How Stylish are Nostalgia Goggles

“Nos-tal-gic,’ Akira said, as though it were a word he had been struggling to find. Then he said a word in Japanese, perhaps the Japanese for ‘nostalgic.’ ‘Nos-tal-gic. It is good to be nos-tal-gic. Very important.’

‘Really, old fellow?’

‘Important. Very important. Nostalgic. When we nostalgic, we remember. A world better than this world we discover when we grow. We remember and wish good world come back again. So very important.”

-Kazuo Ishiguro, from the novel When We Were Orphans

Nostalgia will always be the double-edged blade of geek culture. With it, we are able to keep our favorite passions alive. Yet, when they do return, it is always in new forms and we long for the way we remembered it.

Take, for instance, one of my personal favorites.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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Growing up, these “radical dudes” were a large part of my life. I owned tons of toys, too many VHS tapes, and dreamed of learning ninjutsu, just so I could be like them. I was in the heart of “turtle-mania,” and when the cartoon ended in 1996, I was heartbroken.

What happened the next year may have been described by “lil’ Jonny” as a miracle. A new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show was coming on the air; and not only that, it was going to be a sequel to the live action movies. Few of you may remember the abomination that was “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation,” but suffice it to say I wasn’t the only kid disappointed in it.

This was my first lesson in nostalgia. Sequels and relaunches are hardly ever are as good at the first one.

The Turtles have had success since that initial relaunch. They went dormant for a while after The Next Mutation flopped hard, but came back for a six year run in 2003; and three years after that series had ended the current version of the show started. Each series attracts new fans and gives the world another take on the Ninja Turtles, garnering some level of success along the way….

…and each time I am there watching at least that first episode, trying to recapture that small happy moment I had when I was a kid.

In that was my second lesson in nostalgia – You can never recapture that original magic.

This rings true throughout all of geek culture. Whether you are talking about Star Wars, the new Hobbit films, Transformers, Star Trek, Indiana Jones…the conversation always remains the same.

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The version of the cartoon, the movie, or the comic that you experienced first will always be the best. It will always be our first love, and we will fight to the death to defend it; because nothing has ever been able to recreate that sense of wonder that the original experience gave you.

There was still one thing left that I had to learn about nostalgia, and it was one I had to learn the hard way. After watching one of the newer incarnations of the Transformers, and being left indignant as to why it would sully the original cartoon that I held in such high regard, I decided to re-watch said original Transformers cartoon.

Luckily, the whole series was on Netflix, and I set aside an evening to watch the first handful of episodes. Before the first episode had finished, I was questioning my entire belief structure. The animation was poor, voices would be matched up to the wrong characters, and what little plot there was made less sense than the stories I had made up for my figures as a kid. Not to mention that it became painfully clear that the show existed to sell me those very same toys that I played with.

This was my last lesson in nostalgia: sometimes it is most definitely not as good as you remember it.

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This brings me back to geek culture, because sometimes we seem to forget that last lesson. We can get so wrapped up defending our version, our take on the characters, that we drive others away. We have an uncanny ability to love something so much that we drive others away from sharing in it.

Does it really matter that much if someone’s first experience with Star Wars was the prequel trilogy, or that they actually LIKE Jar Jar Binks? Maybe what really matters is that they like Star Wars; that there is one more person in the world who enjoys something the same way you do, even if it isn’t the EXACT same way.

Does it matter if someone’s first experience with the Turtles wasn’t the Eastman and Laird comic by Mirage, that their first Star Trek was Enterprise, or that their first take on the Transformers was the Michael Bay movie?

No.

What matters is that we all love our little part of geek culture. Our nostalgia for our past creates an opportunity for others to experience something similar in the future. We may never be able to recreate and recapture that magic for ourselves, but we have the opportunity to create that experience for those after us.

It will always be someone’s first Star Wars movie.

It will always be someone’s first Turtle story.

This is the joy and heartache of geek culture; and of nostalgia itself.

Enjoy the fact that there is more of it, and smile that there are others who are revelling with you.

Criticism because it is not how you remember it only serves to hurt those experiencing it for the first time.

We will never have that magic moment again; but we can always make sure that someone else can.

(You can find me this summer in line for Transformers: Age of Extinction and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at your local cineplex).

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Did Han Shoot First? The Question of Canon

Recently Harry Potter creator JK Rowling made big headlines in both the geek and mainstream press for this controversial statement:

“I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron…I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility.”

Needless to say, Rowling’s remarks inspired rage, fury, and heartbreak in thousands of Harry Potter fans who believe that Ron and Hermione belong together, this blogger included. But on the other side of the coin, thousands of Harry/Hermione shippers have found themselves vindicated by the most authoritative voice in the Potter fandom — the creator herself.

