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February 6, 2009

Despite stale gags, the Force is with Fanboys

A high-speed collision between Galaxy Quest, Clerks, and Harold and Kumar, Fanboys is the definitive tribute to an aging generation of sci-fi nerds haunted by these recurring questions: What does it mean to be a Star Wars fanboy? To what lengths will you go to celebrate your fandom?

Told with unflinching nerd pride, the story follows five die-hard Star Wars fans from Ohio who go on a road trip to George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch in an attempt to steal a copy of Episode One: The Phantom Menace before its release. Set in 1998, the film takes place in a galaxy long, long ago, before Jar Jar Binks ever spoke, before Hayden Christensen ruined the badassness of Vader, and before George Lucas discovered the synthetic sublime that is CGI.

The driving Force behind this ambitious scheme is the reunion of Eric (Sam Huntington) with his four childhood best friends and fellow Star Wars aficionados: Linus (Chris Marquette), Windows (Jay Baruchel), Hutch (Dan Fogler), and Zoe (Kristen Bell). Having “grown up” since high school and distanced himself from the pack, Eric is the last to learn that Linus is sick with cancer and has only a few months to live (though he hides it well). Not about to let Linus die without seeing the prequel and hoping for one last hurrah—what the boys call their “Death Star,” in honor of Luke Skywalker’s famous accomplishment—the four boys journey to California, with Kristen Bell joining them later. Riding Millennium Falcon–style in a Star Wars–detailed van, the group encounters as many zany side adventures and ha-ha cameos from geek fandom as the film can pack into its 90-minute running time. Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) puts in an appearance as a small-town judge, Kevin Smith can be spotted being Kevin Smith, and Ray Park (Darth Maul) has some fun as a Skywalker Ranch guard.

The film’s plot avoids utter ridiculousness by exhibiting a fair amount of heart and soul in its treatment of Linus’s cancer. The movie itself has been collecting dust for over a year in the offices of The Weinstein Company due to this very plot point. Reportedly, the cancer story was on the verge of being cut and parts of the film were re-shot to make it more like a simple roadie movie. It is lucky that the theatrical version retains this element, as it lends the film some much-needed emotional weight, heightening the odds enough for us to put faith in the crew’s mission.

That being said, the film seems gimmicky most of the time and makes its biggest blunders when it puts its fanboy obsessiveness on the back burner in favor of a misguided attempt imitate the Harold and Kumar films. Peppering the friends’ journey with Star Wars–related misadventures is delightful and true to the film’s purpose, but the injection of downright pointless gag sequences just for the silly factor distracts from the main story. One instance early on has the boys seeking help when their van breaks down near what turns out to be a gay bar full of rowdy bikers who force the boys to strip for a glass of water. Later, Hutch and Windows have a run-in with female escorts and their pimp, a pre-Knocked Up Seth Rogen, in Las Vegas. These pointless digressions should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Fanboys’s undeniable loyalty to everything Star Wars is its saving grace, giving it the consistency that keeps it from flying off into space too often. From Star Wars trivia to Skywalker Ranch garbage compactors, the film builds its charm by showing us just how much it loves its source material. As in Galaxy Quest, there are in-jokes around every corner, proving that this film was made with the love and attention that only a Star Wars fanboy could give it. Its best moments come when it glories in its devotion to the pop culture phenomenon that is Star Wars, defending the dedication and all-consuming energy that fans put into the things they love.

Noteworthy scenes include a cameo by none other than Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself, as an ailing Linus’s doctor in a Vegas hospital. He eventually snags a kiss from her, something thousands of teenage boys have dreamed of since they saw Leia’s gold slave bikini. Another great scene has the boys eating “special” guacamole, which causes them to see an Ewok humping Linus’s leg. Later in the film, when the group of friends are nearing their destination, Eric spots a road sign indicating their proximity to the Skywalker Ranch and declares that they must steal it. The inclusion of such bizarre fanboy winks is what makes this movie work.

Star Wars may seem passé in this era of Harry Potter and Twilight, but the cult-like commitment of fanboys and fangirls across the geek spectrum is nonetheless depicted with great fervor here. Whether you’re a Potterhead or a Lord of the Rings devotee, a Trekkie or a long-time follower of Doctor Who, you will respect what Fanboys has to say about loving your inner nerd.