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Galaxy Far Far Away: 10th Anniversary Edition, A

Other // Unrated // March 24, 2009
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted April 26, 2009 | E-mail the Author
As Luke once said, what a piece of junk.

The arrival of "The Phantom Menace" into theaters in May 1999 remains one of movie history's biggest events. Here was a film with sixteen years of anticipation riding nervously atop it, a film that could inspire fans to camp out on city sidewalks for five weeks to secure a spot at the first screenings.

This, in turn, inspired several filmmakers to pick up their cameras and capture the anticipation; the result was several documentaries about the earnest silliness of "Star Wars" fandom. Which brings me to "A Galaxy Far, Far Away," a clumsy, mean-spirited, and downright stupid documentary that's inexplicably earned a re-release.

Director Tariq Jalil, who also serves as narrator and at times inserts himself into the film in a bit of misplaced make-me-a-star hope, begins the film by admitting he's no fan of "Star Wars" and wonders what's at the root of all the excitement; that claim is something of a lie, though, as it's obvious Jalil and his crew are really just looking for some geek freaks to mock. In fact, Jalil admits as much on the commentary track, although he quickly follows this with an assertion that he was surprised at the amount of personal depth they found from their subjects. But while the interviewees do open up about their problems, Jalil and his crew offer no depth as they crudely hope to connect in a few stories about bad childhoods to the broader "Star Wars" fan base, concluding that everybody loves those movies because their daddies weren't nice.

Which is bull, and I think Jalil knows it - of course you're going to find some sob stories when you're hunting down the loneliest and the weirdest and most desperate Hollywood has to offer. While Jalil solicited footage from other premieres across the country, the focus remains almost entirely at L.A.'s famous Chinese Theater, partially because that's where the biggest line event was happening, but mainly because Hollywood's the best place to find weirdos hungry for camera time. Several people who make it on camera aren't even there for the line, but just to get exposure, like the woman who dresses up like Charlie Chaplin for the tourists, or the jerk who drives around with a giant papier-mâché mock-up of his own head in hopes of landing an acting gig. Meanwhile, the street performer who bills himself as a rapping Boba Fett might be an honest fan, but he's also a Hollywood loony with fame, not tickets, on his mind. (A more genuine look at fandom might have been found in a smaller city, but I guess those nerds would've been too likable and relatable.)

Of those that aren't attention hogs, Jalil seeks out the strangest and saddest, listening to tales of alcoholism and family troubles. There's zero effort here to effectively analyze these people. Jalil stops just long enough to hear a guy with thick glasses and funny teeth talk about being bullied as a kid, then moves on to the next loser. Sincerity and sympathy feels faked, dumped on us in order to help build a thin central theme of dorks using the films as therapy.

Since that's not enough, the filmmaker also zeroes in on a throwaway comment made by legendary B-movie maven Roger Corman, whose intelligent interview is the lone highlight of the documentary. Corman lovingly describes Lucas' creations as big-budget B-flicks, then quickly mentions how some fans can turn their love of the franchise's minutia into a sort of personal religion.

It's a nice thought, but Jalil misinterprets it, and then pushes the argument that fans - the ones that might not fit into the "troubled childhood" pocket - are nutty agnostics in desperate search of spiritual meaning, using the Force as their own new religion. He doesn't find much to back up this theory (there's nobody here that seems to follow an actual Jedi-inspired faith in real life), but he tries anyway, repeatedly asking people if they think these kooky fans are into some sort of dork religion; it's a loaded question, and most answer "sure, I guess," which Jalil then uses to his advantage.

Despite all the "understanding" of its freak subjects the movie tries to show as it progresses, it's obvious Jalil never stops loathing them. In one scene, he visit's a Toys R Us during a midnight sale of new action figures. He makes a point of getting on camera to show his outrage over the riots that ensue, ridiculing these grown men for wanting "dolls." Footage of the chaos is intercut with video of a food riot in Kosovo, while Serious Music plays underneath, you know, to let you know Jalil is really steamed.

The sight of adults this stressed out over toys deserves much focus - the scene reveals an ugliness when collectors taking a passion too far - and in a better film, such a moment would lead to great discussion of fandom gone unchecked. Yet Jalil doesn't bother to ever talk with any of the shoppers, or the employees, or anyone, because, I guess, that might dampen his own moment in front of the camera, where he can feign Great Big Outrage. As such, it fails to fit in anywhere as a scene - the filmmaker's sudden angry tone never jibes with anything else in the documentary, except, perhaps, to remind the viewers that all fans are losers worth despising.

