These Reboots Were Made For Gawking: A Look Back at the Year in Nostalgia

As a trend continues in closing the wide gap between original and sequel, we take a look back at this great year in nostalgia. 

Welcome to the nostalgia club. It’s not as good as it used to be. 

If ever there was a joke that could sum up the year in pop culture, it may as well be that one. After all, in 2019 alone, we’ve reunited the original Ghostbusters, brought Sarah Connor and T-800 back together, heralded the return of Dungeons & Dragons (partially due to its inclusion in a TV series centered on nostalgia), birthed a baby Yoda, and witnessed a divisive E.T. sequel among many other retro-flavored moments.

Which means we finally have the answer to the question, “Is anything sacred?” The answer, of course, is “no” even if Indy famously argued that anything sacred, “belongs in a museum!” 

One could argue back, however, that nostalgia-baiting is nothing new in show business, and don’t call it a comeback, they’ve been here for years. But the unprecedented nature of 2019’s nostalgia-baiting is very much worth noting; between the original source material and its follow-up sequel, there’s sometimes three or even four decades in-between franchise installments. 

Therefore to celebrate the abundance of all this time-traveling narrative awesomeness, below, we take a look at Gen X’s most talked about childhood appropriations of the year.

Oh, and Indiana Jones 5…? That’s due out July 9, 2021.


E.T. 2: THE COMMERCIAL 

It’s like someone asked where the giant cable company hurt you, and we pointed to our heart and said, “ouch.” 

It’s been thirty-seven years since one of the best movies of all time was released in theaters and while just about every other successful film has metastasized into a bloated franchise, The Extra Terrestrial obstinately remained a one-off. 

And in retrospect, that trend-bucking refusal made it singular and unique in an untainted and magical way. Even Spielberg himself famously acknowledged that a treatment he had written with screenwriter Melissa Mathison titled E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears was better off left unfilmed in fear of, “robbing the original of its virginity.” 

But here we are in 2019 and there is in fact an E.T. sequel in the form of a four-minute Christmas commercial for Comcast Xfinity, and some are feeling dejected like a wilted pot of flowers. 

“The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original,” said Henry Thomas, the actor who portrayed Elliott, in reference to the Goodby, Silverstein and Partners advertisement.

Spielberg, however, has been unusually quiet about the advertisement, which makes me wonder just how amenable he was to commercial for a company that owns Universal which owns–you guessed–E.T.. “When people ask me which E.T. they should look at,” the legendary director said about the CGI-heavy 20th Anniversary edition released in 2002, “I always tell them to look at the original 1982 version.” 

Advice that resonates even more so now. 


GHOSTBUSTERS 3: AFTERLIFE

Poor Paul Feig. All the director of 2016’s Ghostbusters: Answer the Call tried to do was infuse new life into a thirty-year-old franchise, albeit with some much needed estrogen. 

But, well, we all know how that worked out

And so if ever there was an argument for the literal nature of nostalgia, it’s the recently announced third “official” installment of Ghostbusters featuring the old crew minus Harold Ramis, RIP. Yes, three decades after Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Raymond Stantz, and Dr. Winston Zeddemore defeated Gozer the Gozerian, Jason Reitman, son of director Ivan Reitman, is betting on three leading geriatrics with the average age of 69 drawing fans back to the theater.

But while the movie is still months off, and does feature an infusion of some young’un talent like supernatural poster boy Finn Wolfhard, it’s hard not to see the initial teaser of an ominous breeze blowing the tarp off the Ecto-1 as a metaphor for this movie itself.  “Do we still have that thing in a garage?” you can almost hear an exec asking. “And does it still drive?

We’ll find out in just a half years time.


BABY YODA

Whether you’ve OD’d on the memes or not, it’s undeniable. Baby Yoda is adorable. And while this isn’t scientifically proven, we’re fairly certain that if your heart is pumping with blood warm like the insides of a tauntaun, then you’ve already been disarmed (which is a thing that happens all too often in Star Wars). 

Otherwise you can refuse to give in this cuteness overload like an angsty Emo Kylo Ren and wallow in your Yiddle-less existence. 

Oh, and if you think it’ll stop here? Well, you’ve been warned. With two successful babies under their belt–including Baby Groot–the Disney Empire will assuredly soon unveil a Baby Max Rebo, Baby Jar Jar, Baby Boba Fett, and even Baby Anakin. 

Actually, on second thought, forget the last one. It doesn’t sound like that would end well. 


