BY JAYSON PETERS, TRIBUNE
A long time ago, in a theater not so far away, many childhoods were ground into dust under the heel of a George Lucas empire run amok. I’ve moved on — really.
The road-trip comedy Fanboys, however, drags us back to the halcyon days of 1998 when the Star Wars prequels were something to look forward to, instead of something to make excuses for.
Fanboys follows a group of twentysomething friends — one of whom is dying of cancer — who decide to break into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to steal the rough cut of Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Along the way they run afoul of the law, gay bikers and Vegas pimps.
Much like this perilous journey, the movie has seen a tortured route to the big screen: It was supposed to be out nearly two years ago but was beset with reshoots and behind-the-scenes drama.
At one point the cancer plot was to be cut in favor of more raunchy humor and pointless geek-bashing; that would have been a huge mistake, for if the movie has a bright center it is in these five young people dealing with the loss they know is coming. This is its where the real story lies.
Now for the dark side. Fanboys overdoes it a bit in two areas.
The first is the Star Wars-geeks-vs.-Star Trek-nerd subplot, which simply goes too far. The attention to Star Wars detail is most impressive – with sound effects provided by Lucasfilm – while the reduction of Trekkies (or Trekkers, as they insist) to slathering idiots in pajamas is just sloppy.
The second is the cameos — William Shatner, Kevin Smith, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and Seth Rogen, only one of whom plays himself – but they’re harmless fun and Fisher’s lines especially are priceless.
But it’s not these big stars who shine in Fanboys, it’s the core cast: Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Million Dollar Baby), Dan Fogler (Kung Fu Panda, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), Sam Huntington (Superman Returns, Not Another Teen Movie), Chris Marquette (The Girl Next Door, Another World), and Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pulse and TV’s Veronica Mars).
If these lovable losers aren’t you, they’re your brother or friend or cubicle mate.
I didn’t “camp out” for any of the Star Wars movies. I did stand in line for every episode since “Return of the Jedi” — not as long as others, but just enough to see the magical midnight showings.
And yet, I am fanboy. I grew up with “Jedi” curtains and bedclothes and accrued way too many Star Wars collectibles in my time on this planet. So I can identify with Kyle Newman’s cute retro slacker comedy.
The movie is rated PG-13 for pervasive crude and sexual material, language and drug content — and it means it. While there are some lighter moments, it’s best to leave the padawans with Master Yoda.