(This same sentiment is present every time the camera captures an attention-seeker loudly mocking the fans. Most of it was goofy performance comedy: the cast of the "Man Show" shows up once, and later, a troupe of "Star Trek" fans stop by to "protest." But Jalil spins these moments by focusing on the fans that got the angriest, as if to insist that all fans are humorless jerks. Elsewhere, a few interviewees might be allowed to mention the sense of community on display, but Jalil cuts them short, preferring to stick to a more pessimistic description.)

Other filmmaking techniques are equally crass. Most ridiculously (and most pathetically), Jalil and his crew shove their way into a celebrity golf tournament, cornering folks like Andy Garcia and Meat Loaf with questions about the "Star Wars" frenzy. The celebs are mostly good sports - except for Joe Pesci, whose "screw you, your question is stupid" brush-off is genius - but there's no reason for any of it, except to get some celebrity names in the trailer and press releases. Jalil is wasting our time with useless footage just so he could nab a better shot at selling his movie.

Jalil keeps shoving forward his geek-hating agenda right up to the end, when we're shown interviews of fans just after they finally watched the movie they waited weeks to see. The two camps of responses are divided thusly: the ones who were disappointed are the "normal," non-freaky fans, while the ones who liked the movie are rabid geeks too obsessed to see the truth. There's some wrap-up discussion about the energy of a communal experience (as well as some more self-serving narration to remind us the movie's really all about Jalil's "journey" to understand these people), but really, Jalil just wants to finish by telling us "these are stupid people who wasted their time waiting for a stupid movie, and I hate them."

Looks like Joe Pesci had the right attitude.

The DVD

Cinevolve is re-releasing "A Galaxy Far, Far Away" on disc under a new "10th Anniversary Special Edition." The moniker is a bit of a lie, though, as it counts back to the premiere of "The Phantom Menace" and not this documentary; "Galaxy" didn't get released until a festival screening in early 2001, and didn't see a wide release until it hit DVD in 2002.

Video & Audio

Shot on cheap digital video, "Galaxy" looks mostly mediocre, with a few overly grainy night shots thrown in for good measure. There are no digital compression issues visible, however. Presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame format.

The box states the soundtrack is a full 5.1 mix, but it sounds pretty stereo to me, with everything right up front. Most of the dialogue is clear in a generic sort of way, although many interviews, obviously collected using the chintzy in-camera microphone, are fuzzy and almost unlistenable. No subtitles are offered.

Extras

A set of "10th Anniversary Interviews" (17:57; 1.78:1 anamorphic) features director Tariq Jalil and Terry Tocantins, who bills himself as "the surviving producer." (The credits list other producers, but none are here. Did they abandon this movie?) The two are wholly unlikable here, full of cheap smarm and sarcasm. They're trying way, way, way too hard to crack wise and be hilarious, and then they tell of their guerilla tactics - they stole supplies from Tocantins' day job and whipped up fake press passes to get those golf interviews. Better filmmakers could get away with such shenanigans, but these guys just come off as a couple of tools.

The duo reappears in a "10th Anniversary Video Commentary," which presents the movie at the center of an 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. (Clip-art "curtains" frame a reformatted version of the movie, which is now missing its bottom third.) Jalil and Tocantins fill the bottom of the screen in silhouette, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" style (the DVD box even admits to the rip-off). Such video commentary adds nothing to the experience, but that's fine, since the filmmakers have nothing interesting to say anyway.

That commentary is also accessible as an audio track that plays over the un-reformatted version of the film, billed as the "New Commentary" on the extras menu. The discussion of the silhouettes remain, although without the accompanying visuals, they make no sense. For some reason, even though the sound is find on the video commentary, it's horrible as its own audio track, so quiet and muffled it's barely audible.

The "Old Commentary," apparently carried over from the 2002 DVD from Vanguard, teams Jalil and Tocantins with editor Mikee Schwinn and cameraman Jeremy Ides. The chat's a little fresher but still quite annoying.

A collection of deleted scenes (15:06) include a lengthy, tiresome montage of random nerd footage and, oddly, archived clips of Jalil and Tocantins promoting the film on a couple local news programs. (Seems they were always obnoxious smartasses.)

A photo gallery of production pics (1:36; 1.78:1 flat letterbox) plays in slideshow format, with crummy music underneath. It's the same music that's heard in the movie, which reminds me: what's with all the generic "local rocker" tunes heard in the movie? Did Jalil know some guys that wanted a big break for their music?

Two trailers for "Galaxy" are offered: a new one (2:22; 1.33:1) produced by Cinevolve hyping this new disc, and a short, old one (0:37; 1.33:1) made for the original release.

Trailers for other Cinevolve releases and a link to their website round out the set.

Final Thoughts

A sort of cold-hearted "Trekkies" wannabe, "A Galaxy Far, Far Away" is the worst kind of documentary: intentionally misleading, smug and arrogant, and even a little amateurish. Skip It. This little one's not worth the effort.
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