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Jedi Junkies

Cast: Ed Sanchez, Olivia Munn, Peter Mayhew, Ray Park, Jeremy Bulloch

(Docurama Films; US DVD: 12 Jan 2013)

I saw Star Wars on the day it was released, back in the summer of 1977. I was 13 years old, a soon-to-be ninth grader: in other words, the perfect target demographic for George Lucas’s eye-popping eye candy. And it was eye candy: that opening sequence, with the huge Imperial ship chasing down the rebel vessel, remains seared into my memory. In the midst of the blaster barrage, I remember turning to my sister, eight years my senior and just as awestruck, and saying: “Holy shit.”


Later, as we exited the theatre, my brother—six years older than I—raced with me down the line of bemused moviegoers waiting to get into the next show: we peppered them with imaginary blaster fire. A few chuckled, many more looked puzzled. It was okay though: they’d understand soon enough. Boy, would they ever.


I mention all this as a way of saying: I get Star Wars. I get the magic of it, the fandom of it, the appeal of immersing oneself in a colorful, imaginative universe. Although I would never describe myself as a “fan” in terms of obsessive fixation—there are just too many movies out there, not to mention too many real-world experiences I’d like to get lost in one day—I do understand, to a small degree, the impulse of fandom. After all, I saw the film five times that summer.


That said, though, there is much more to uber-fandom that I don’t understand. There’s a great deal to the phenomenon that remains to be explored and illuminated. What a shame, then, that this documentary so utterly fails to do any such thing.


Jedi Junkies purports to be an exploration of Star Wars fandom, but it does little more than scratch the surface. If you’d like to hear some people talk about their collection of action figures and light sabres, well, step right up. But if you’re looking for anything deeper—any kind of insight, for example, as to why a person might feel the need to fill his living room with unopened boxes of hoarded toys—well, you’re out of luck.


Broadly speaking, the documentary focuses on three broad categories of fans: those who hoard collectibles and toys, those who dress up as their favorite characters (typically the “slave Leia” from The Empire Strikes Back, but also various light sabre-wielding types), and those who make their own fan films. The bulk of the original footage consists of talking-head interviews, with considerable padding from publicly available sources (i.e., YouTube videos of those fan films) and some footage from various Star Wars conventions. There is not a great deal here, in other words; take out the fan film, and the movie’s slim 70 minute running time drops to barely an hour.


That said, “Chad Vader” is a very funny, very clever fan series focusing on Darth Vader’s little brother, Chad, who is the manager of a grocery store. It’s well worth a look even for non-fans, but it’s not necessary to watch this DVD in order to enjoy it. The episodes are freely available on YouTube.


Some of the interviews are interesting enough. Ed Sanchez, producer of The Blair Witch Project, turns out to be a lifelong fanatic with a basement full of toys, and his genial presence adds an air of good nature to the otherwise bewildering testimonials of fans who, at times, sacrifice living space (and beds) to their useless collections. Easy-on-the-eyes Olivia Munro (Attack of the Show) is there to add humor and snarky comments of the “What is wrong with these people?” variety. The rest of the interviewees, however, exhibit a remarkable lack of insight as to what they do and why. The occasional soundbite from a “psychologist” does nothing to address this.


It’s easy enough to speculate that fandom acts as a surrogate for, say, organized religion, especially given the strong overtones of religiosity that the franchise deals with (a child born to deliver the universe from an oppressive empire, a priesthood that uses the “force” of good to fight evil). There are saints and sinners, angels and devils. With church attendance dropping off, is it too much to suggest that fandom’s elaborate role playing and the feeling of brother/sisterhood that it often engenders is something of a replacement ritual for people who, in an earlier era, might have dressed up in nativity or passion plays? Such ideas will need to wait until the next documentary—this one is too busy showing us the guy who sells wicked cool light sabres through the mail.


The DVD itself a few bonus features, including a director’s commentary and some deleted/extended scenes, which are essentially more of what is already present on the disc. Three brief featurettes round out the extras, but these do little to deepen what is a very shallow consideration of the topic. Even “The Cult of Slave Leia”, which might be expected to ask such questions as why it is Princess Leia as a slave who excites such devotion and mimicry, prefers instead to linger on pretty young women in flouncy outfits gushing over their Yoda dolls.


This film isn’t worth watching unless you’re in it. It’s more of a pep rally for Star Wars fans than anything else; viewers looking to deepen their understanding of what motivates these super-fans will find themselves disappointed.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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