There's a McDonald's across the street from a bar I go to fairly often. If I take the time to think about it, I don't like McDonald's very much. It's unsatisfying; unhealthy; it makes me feel like shit; it doesn't really even taste that good. Yet somehow every time I go to this bar I end up at McDonald's waiting in line with a bunch of stoned teenagers and church youth groups to order a Big Mac and a large fries.
A lot of the time, I'm not even that drunk.
A person's food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. Babies innately prefer sweet tastes and reject bitter ones; toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending on what the people around them eat. The human sense of smell is still not fully understood. It is greatly affected by psychological factors and expectations. The mind focuses intently on some of the aromas that surround us and filters out the overwhelming majority. People can grow accustomed to bad smells or good smells; they stop noticing what once seemed overpowering. Aroma and memory are somehow inextricably linked. A smell can suddenly evoke a long-forgotten moment. The flavors of childhood foods seem to leave an indelible mark, and adults often return to them, without always knowing why. These "comfort foods" become a source of pleasure and reassurance—a fact that fast-food chains use to their advantage. Childhood memories of Happy Meals, which come with french fries, can translate into frequent adult visits to McDonald's. On average, Americans now eat about four servings of french fries every week.
Spend almost any time reading about the trailer online and you will be greeted by a great deal of complaint and criticism: The new lightsaber has a stupid design! The cinematography is too shaky! This is, to be fair, warranted skepticism. We have been burned before; most of what I remember about The Phantom Menace and the other two prequels was the time I invested convincing myself that they were good movies. J.J. Abrams, who is directing Episode VII, is very good at putting talented actors into tense situations and very bad at resolving those situations coherently or satisfyingly. If we are lucky, Episode VII will be fun and entertaining, but it will not be a great movie. It will probably not even be a good one.
But Episode VII has the Millennium Falcon, and I have a Millennium Falcon-shaped hole in my brain.
Like the unmistakeable beef-tallow smell of McDonald's fries, the weird hamburger silhouette of the Millennium Falcon—designed by the late Ralph McQuarrie—activates an automatic response somewhere deep in my body, a pre-conscious, near-instinctive rush of glee. I know this is not normal. But I would also guess that hundreds of thousands if not millions of other people in the U.S. have the same kind of involuntary reaction. The Millennium Falcon is the closest thing we have to Proust's madeleine.
So, show me a Millennium Falcon and my hand is already reaching for my wallet. Give me a Millenium Falcon dogfighting TIE Fighters over Tatooine while John Williams' score plays in the background and I'm throwing money at my laptop. I would've paid ten bucks just for that two-second shot of X-Wings flying low and kicking up water on some alien lake. I don't even need to see the spaceships or the droids: Ben Burtt's sound design is burned so deeply into my consciousness that sharp crackle of an unfurled lightsaber makes the hair on my neck stand up.
This is why it doesn't matter that, six movies in, Star Wars has a .500 batting average (if you're generous about Jedi), or that Abrams is, at best, a competent sci fi director. It's like complaining that a Big Mac and fries will make you feel sick. It's not about the fries; it's about the smell. No one's going to see Episode VII for its epic story and crackling dialogue. They're going to see it because the Millennium Falcon will be flying around making Millennium Falcon sounds. I'll be first in line. And I probably won't even be that drunk.