Judge Eric Profancik dares you to cross this line.
"I like the movie, but I know some that are obsessed with them."
There is nothing wrong with having a passion—any passion. From the grand to the genteel, hobbies and interests help us pass the time, make friends, and spend a few dollars. Millions gorge on the stats of their favorite sport's players, smaller groups get together to discuss recently read books, conventions are held to help Trekkies live long and prosper, and still others have The Force recognized as an official national religion. "Whatever floats your boat," I always say. I'm certainly not one to criticize anyone's passion considering how lovingly I dote upon the Star Trek universe. We just need to remember that our world is a diverse and wonderful place, and just because you don't get it doesn't mean it's wrong.
Facts of the Case
In 1999, George Lucas returned to his golden goose and released Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It was an event without precedent. Fifteen years of pent-up geek excitement was ready to explode upon the second coming of the Jedi. This anticipation manifested itself in many ways that year, but none was more noteworthy or newsworthy than the Countdown line. Starting 42 days before the movie's May 19 release, a group of the most fanatic and stalwart fans began to line up in front of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. They wanted to be the first to buy tickets and see the first midnight showing of the new film.
Budding and intrepid auteur Tariq Jalil grabbed his handy dandy digital camera and began to document this line. A Galaxy Far Far Away is an examination of those 42 days and other expressions of fandom in the Star Wars universe. What makes a Star Wars fan tick?
Most readers of this site know I am a Trekkie. I'm fairly hardcore in that I have all the DVDs, lots of collectibles, have gone to Vegas just to go to The Experience before it shut down (on top of three previous visits), have been to multiple conventions (some in uniform), have worked security for a convention, and other truly horrific fanatic stuff. I tell you this so you know that I understand being a fan of something and throwing all your heart, soul, and passion into it. To that, I am a big Star Wars fan, but not as much as I am a Trekkie. Yes, I remember leaving work early in 1999 to go wait in line to buy my Phantom Menace tickets, but that was one afternoon, not 42 days. (Nowadays, you just go to MovieTicket.com and don't wait in line, which is what I just did to buy my tickets for the new Star Trek.)
I asked to review A Galaxy Far Far Away for I believed I would feel some level of kinship with those documented in this feature. Unfortunately, I was disappointed almost from the start as this film fails as many of its predecessors have. While director Tariq Jalil wanted to go inside the universe of this phenomenon and see what makes said phenomena and its fans tick, he did not succeed. Along the way there had to be an intent to embrace and potentially exalt these exuberant fans, but that did not happen. As with the film Trekkies, when you focus on the hardcore fans, it backfires. Instead of highlighting the geek and his life and making him understandable, you make him seem ridiculous and sad. That happened in Trekkies, Trekkies 2, and now here in A Galaxy Far Far Away. It is so very difficult to make such rabid appreciation of a couple of movies seem normal and mainstream.
But is that my problem? Am I watching this film from a mainstream perspective, hoping that the world at large will get it? No, I am not. I am a sci-fi geek and that is the target audience. I live in this world, and I still blush and hang my head in shame when I see the antics of those filmed. Sometimes people honestly just go too far in their appreciation of a thing, and yet it's those people that are the most interesting cinematically. That's why they end up in the film, and that's why the film doesn't work. Including these extreme examples is the logical choice, but it destroys your case in making them seem sane.
Yet it is not all a complete loss. Many times in this movie the examination works, and the pure and simple joy of the fans comes through. You can relate to what they are doing, feel maybe a pang of jealousy at not being there (in line or at Celebration), and wonder if you want to try a little bit harder at being a super fan. But those moments are few and far between, overwhelmed at the sheer horror of these whacked out people.
To add a sprinkling of credibility and diversity to the mix, the film doesn't solely focus on the fans but brings in real celebrities to offer opinion and thought on the mayhem. Ranging from Joe Pesci to Roger Corman, we see very brief interviews with these celebrities as they answer some questions on the trilogy. Additionally, a couple offer some reasoned thought on the subject, like Roger Corman. But, again, it's still overshadowed by those kooky fans.
