Directed by Kyle Newman.
Starring Jay Baruchel, Dan Fogler, Sam Huntington, Chris Marquette, Kristen Bell, David Denman, Christopher McDonald, Billy Dee Williams, Danny Trejo, Ethan Suplee and Seth Rogen.
It’s 1998, and four friends embark on a road trip across America to steal a rough cut of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace from George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch, a year before its release.
“A short time ago, in a galaxy not so far away… ”
Reads the start of the rolling yellow text onscreen. See what they did there? It’s the opposite of the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” line from Star Wars. There’s a lot of that here. Getting most of the jokes requires a Star Wars orientated childhood.
Fanboys is set in 1998, a year before Episode I was released in cinemas. Four friends – Eric (Sam Huntington), terminally ill Linus (Chris Marquette), Hutch (Dan Fogler) and Windows (Jay Baruchel), who are all Star Wars fanatics – hatch a plan to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and steal a rough cut of The Phantom Menace. There’s a girl, Zoe (Kristen Bell), in there too, but she’s nothing more than a romantic plot device. She’s always described as awesome by other characters (she’s “completed every Zelda game Nintendo ever released”), rather than ever actually doing anything cool herself. Actually, she does says she can “hear [George Lucas’] beard” at one point. That was funny.
Initially, it’s a little annoying. ALL they do is have the favourite debates over Star Wars mythology. Did Han shoot first? – that sort of stuff. Fair enough, because you need to get your characters over as big Star Wars fans, but most real people aren’t limited to one realm of pop culture references. The dialogue begins to grate because of it, and doesn’t mesh well with the occasional piece of plot exposition. “Oh, by the way, I’ve got cancer. Got about a year left.” “Yeah? That sucks. What would you prefer to fly: a B- or a Y-wing?”
But then it starts to grow on you. The eye picks up on all the cool t-shirts and posters and comic books that dress every scene. The filmmakers are visibly passionate about Star Wars. Maybe some people do only talk in Star Wars references.
Eric and Linus used to be best friends at school, but they’ve drifted apart over the last few years. Eric is our protagonist (read: bland, doesn’t want to do anything fun until after ‘lowest point’ in script reached). Linus is the terminally ill version of Eric. Hutch (crude) and Windows (borderline autistic), who are infinitely more entertaining than the other two, tell Eric about Linus. The four then decide to embark on an epic road journey to steal a copy of The Phantom Menace, to bring the old gang back together, and to do something for Linus before he passes on.
Unfortunately, the “road trip” portion of the film borrows too many dumbass elements from similarly structured teen or college movies. They get stuck in a bar in the middle of nowhere, full of scary looking Mexican bikers, who all turn out to be homosexual. The gang are forced to do a sexy dance to escape alive. There’s a drug experimentation scene in the forest with “The Chief” (Danny Trejo), complete with hallucinations. And then there’s a point where they get embarrassingly arrested, caught with a stash of the aforementioned drugs. In a film with so much source material, it’s disappointing that it feels the need to fall back on these standard “road trip” “hilarious” mishaps.
Danny Trejo was mentioned there, as playing “The Chief”. There are many, many cameos; some great, some awful. But it’s one of the film’s strengths. They’re all people passionate or in some way associated with Star Wars. William Shatner is a dodgy informant, there’s a Jay and a not so silent Bob, there’s even a Carrie Fisher appearance (“I love you,” a drugged up Linus tells her. “I know,” she tounge-in-cheekily replies). It’s nice to see a load of famous folk onscreen having fun with something they clearly enjoy.
The winner of the cameos, however, is Seth Rogen. He gets two: one as an angry, Star Wars-loving pimp, the other as Admiral Seasholtz, the leader of a gang of Trekkies who keep crossing paths with Eric, Linus, Hutch and Windows.
Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans don’t get on, apparently, and the two sides battle and banter throughout the film.
For all its passion and geeky references, the smell of teenage boy lingers throughout. Some of the jokes and scenes feel as though they were concocted at the back of class in school, others simply by stoners.
But it chips away at you. Throughout the film they talk about everyone needing that “Death Star” moment – a deed so good that you can live the rest of your life on its merit. It’s one of the instances when Fanboys uses Star Wars to narrative effect, rather than as another throwaway reference.
It chips away at you because, like it or not, I still smell of teenage boy. Being in your own room after a while, you get used to the smell. You don’t notice it anymore. And that’s what happens with Fanboys. You’re around so much juvenile humour and Star Wars references that you start to regress to being a geeky teenager again (as opposed to a geeky something else). You laugh at and with its jokes, and, eventually, you’ll reach the inevitable end. It’s really quite touching, and captures something not just about Star Wars, but also of the optimism of those hormonal, Lynx-fuelled years.