Making a fan service movie, which is also about fan service/fandom, is a tricky prospect these days. Geek fandom and its associated privilege, is King. People can kick and grump and moan to force someone to lost their job, to force someone into a job, to keep dissenting voices out of fandom, or to cause enough of a stink so that the fandom eventually gets what it wants. Fandoms have always been a vague mire of toxicity and inclusive joy representing both the best and worst of humanity, and both aspects have only been exacerbated by the pervasive and all encompassing nature of social media. Fanboys was released as social media was beginning to explode, but it gets around some of these issues by setting the film in the more innocent, greener pasture of 1998.
If you were a Star Wars fan in 1997 and 1998, it was a particularly exciting time. I was a lad of 15 and a fairly large fan of the franchise – not as big as my older brother, not as rabid as others, but certainly keeping an eye online for snippets of information such as they were dispersed back then. Fanboys follows a group of typical 90s nerds – comic book and sci-fi fans, but not the entitled geeks of today, and not the bullied party avoiders of the 80s. Having recently left High School and each figuring out the trials of adulthood – whether that be living in your mom’s garage, following in your father’s footsteps, or working in a comic book store – the gang meet up at a Halloween party and reconvene in anticipation of Episode I. There is an undercurrent of anger due to one of the gang seemingly growing up and leaving his friends behind, but when it is revealed that one of the group has terminal cancer and only has a few months to live, the tension is put temporarily on ice. The main problem is that the dude wants to see Episode I before he dies, but it is due for release in six months while doctors have given him no more than four. The guys decide that the only solution is to break into the infamous Skywalker ranch and catch a pre-release copy, and so they set off on a road trip across the Country.
This being a Road Movie, it hits all of the expected trappings – every mile travelled brings a new discovery about a particular character and their coming of age, each new destination features an associated humorous interlude, and as the gang get closer to their goal they learn that the journey and those you make the journey with are often more important than the final destination. Being a movie about fandom, there are plenty of in jokes, cameos, and nerdy discussion – some more ill-advised than others – from recurring battle between Star Wars and Star Trek fans, from Billy Dee Williams appearing as a character called Judge Reinhold and cameos by William Shatner, Ray Park, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith and other, to Harry Knowles appearing as a character (played by an actor). Sadly the film became more known for its controversial re-shoots. Early buzz was positive and George Lucas was a fan, but later re-shoots attempted to add more raunchy humour and remove important character and story elements. These re-shoots were done by director Steven Brill, famous for only making shit movies, and when a genuine fan campaign was raised pleading for the original vision of the film to be released, Brill responded with a highly publicized and idiotic rant about fandom. Eventually the original vision was mostly restored, though director Kyle Newman had barely any time to complete. This seemingly resulted in a mish mash of a film, one which has fleeting moments of potential, genuine warmth, and humour, while much of the film feels a little disjointed and unsure of what it wants to be.
Star Wars fans should nevertheless get a laid back kick out of the movie. It’s harmless and has a collection of laughs to go with the decent performers from recognisable faces – Kristen Bell, Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler. Whether or not the reshoot controversy prevented the film from being a more rounded and well received movie we’ll likely never find out, but anyone looking for an underseen coming of age Road flick centred on friendship and fandom might want to give this a watch.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Fanboys!