Here comes the rub to A Galaxy Far Far Away. With Tariq documenting this "historic" event of people waiting outside a movie theater for 42 days, can you guess what the most illuminating part of the documentary is? It comes in interviews with people just after seeing the midnight showing. Watching these people—who just two and a half hours earlier were dancing in the street having the time of their lives, drunk on the giddiness of the moment—now coming out of the movie somber, quiet, and introspective, most of them having realized that the movie was absolutely, positively not what they were expecting. And with that they began to wonder, why? To quote one of them:
"I wasted 42 days of my life waiting in line."
We all felt that way when we left the theater a decade ago. Fortunately, it only cost us a few hours.
Does my critique of the content corroborate that A Galaxy Far Far Away is a bad documentary? Surprisingly, no, it's not a bad movie; it's just the material doesn't work as intended. Broadening it out further, what about the technical merits and work done by Tariq Jalil in his novice attempt? There, things get a bit fuzzier as the amateur nature and burgeoning attempt show their colors. It is a small, independent production by a newbie to the industry, so you can see many flaws and imperfections across all facets of the film. It's nothing vulgar and won't scar you, but it isn't a glossy Hollywood production. Considering the topic, it's probably better off that way.
With the perfect segue available, let's move on to the technical merits of the disc. On the video front, while the packaging states this is in widescreen, I shall debate that and state it's a good, old-fashioned 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation. Rating this video is challenged by the fact that in addition to Tariq's digital video, the film utilizes a wide variety of pieces sent in by "friends" from across the country. (I was quite delighted, in fact, to see a segment from my hometown of Parma, Ohio—though I didn't recognize the exact location.) As such, some of the video looks clear and clean, with nice contrast and detail; other pieces are dirtier with less accuracy; and some pieces are a wee bit bad due to errors like color oversaturation. It's the nature of the source beast. The 2.0 audio is another mixed bag with some segments sounding better than other. For the most part it's an acceptable track with easy-to-understand dialogue, but there are a few scenes where the sound is so muffled that subtitles automatically appear. Shamefully, subtitles are not an option throughout.
This special 10th anniversary release comes with a nice smattering of bonus items:
• "10th Anniversary Interview with Producer and Director" (17:58): Director Tariq Jalil and producer Terry Tocantins have an interesting, informative, and delightfully snarky talk about their movie. I found it more entertaining than the movie. Sorry.
• 10th Anniversary Commentary with Producer and Director: Available either as audio only or with MST3K silhouetting, this is an honest, self-deprecating yet still interesting yet snarky talk about the movie.
• Original Audio Commentary: Still featuring Tariq and Terry but also adding in Mikee Schwinn and Jeremy Elwood, this track was the first commentary included on the first DVD release. As such, it's far more serious and thusly less interesting than the new commentary.
• Deleted Scenes (15:07): A smattering of scene extensions and full-out additional material. As I wasn't enthused with the movie, more of it didn't work for me.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Now for some final nitpicks:
All of the tribute bands or Star Wars themed bands are really, really horrible. Why even include them? Bad people and bad music just don't deserve any encouragement.
The scene in Toys "R" Us with the midnight release of the new toy line was scary. Not only do you have throngs of fanatics buying ridiculous quantities of toys, but to then compare it to food lines in Kosovo…I'm at a loss for words. If this were a "real" documentary, that had the potential to be a powerful moment.
The last five minutes is spent focusing on a couple fans and their deep, personal issues. Why? This is totally out of place and does not impart any emotional significance to the movie.
I feel bad about besmirching this film, but it just doesn't work. Parallel to the quote from one of the fans just leaving the midnight showing, you just can't shine a positive light on everything. It is what it is and rabid fandom is something appreciated only by those who are already there. And I mean really out there. I wanted to find a level of camaraderie with those portrayed, but I too couldn't help but feel pity for them.
In the end, what's really bad is that A Galaxy Far Far Away is boring. As weird and off-the-wall the fans are the filmmakers are too serious with this documentary. It's the wrong tone coupled with the wrong subjects. With that said, I can't recommend this one. It's just not interesting, not involving, and falls short like The Phantom Menace itself.
A Galaxy Far Far Away is hereby found guilty of illegal trade embargoing. It is sentenced to 42 days community service. The Force is weak with this one. Court adjourned.
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