“Fanboys is significant in that it shows how fandoms can argue without completely going toxic.” — Bill Watters, BleedingCool.com
The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 10th anniversary of the release of Fanboys, the cinematic love letter to Star Wars (and geek culture and fandom in general).
Directed by Kyle Newman (The Hollow, Taylor Swift music videos Clean and Style) and with a screenplay by Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) and Adam F. Goldberg (The Goldbergs), the long-in-production comedy starred Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, She’s Out of My League), Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Good Luck Chuck), Sam Huntington (Being Human, Superman Returns), Christopher Marquette (Freddy vs. Jason, Race to Witch Mountain), and Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Frozen). The film also features a series of amusing celebrity cameos, including Carrie Fisher, William Shatner and Billy Dee Williams. [Read on here...]
For the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with a trio of pop culture authorities who reflect on the film a decade after its debut.
Zaki Hasan is the co-author of Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture (edited by Stephen H. Segal, Quirk Books, 2011).
Michael Kaminski is the author of The Secret History of Star Wars: The Art of Storytelling and the Making of a Modern Epic (2008, Legacy).
Bill Watters is the editor of BleedingCool.com.
The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): How do you think Fanboys should be remembered on its 10th anniversary?
Zaki Hasan: The film in many ways is as much of a time capsule as the specific historical moment it’s depicting. It hearkens back to the time when Star Wars something that still *felt* ephemeral and fleeting, and as such it will mean something very specific to a very specific audience.
Michael Kaminski: Fanboys is definitely a “by the fans, for the fans” type of film, which is probably the reason it didn’t connect with general audiences. It’s a terrific love-letter to Star Wars, and the Star Wars fandom; it indulges in fanboyism but also knows when to laugh at itself, to see the absurd side of nerd culture by playing up an exaggerated (although not that exaggerated) version of it. Aside from that, I don’t consider it to be a particularly great movie, although it is for sure not a bad one. The issue, and this is why general audiences didn’t really watch it and why the reviews were often unkind, is that when you strip away the Star Wars references and shallow celebrity cameos, you’re left with a mediocre “college road trip” comedy where most of the humor isn’t all that funny and the script is full of clichés.
I can’t deny the film has a lot of heart though, and luckily it is saved by the infamous cancer sub-plot that the Weinstein Company wanted to cut out entirely. The battle in post-production is probably the one thing I take away most from this, as I followed the making of the film when it was in production, and it literally took years to complete the post production because of re-shoots and re-edits. Everyone kept wondering when it would be released — if at all — and especially after special screenings at the Star Wars Celebration convention, it sort of became this larger-than-life thing, and maybe that elevated expectations of it. The film basically plays a bit like an episode of Big Bang Theory as written and directed by Kevin Smith.
But for Star Wars fans like myself, it’s a fun guilty pleasure to revisit every once in a while, and the final act at Skywalker Ranch not only results in a fairly emotional climax, but it’s a terrific satire of “Fortress Lucas,” as filmmaker John Milius once put it. The film falls into a sort of “spot the reference” game, but I think that’s part of the appeal. It’s also a licensing miracle that all of that iconic Star Wars imagery was able to be used, and it’s hard to think of another franchise that has allowed use of that many trademarks; rather than being a lampoon like Spaceballs or Galaxy Quest, it’s a film that takes place in the real world and acknowledges Star Wars (and Star Trek, whom they couldn’t get permission to use official costumes and props) as pop culture franchises within the movie itself. It’s great to have an example in the “movies about movies” genre that focuses on Star Wars.
Bill Watters: On the one hand, it’s from a kinder, gentler, more hopeful time when Star Wars fans looked forward to the prequel trilogy with hope for new adventures. The conflicts in the film between fandoms were the way we like to remember the way they were, schoolyard banter of which series was better, or which captain was better. But it stayed there, it wasn’t death threats or accusations of “not my Star Wars.” The favorite argument of the time was still the whole “Han shot first” affair, having to teach newcomers to the series what really happened in the cantina that day. After all, what is more classically fanboy-behavior than having a debate around who would win in a fight between Batman and Howard the Duck, it’s where everything became toxic in the years since the prequels that things have gotten ugly, and Fanboys helps us remember the better times.
Coate: What do you remember about seeing Fanboys?
Hasan: I saw it a few years after it had come out, so to some extent the cake was already baked in terms of the public perception of the film. As such, it succeeded by over-performing relative to my expectations going in. Ultimately, I laughed a lot and I appreciated the attempt to work some kind of heart and pathos into the kind of format that didn’t really lend itself to that.
Kaminski: A few things come to mind when I think about the first time I saw Fanboys. The first was amazement that it was finally released! A whole three years after it was filmed. For a low-budget indie film with very little in the way of visual effects, it should have been out by the end of 2006, which I have read was the original plan. The film had a lot of fan support, including a petition to the Weinstein Company to not chop out the cancer sub-plot which is sort of the emotional core of the movie, and so fans such as myself had already been following this little tiny $4 million indie dramedy for over three years by that point. After all the drama in post-production, where director Kyle Newman basically had the film taken away from him, it was a relief to finally see it, and in a form that at least resembled the version originally made, albeit with more goofy humor thrown in.
The other thing that struck me was that it seemed a bit dated in its humor. I’m not sure how much blame the film should get for this, as the Weinstein Company ordered re-shoots and additional scenes to add more comedy and director Kyle Newman wasn’t involved in them. So some of it feels like it belongs to the era of teen comedies from 2001 or 2002, and this is probably because there was a corporate committee that was a little out of touch adding new scenes and what they thought teens would find funny. I think the film would have been a much bigger success if it came out closer to that turn of the millennium era, and it would have been more relevant as well, since people generally had forgotten about Phantom Menace by 2009, and the franchise was definitely on a downturn in popularity.
But, I do remember having fun watching the movie, even if I had to overlook aspects that fell short, and the ending really did impress me, especially the final punch-line. By the time the film came out, Phantom Menace was a decade old, and it was fun to think of my own memories anticipating its release and seeing it on opening day. I also really appreciated the THX 1138 guards; I adore that movie, and the fact that they were included is a pretty deep dive on the part of Kyle Newman and shows how far his respect for George Lucas’ history goes.
Watters: I loved having a Star Wars balance to weight against the Free Enterprise of Star Trek. I’d seen and been a fan of the latter for a few years before I’d seen Fanboys, and thought it unfortunate that there wasn’t a similar sharing of a character story around the joys of being a fan. There were documentaries, and fan films, but the latter tended to show fans in an unflattering light, and the latter, while often done with love, were all in-jokes (yes, I love Bantha Blue as much as the next person). Fanboys can be shown to someone who doesn’t quite get it, but by the end can have an idea around the place of fondness for a thing (in this case the Star Wars franchise) that will drive them to such extremes.