2008 Santa Fe Film Festival
Linus is dying. Ostensibly of cancer, though he appears to have caught the variety that afflicts only Ali MacGraws and Brian Piccolos, and actually makes you more likely to run about with youthful vigor. No matter, as Fanboys is a comedy. And a fantasy. And likely one of the most passionately nerd-friendly releases since those Hobbits last had their naked, featherbed romp with a hyper-erect Gandalf. It’s chock full of inside jokes and sci-fi chatter, and throws out so much that it doesn’t much care whether you miss a line or two. Or ten. It’s the kind of film that traffics in obscenely unfair stereotypes, yet manages to hit the bull’s-eye of truth with every single one of them. As well as the kind that features cameos by William Shatner, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, and a Harry Knowles lookalike, yet never strains credibility, even when Seth Rogen doubles up as a Trek-obsessed fanatic and a vicious Vegas pimp with a tattoo of Jar Jar Binks.
More than that, it dares offer nerd love at its most unfair, allowing the biggest geek of all to finally press lips with the comic book store chick who just happens to be cute, cynical, and able to name every Bond villain without pause. Because the girls who exercise six hours a day to be rock hard and toned also spend their hours memorizing the engine parts of the Millennium Falcon. Yes, I’d normally object, but here, I didn’t much care. It’s not a great movie, and maybe not even a good one, but I’d love to see it again. Maybe I’m more of a geek than I care to admit. At bottom, I find it impossible not to fall big head over chubby heels in love with a story that takes me on a road trip from Ohio to San Francisco, pausing only to stage a street fight in Riverside, Iowa, the “future birthplace” of James T. Kirk. Because yes, sci-fi fans are murderously self-righteous, and what’s not to love about re-staging the Kirk/Spock battle from Amok Time, complete with a van that screeches like Chewbacca? Or wails like R2-D2 when rolling at high speeds? You bet I was rocking with joy, even more so when I saw the young man arrive at the screening with his mother. I all but gave him a hug.
Oh, yes, the story: it’s 1998 and Linus (still dying) is convinced by his friends Windows, Eric, Hutch, and Zoe (the babe) to drive to the Skywalker Ranch, break in, and steal a still unreleased copy of The Phantom Menace. And for good reason: Linus will not live to see it in theaters six months hence. How could he die without realizing a dream? It’s the thinnest of reeds on which to hang a plot, but at the same time, nothing could be more important. It makes all the sense in the world, and so what if it’s Shatner who supplies the plans on the ranch’s inner workings? He hates Lucas and Star Wars itself, so why not? And if Knowles can be transformed into a hateful, violence-prone asshole who agrees to sell out because it will help Ain’t It Cool, well, so much the better. And everything is in place — the guy who still lives at home yet screams at his mother that he’ll sue because he’s still entitled to “renter’s rights”; the dopey dork who believes he’s meeting an internet paramour, only to discover a ginger tween; the one seemingly normal dude who stares a mature, reasonable future in the face and dammit, chooses escapism instead. Yes, there’s even a lengthy debate about Luke and Leia’s kissing, their sibling bond, and whether they knew it all along and made out anyway. Hell, at least I was learning something.
Sure, it’s indefensible, but I felt a kinship with this movie, even if my love of the original Star Trek was less a sci-fi bond than an ironic appreciation of the kitsch factor. That said, I have had my arm around Leonard Nimoy, and for three years, my defiantly unshared bed was flanked by a robust William Shatner cardboard stand-up. I also once stood before a hooker wearing only a Kirk t-shirt. And tube socks. Sadly, I could not actually fuck in this get-up, as the rules of prostitution require all johns to be fully nude before proceeding with foreplay (read: getting that damn condom on before I squirt like a Roman Candle). And had I not, with a fellow Trekkie in tow, driven from 24-hour grocery stores to seedy bowling alleys at 2am one lonely night, all in search of another crane game because at that time, they all seemed to have Trek dolls amidst the Tweety birds and puffy NFL mascots? And when I won the Talosian, did I not hoist it above my head and run out screaming as if on fire? Yes, on all counts. All without shame. I understand the passion, and the drive, and the irrational need to do whatever it takes to keep the females at bay. So where was my Zoe? Sure, the woman I eventually married had a Star Trek: Movie Memories book tucked away in her closet, daring to be found, but to date, she’s never come to a midnight screening of anything, let alone wearing Princess Leia’s sexy get-up from Return of the Jedi.
So why here, and not with 300 or any number of geek fests? Inconsistent though it may seem, I defend the honor of Fanboys not simply because I happen to understand substituting 90% of my everyday speech with movie dialogue, but also due to the x-factor of lovability. Yes, it’s a film for true believers and virgins everywhere, but it’s not about any sense of superiority. It’s also one of the few movies about geeks to avoid the myth that deep down, these people are actually the “beautiful ones.” To a man, these characters are annoying, obsessive, and likely deserve being ostracized, only who really cares in the end? And hell, how can I object when, in order to prove that these weary travelers are truly Star Wars madmen (Lucas himself demands it so he won’t press charges), they are quizzed about the series, and can actually name Chewie’s home planet while blanking on trick questions related to the location of the G-spot? I have no clue about either one, so who am I to judge? Fanboys, then, is a stark reminder that it’s okay to devote one’s life to minutiae and trivialities, but it’s just as acceptable for others to mock you for it. It’s the balance we’ve all sought. Stand up and be proud, but take your cold-cocking like a man.
In the end, after we’ve seen allusions to every possible Star Wars scene under the sun, it comes down to the fact that only Linus is allowed a sneak peak at Episode I. Appropriately, he says nothing about it once he leaves the screening room, and his glassy-eyed look could be interpreted in any number of ways. So much the better, then, when our heroes finally attend opening night (Linus is safely buried) and, amidst the endless lines of Stormtroopers and Sand People roaring like hyenas, weapons held proudly in the air, they look at each other and ask the unthinkable: “What if it sucks?” It’s a joke that holds for a moment, then the credits roll. Of course it sucked. It was one of the worst movies of modern times. A letdown as big as losing one’s virginity to a callous Mexican whore who knew I was a struggling college student and wasn’t aware that “per hour” was code for “per pop.” It didn’t matter; it never should. It’s about the journey, not the destination. Friendships are strengthened. Love triumphs over all. Name your cliché, it all works. Because we’re all out of our minds, and at least some of us have tried to use the Jedi mind trick to get laid. Yes, even you.