Stealing From Don Draper’s Playbook: The Force Awakens and the Power of Nostalgia

When the Star Wars: The Force Awakens final trailer debuted on Monday, I was hit with an emotional hammer that I didn’t expect and could’t understand.  I expected to feel something, but what I didn’t expect was to quite literally tear up during a two minute movie trailer.  I mean, of course I was and am excited about the new Star Wars movie. Who isn’t?  But the thing is, I’m not one of the obsessive Star Wars fans – I can’t tell you the name of the two scoundrels that confront Luke in the Mos Eisley cantina and end up losing some appendages (Thankfully, there’s Wookiepedia for that! Their names are Ponda Baba and Cornelius Evazan, in case you were wondering.) – but I’m still pretty steeped in the lore, nonetheless.  So why such an intense response?

I realized this morning that it comes down to a word that’s simple to say and infinitely more complex to explain: nostalgia.  Specifically, the sense of nostalgia that was so artfully explained by Don Draper in season 1 of Mad Men, as he was pitching to Kodak about their new Wheel slide projector.

In retrospect, the nostalgia I felt watching that trailer should be no surprise; J.J. Abrams’ obvious reverence for the early works of Steven Spielberg make it almost inevitable.  Spielberg’s films have so often invoked nostalgia of coming of age, or childhood, or just the past in general, but more importantly, they usually have a clear emotional thesis: you know how you feel at the end of a Spielberg film.  Abrams’ Star Wars Trailer, intentionally and clearly, evokes an intended emotion, and if the film is even half as successful as it’s trailer in that goal, it will be a great pleasure to watch.

To steal from Don myself: This trailer isn’t a space ship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. Takes us to a place where we ache to go again.  It lets us travel the way a child travels. Around and around and back home again to a place where we know we are loved.

Or in other words, it has successfully fired a proton torpedo into the un-shielded exhaust port of our collective hearts.

Shut Up and Take Our Money: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer #2

Pictured: A crashed X-Wing in the foreground, and a crashed Imperial Star Destroyer in the background. Not pictured: My childhood, crying out in joy.

What else is there to say?  I think it’s safe to say that it took someone like J.J. Abrams, a kid who grew up loving Star Wars, to understand what made it fun.  We’ve been disappointed before, (Oh how we’ve been disappointed!) but this feels different.


From the Trailer:

Vader is having a bad day.
Luke, going all retro with the hand.
Kylo Ren, looking extra bad ass.

Chewie...we're home.

Chewie…we’re home.