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Which raises the question: who is right? Do the Ron/Hermione shippers win the fight because their version of events is printed in millions of books that will be read for generations, or are the Harry/Hermione shippers right because of the fact that the creator of these stories would change the outcome if she had it to do over?

Another Rowling revelation some years back created greater media frenzy, but was for the most part accepted as canon by the Potter fandom: Dumbledore is gay. This character detail, while never explicitly stated in the text, makes sense of Dumbledore’s complicated relationship with the dark wizard Grindelwald. Since this extratextual detail complements the  existing canon, it was accepted as canon by the readers. So the authority to declare canonicity seems to rest not on the voice of the creator, but on the consensus of the fans.

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When the creation becomes bigger than the creator, the question of canonicity becomes complex. One fandom perfectly illustrates this complexity, and the push and pull between the authority of the creator and the authority of the fans can be succinctly summed up in three words:

Han shot first.

The abominable quality of the Star Wars prequels aside, George Lucas created rage and frustration by altering the content of the original trilogy. Like Rowling, he realized that if he had it to do again, there are things about his movies that he would change.  Unlike Rowling, he did go back and make those changes, and he refuses to release the original theatrical versions of the films, making dusty VHS copies of the original trilogy the only way for fans to enjoy the unaltered movies that they love.

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A new scene featuring a CGI Jabba the Hutt is one of the many alterations made to the “special edition” re-releases of Star Wars

In case this is your first day on the internet, the most controversial alteration in Lucas’ “Special Edition” re-releases of Star Wars happens in Han Solo’s introductory scene. He’s confronted by the bounty hunter Greedo, who makes it clear that he’s going to kill Han to redeem the price on his head. In the original version, Han shoots Greedo under the table and coolly walks away, establishing his character as a charming but cutthroat rogue. In the altered version, Greedo shoots at Han first, missing at close range, and Han immediately fires back, killing Greedo. Fans argue that this alteration completely ruins Han’s character arc. If he is not first established as something of a selfish cad who will do anything to protect his own hide, his growth into a hero who will risk his life to save his friends has no meaning. What on the surface appears to be a minor CGI alteration is in fact a major change to the story.

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Frame from the altered “Greedo shot first” version of Star Wars

Fans claim that the true canon of Star Wars is made up of the three original, unaltered films. But they concede that they have little power to wrest creative control from Lucas, even if he is violating the canon.

But sometimes fans do gain control.

Some stories in the nerdverse have long outlived their creators. The best examples are DC and Marvel superheroes. Since some of these characters have been around for close to a century, the people who now write their stories were once the fans who idolized the characters. The fans have literally taken over creative control of the canon.

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A character’s look and personality can change significantly as creative control changes hands over the years

And yet this doesn’t end fan dissatisfaction with new developments in the canon. The need to cater to these fans, along with the unwieldy nature of storylines that span multiple decades, have resulted in the ability to completely erase canon with the universe retcon.

A controversial universe retcon recently took place outside of comics in the world of another character who has been entrusted to multiple creators, Doctor Who.

Warning:

In the 21st century, the character of the Doctor has largely been defined by the fact that he is a remorseful war criminal, having been forced to destroy his homeworld of Gallifrey in order to save the rest of the universe. This was undone in the 50th anniversary special of the show, when the Doctor, with the help of his previous regenerations, is able to save Gallifrey. While the episode was a fun excuse to get David Tennant back on screen, fans argue that this retcon cheapens the Doctor’s character and robs the show of much of its philosophical depth. While they are willing to go along with new developments that new creators bring to the story, fans feel that the canon is insulted by creators who undo things.

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Retcons provide a “big friendly button” to creators who want to rewrite canon

Perhaps the best way to understand the slippery nature of canonicity is to look to a book that has generated a more hardcore fandom than Star Wars and Doctor Who combined: the Bible.

The Bible has dealt with all the canonicity issues at play here. 1 and 2 Chronicles are the “Special Edition Re-release” versions of 1 and 2 Kings, with alterations that seem to do nothing but make the story less interesting. The New Testament is to the Old Testament as new Doctor Who is to old Doctor Who; a fresh spin to an old franchise that messed with the original series but managed to attract a whole new group of fans. The Book of Revelation is the series finale that disappointed all of the fans, who have been writing re-interpretive fan fic ever since.

The lesson is that every fan creates their own canon. The original creators provide the material, but we pick which parts are most important to us. It’s what makes the geek community beautiful — we don’t just love a movie or book or TV series; we let our imaginations run wild in the playgrounds that the original creators provided for us. We’re not just observers; we’re participators, co-creators. Our passion gives the creation of one person a life far beyond what they intended. For better or worse, when Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker and the Doctor first made their ways outside of their creator’s minds and into ours, their worlds became something that we all share ownership in. Hopefully, taking a cue from the Bible fandom canon wars, we will learn to play nice.

But seriously, Han shot first.