me as I sit here on a cool and cloudy Los Angeles winter afternoon.
One, I notice I’m enjoying a particular sensation present in my experience. It’s one that I first really started to identify when Pearl Jam would announce the release date for a new album, and am currently experience in anticipation of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The term that comes to mind as I sit with the sensation is pre-emergence, or the pleasure of knowing that something is about to emerge in culture that will hopefully bring me great joy.
Feeling into the arrival of Star Wars also reminds me of the much bigger emergence we’re mere months away from: accessible and effective Virtual Reality. Smartphones are possibly the only other device in the last decades that have had such a great impact. While many will be quick to dismiss VR as it will initially be used for gaming and entertainment, thinking of it as a platform is where the real electricity is. Technodelics, therapies, vacation, meeting and interactions, so much will be different in the post VR world that we’re literally months away from!
Two, it’s likely that this Star Wars will shatter all box office records in a way that I can’t imagine many films doing again in my lifetime. While Jaws was technically the first blockbuster film, Star Wars was really the first blockbuster that created a new world, culture, and “pocket” in the noosphere. With that as a base, and the fact that literally “generations” of folks have been raised on Star Wars via the original trilogy and prequel trilogy, I’m not sure there will be as “multi generational” a film event again in my lifetime. Particularly one that literally weaves in the fabric of time like this one will, bringing back original cast that have aged in very real and true ways that should bring some gravitas to their roles that digital aging never can, as well as invoking our own age and life story as we feel our previous experiences with them in our own timeline rip back to life with their presence on screen.
All that adds up to a film “event”, in what I hope is best possible version of what real mainstream blockbuster entertainment can provide: Social Cohesion.
As travel and communication technology “opened” up the world and cultures in ever more expansive ways in the last century, social cohesion, or shared reality and experiences, has failed to keep pace. Traditionally sourced in our tribes, religious traditions, or “values”, I’d argue we’re still at a point where new structures of cohesion have yet to fully emerge.
Big media events are one development I believe is filling that void. Many of the most impactful have been real world events, ie the Moon landing, Kennedy’s assassination, the fall of the Berlin wall, Obama’s election, etc. Even those, however, aren’t necessarily “global” events, just events the globe tunes into, and these days, more often than not, they’re tied into tragedy, not celebration. The closest thing to global broadcasts I can think of are the Olympics, which has globalism in it’s DNA, and the World Cup.
Beyond real world events, however, I think we’re really just beginning to see the emergence of global “art” events. While Hollywood blockbuster films tend to be american/euro english language oriented pieces of art, with the increasingly important emergence of global markets like China, even that is beginning to change. A step towards the right direction in terms of race and gender diversity, The Force Awakens will certainly be more inclusive than any Star Wars film thus far in history. That, added to the fact that it’s about fictional culture and events, I think gives it a power to be more globally unifying than dividing, no matter what your nationality, country of origin, religion, economic class, or belief system, I think many of people across the planet will feel the freedom to say “that’s cool!”!
While that in no way shape or form solves the many emerging global problems we face, it does provide a small bit of shared reality and cultural reference, that can act as a cohesion for us as a SPECIES. With every passing year, I imagine there’s fewer and fewer places one can go on the planet where you can utter the phrase “The Dark Side” and you WON’T be understood, which I find pretty awe-inspiring.
You’re right, as media becomes more fragmented and niche, moments like this where basically the entirety of culture is all experiencing the same thing will get more and more rare, and will therefore become more and more valuable.
It seems to me that Star Wars has gone beyond media and into the realm of a modern myth. In this way it is fulfilling a role that the religious traditions or epics of the past did. Everyone in a society or even in many societies across the world would be familiar with those stories. So I don’t know if Star Wars is particularly different in essence from what has come before. Where it is different is the speed with which it has taken its place in the cultural pantheon, becoming a global phenomenon in 40 years as opposed to the hundreds of years that it took for the Bible, the Koran, the Mahabharata, the Epic of Gilgamesh, or the Iliad and the Odyssey to accomplish the same feat.