Re-runs, reboots, and sequels tap into our longing for resolution

Written by Steve Norton

Summertime is made for nostalgia.

Whether it’s glasses of lemonade in the summer heat, sitting with friends on the beach, or the joy of the perfect ice cream cone, it seems like the season is fueled by feelings of days long past. There’s a sense of freedom and hope that swells when the sun is out and we’re allowed to dip our toes into the ocean. Every moment feels like it can take you back to your childhood in an instant.

Of course, this shows up on the big screen as well. Reboots and legacy sequels to franchises like the Minions, Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series, and Jurassic Park keep bringing us back to the characters that we loved in the past. (Even the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home is drenched in nostalgia—and it made over a billion dollars!)

For some reason, we can’t get enough of the past.

It’s not like this is a new phenomenon. Reboots and sequels have been around for decades. Even though some cry out for new material, it seems that the content that steals most of our time (and money) are connected to stories we’ve heard before. In their opening weekends alone, both Minions: Rise of Gru and Jurassic World: Dominion raked in over $125 million each. In its opening weekend, Obi-Wan Kenobi became the most viewed content in Disney+ history.

But what is it that keeps us coming back to the same old stories? After more than 20 years, why do we still care whether Ewan McGregor straps on the lightsaber and cloak once again?

There are probably a myriad of reasons why nostalgia drives our cinematic choices. One big reason has to do with our relationship to the characters. Whether it’s Kenobi grieving the loss of his padawan to Alan Grant and Ellie Sadler finally finding love as they flee rampaging dinosaurs, there’s something about these characters that we find relatable. There’s a humanity to them that makes them just like us. They feel real.

While these franchises succeed in part due to heavy marketing and creative laziness, it can’t just be the number of lunchboxes that they sell. After all, even the most introverted of us are hard-wired for relationships. It’s in our DNA.

On some level, we care about the well-being of these familiar characters and want to make sure that everything turns out OK for them. Maybe it’s simply that we want to see these characters find love or defeat their enemies.  Maybe it has something to do with our desire to see the same happen in the real world. No matter the reason, we wouldn’t keep revisiting these characters if we weren’t invested in their lives or stories in some way.

As a pastor, I believe these emotional ties connect deeply with the heart of who we are as human beings. The very nature of Scripture is rooted in the fact that we care about the people whose stories are told within it. Daniel, Esther, Adam, Eve, and countless others are more than mere illustrations that we heard about in Sunday school. They are people whose stories matter.

Like us, these distant relatives rose up, fell, changed, and saw God at work in their lives. Not only do we learn from their stories, but we also hope that God has something more for them as well.

We’ve been through some turbulent times in the last few years and there are many things about the world that have shown themselves to remain toxic and broken. For that reason, just like these men and women of the past, we hold on tight to the belief that, even amid the struggle, God continues to be at work in the world and that everything will turn out alright.

In fact, it’s worth noting that Scripture is written in such a way that it’s not a closed narrative. The ending of the Story has yet to be written. We are in the midst of a sequel that is unravelling in real time. The stories of these historical characters help play a role in the future we haven’t experienced yet.

In some ways, I think this is what keeps us connected to the fictional characters from our past. It doesn’t matter if it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Claire Dearing, or the villainous Gru, our love of the past stems from the fact that we want to make sure that the characters we care about are going to be fine. It may even bring us comfort knowing that there’s more to their lives than one particular moment.

Knowing their stories continue and resolve gives us hope that ours will too.

Steve Norton is a Toronto-based pastor, podcaster and writer who loves to listen to what matters to our culture on screen. Having worked as a youth and community minister for almost 20 years, he learned that stories help everyone engage with the world around them. He’s a proud hubby, father (times two) and believes that Citizen Kane, Batman Forever (yes, the Kilmer one), and The Social Network belong in the same conversation.