Movies I should see – ‘Fanboys’

The genesis of “Movies I should see” began on the back patio at the Bear when my friends launched the latest volley in one of the longest-running debates in fandom: Which is better — “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”? They sided with the Force while I backed the United Federation of Planets.

To support their argument, they quoted lines from the 2008 film “Fanboys,” including one where a character describes Star Trek’s Capt. Jean-Luc Picard as “gay” and mockingly says one of his trademark lines in an overly effeminate voice. That was followed with their overwhelming recommendation to see the film.

As a fan of both franchises, I bumped “Fanboys” to the top of my viewing queue. I saw the line came from a confrontation between the four twenty-something protagonists and a gaggle of Trekkies decked out in faux Starfleet garb in Riverside, Iowa (aka, the future birthplace of a certain James Tiberius Kirk). They break into a pathetic nerd-brawl, but no one really comes out as a winner. Then again, no one ever wins in a nerd-brawl…

Unfortunately, like the fight, “Fanboys” doesn’t appear to be a fully winning effort from director Kyle Newman. The characters weren’t strongly defined and the film lacked a lot of the joy or enthusiasm that encompasses the best of fandom.

The premise — It’s 1998 and the four characters decide to travel from Ohio to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch compound so their ailing friend (Chris Marquette) can watch a pre-release copy of “The Phantom Menace” before he dies.

Others have pointed out that character developments are all over the map. Notably, Marquette’s condition appears to be a non-factor until it suddenly is (I’ll admit some diseases might be like that). Other characters do things that kinda make sense, but aren’t really fleshed out.

Many events are barely explained or superfluous. For example, the most direct route from Ohio to California is a straight shot on Interstate 80. Instead, the crew goes days off course for sketchily rationalized trips to Riverside, Texas and Las Vegas. Such might be the nature of a road-trip movie, but these diversions really aren’t.

The visual and audio allusions to the “Star Wars” series are plentiful (yes, I heard the Wilhelm scream during the chase scene at Skywalker Ranch). There are a large number of cameos from the likes of Billy Dee Williams, Carrie Fisher and William Shatner. Most of these appearances never popped for me and felt like going through the motions.

It’s telling that the most enjoyable “Star Wars” homage was a DVD outtake where the lead characters are traveling down the road when they break into the “Yub Nub” celebration song that the Ewoks sing at the end of “Return of the Jedi” (which was wrongly cut in the special editions). That scene fully encompassed the joy of being a fan in a way that largely seemed absent in the actual film.

One of the larger points the movie tries to make is the trope that the journey with friends is often better than the destination. On this point, it barely succeeds — the protagonists’ journey echoes and calls back the intense worldwide hype and buildup to “The Phantom Menace” and notes that that experience is worthwhile even if the actual movie may be a letdown.

If you are a fan of “Star Wars” or similar franchises, this film is probably worth three stars. For the general audience, it’s more like two — definitely a rental in any case.

Ultimately, “Fanboys” is serviceable, but there are greater and funnier tributes to sci-fi fandom, including “Galaxy Quest” and the “Futurama” episode “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.” Both of those are seen as tips of the hat to “Star Trek,” so I’ll let you guess who I think has won this round of “Star Trek vs. Star Wars.”

Just for fun, here’s a barbershop quartet singing the Yub Nub song: