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There’s no going back now, but what if you could find everything you loved as a kid waiting for you in the years to come?

The retro-futurism of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One is the focus of this week’s Entertainment Weekly cover, with a visit to the set of the movie about a time when the world is lost in a virtual reality realm overwhelmed by nostalgia.

The movie, which is based on Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel and this theaters March 29, received some early backlash online from those who believed it was merely wallowing in the pop culture of yesteryear, but Spielberg’s film manages to be an affectionate anti-nostalgia story. It shows just how wrong things can go when you’re always looking backward.

A well-received SXSW premiere put to rest some of those early worries, but there’s still much to unpack about the film beyond its sci-fi adventure trappings. Tye Sheridan plays Wade Watts (a.k.a. Parzival), who is among the millions trying to solve a series of pop culture riddles planted by the late creator of the OASIS, the digital wonderland where 70 percent of the population goes to escape.

Solve the puzzles and collect the Crystal Key (pictured in the center of Parzival’s visor), and you win control of the world.

But if the quest is won by tech giant IOI, led by Nolan Sorrento (Rogue One villain Ben Mendolsohn), they’ll restrict this playground to only those who can pay big money to enter. But … he believes that’s better for the actual planet, which has fallen into poverty, pollution and chaos while everyone is distracted in the digital realm.

Our story also delves into the movie’s questions of identity, and the pros and cons of being able to remake everything about yourself in a digital dimension. For some, it’s the chance to show their true selves. For others, it’s a chance to hide who they really are.

Lena Waithe, the actress-writer who costars as Aech, Parzival’s best friend in the OASIS, describes her character’s giant brawler avatar as: “Mr. T meets Michael Clarke Duncan meets Ice Cube meets Rambo.”

To Waithe, a groundbreaking LGBTQ artist in her own right, Aech is positive symbol of everyone who wishes to live an identity that’s different than the one they’re born into. “She’s pretending to be something she isn’t, but in that sense it’s still really her personality,” Waithe says. “She had to have that swagger, that confidence. That’s a privilege that maybe she doesn’t have in the real world.”

However, the OASIS also allows for the chance to engage in the worst kind of fanboy fronting, magnifying the macabre machismo to absurd proportions.

Finally, EW’s story gives you a behind-the-scenes look at a real-life game of cat and mouse. When he began work on Ready Player One, Spielberg vowed that he would not make it a shout-out fest to his own movies. (The one exception was allowing Parzival to pilot the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, which Spielberg executive produced.)

Spielberg’s crew, on the other hand, vowed to sneak in as many covert references to his filmmaking history as they could.

We’ll tell you who came out on top of that epic battle: Spielberg vs. His Own Movies.

Get a look at the cover below, and check back to this week for more on Ready Player One.

Credit: Courtesy of BLT Communications/Warner Bros. Pictures
Ready Player One
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