DISNEY LIVE ACTION REMAKES

Leading up to the release of this year’s quadfecta of Disney’s live-action remakes, Disney purists were asking, why bother? Why not the originals speak for themselves? 

Aside from obvious cultural tone deaf moments like those incredibly problematic Siamese cats, you wouldn’t have been wrong in asking that. After all, Robin Williams’s depiction as the Genie in Aladdin was a career highlight for the legendary comedian, and the stone-cold poignancy of the original Lion King is still profoundly resonant. 

But here’s the thing. Just as the art of parenting has changed since those originals came out, so has the need for more nuanced values found within our children’s entertainment. As a father of daughters myself, I found Princess Jasmine’s self reliance to be a great character improvement, or Nala’s expanded role as Simba’s sensible half serving as an example of tipping the scale away from a purely male driven narrative –the lioness even gets her own song “Spirit” (when Beyonce provides the voice, though, a song is kinda inevitable).

Lady and the Tramp, a Disney+ exclusive, and Dumbo didn’t get the same enthusiastic response as the aforementioned, but despite their shortcomings, there were still improvements worth recognizing. This trend continues with a promising Mulan due out March 27th, 2020. 


BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC

Look, who knows if this thing will actually ever get off the ground, but you have to admire the fact that Keanu Reeves is exploiting his Keanussance for making a third installment of a thirty-year-old cult movie about time-traveling metalheads. 

While details have been trickling in about Bill & Ted Face the Music since as way back as 2010, the “official” announcement finally arrived via Reeves and Alex Winter themselves back in March confirming the release date for August 21, 2020. Excellent? Maybe….

Regardless, we’re all rooting for it. After all, the synopsis featuring the Wyld Stallyns, stuck in a midlife crisis and challenged to create a song that will save the entire universe, is a premise that speaks so close to home for those of us who experienced the original two as dressed in our Van Halen t-shirts, torn acid washed jeans, and Converse hi-tops. 

And are still wearing them to this day.


TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Ever hear the story about the robot who cried, “I’ll be back?” Well, one day, he came back and no-one noticed.

In all fairness, unlike the others included in this retrospective, Terminator: Dark Fate had to deal with the sour aftertaste left behind by two middling installments prior to this; Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys

And despite the studio and filmmakers getting all Skynet and attempting to revise history by ignoring all T-History between 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day and now, audiences delivered their very own judgement day and the verdict wasn’t good. 

Which brings me to the point that perhaps this franchise wasn’t exactly healthy to begin with, and banking on a Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunion just wasn’t enough to excite the Tech-Com resistance. Meanwhile, all of those involved in this unjustly overlooked installment are all saying the same thing: we won’t be back.


JURASSIC WORLD 3

It’s not often that one can invoke a paleobotanist, paleontologist and a chaos theorist in conversation and generate excitement. But alas, when news spread this year that Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant, Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler and Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcom would reunite in the next Jurassic World installment, due out in 2021, fans found themselves veloci-enraptured.

This would be the first time all three would come together since Steven Spielberg’s thrilling 1993 Jurassic Park, with director Colin Trevorrow promising an epic conclusion to his trilogysaurus. “What do [Grant, Sattler and Malcolm] make of the new world?” Trevorrow told Empire. “And how do they feel about being a part of its history?”

The filmmaker even referred to his next movie as “Jurassic Park VI.” Which means Trevorrow gets it–a part of employing nostalgia effectively is by identifying why something worked so well in the past and distilling it into something worthy of the original. Clever guy.


IN CONCLUSION

So, is this all this nostalgia-baiting good and bad for the film industry, or more importantly for moviegoers? And is the current trend for grave digging otherwise dormant franchises and bringing them back to life conducive to box office success?

Freud once described nostalgia as a persistent refusal of loss, a repressed yearning for a lost object which also in a way thwarts the natural process of mourning. Or to put it more simply, when we get nostalgic, we get sequels. And when we get sequels, to paraphrase Alfred Lord Tennyson, we minimize the magic of having loved and lost a unique moment in time.

Or to get slightly less highbrow, Forrest Gump once said, “You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.” Not coincidentally, Forrest Gump never had a sequel.

Over the years, Arye Dworken has edited and written as a culture journalist for Rolling Stone, Spin, HEEB, self-titled and more, and is currently writing for New York Magazine’s culture website Vulture.

He also spent three years on the New York stand-up comedy circuit, self-published his own comic book, consumes all things pop culture in a borderline-obsessive manner.