Attack of the Nerds: Fanboys Makes a Joyride out of Looking Forward to Star Wars

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Jay Baruchel.
Credits: Gage Skidmore. CC License.

Remember when, back in 1999, the Star Wars hype was almost as huge, if not even bigger, than this year? After an absence of more than a decade and a half, the saga was about to return with Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and expectations were through the roof. Fanboys, a 2009 comedy by director Kyle Newman, feeds to the frenzy of that time. As the title suggests, you might be in for a wild ride if you belong to the eponymous group. Does the film satisfy in that regard, however, and – on top of that – is it also a movie that’s fun to watch for non-Fanboys?

Four old high-school friends meet again at a house party. Windows (Jay Baruchel) is a nerd who doesn’t leave the house without his trusty notebook. He runs a comic book store with Hutch (Dan Fogler), who lives in his mom’s garage. Linus (Chris Marquette) is an aspiring comic book artist who doesn’t really get his feet off the ground, either. The only one who attempts to establish himself in a serious profession is Eric Bottler (Sam Huntington), who works as a car salesman for his dad Big Chuck’s (Christopher McDonald) company but can’t exactly claim to be too happy with his decision.

Apart from the lack of women, except for the geeky but pretty Zoe (Kristen Bell), what the four nerds have in common is their love for everything Star Wars – and their disgust for everything Star Trek. When Eric finds out that his former best friend Linus is terminally ill, he convinces his three friends to finally make good on their old promise to break into the George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch because they want to see The Phantom Menace well before its theatrical release. On the road, they encounter a number of hostile Trekkies, surprises, and numerous cracking adventures.

Fanboys definitely caters to audiences who are familiar with both the Star Wars and the Star Trek universes, otherwise many of its allusions will be lost on the viewers. It also incorporates elements from the stoner comedies by Judd Apatow and Kevin Smith (as can be seen by the different Seth Rogen cameos) as well as pop culture in general. The movie does a really nice job in establishing a late-1990s atmosphere and capturing the zeitgeist of the pre-9/11 era of slow internet only reserved for geeks, Chumbawumba in the charts, and fun in the vein of the aforementioned movies and American Pie.

If profanity disturbs you, you should probably better keep your hands off Fanboys. The humor is frequently below the belt, in part because the nerds fail so horribly with all females short of Zoe, but also for the language pretty much all of the characters use. On the other hand, Fanboys is also a heartwarming story. Four people embark on a road trip, an earthly ‘trek’ if you so will, to fulfill their dying friend’s dearest wish. Despite a modest budget, this premise was apparently enough to attract the likes of William Shatner, Danny Trejo, Carrie Fisher, Kevin Smith, and Billy Dee Williams for cameos.

Since Fanboys originally came out a decade after The Phantom Menace had largely disenchanted a good chunk of the longtime Star Wars buffs, the movie also plays nicely with the predictions and hopes some of the aficionados had initially had for Episode I. The pimp Roach (Seth Rogen), for instance, expects Jar-Jar Binks to be an awesome character. We all know how that turned out. It’s also telling that the four male antiheroes plus Zoe eventually need the help of the horrible Trekkies to reach the Skywalker Ranch – the Shangri-La for every Star Wars and Indiana Jones fan.

In case you’re well-versed with the original saga by George Lucas, Fanboys will make you grin from ear to ear for the better part of its 90-minute running time. There’s much to like about it, beginning with the Star Wars-like opening with titles saying ‘Episode VII: The Saga Continues’ and the countless references to the franchise and pop culture all through the movie. Where else would the Canadian progressive rock legends of Rush be celebrated in such a manner? The scene may not be as iconic as the “Bohemian Rhapsody” sequence in Wayne’s World, but it’s brilliant in its own right.

Those who fell for the Episode I buzz back in the day will undoubtedly see a bit of the nerds in themselves. Toward the end of the last millennium, millions of fans went to the theaters and went giddy in expectation of The Phantom Menace. Fanboys leaves it up in the air whether the protagonists actually like the 1999 Star Wars movie, although Eric’s question ‘What if the movie sucks?’ might be indication enough. If you dig any of the old episodes – or even the current The Force Awakens – go check out Fanboys. It’s a delightful little comedy, perhaps even to non-aficionados.