(Fourth or Fifth Viewing, On Blu-ray, November 2018) Popular opinion has it that The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie, and even a recent look as a jaded middle-aged man (who’s happy not to be eight years old any more) does little to convince otherwise. The much-better dialogue helps a lot, but it’s impossible to discount the impact of three memorable locations (Hoth, Dagobah and Bespin) along with a sombre finale that raises the stakes for all characters. Irwin Kirshner is also a better director, and the actors understand what they’re trying to do—Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher still run circles around Mark Hamill, but the film benefits a lot from the addition of Billy Dee Williams as the truly cool Lando Carlissian. Screenwriter Leigh Brackett (a written SF legend) does her best work in spinning the Han/Leia romance carefully through a series of antagonistic interactions. The special effects are generally successful, and I’ll note that the 1997 digital enhancements seem more natural here than in the overstuffed re-edit of A New Hope. I hadn’t seen the film since its 1997 re-release in theatres and I found it much better than its immediate prequel.
(On DVD, December 2010) I’ll be one of the first to bemoan the increasing cooptation of geeks from social outcasts to lucrative market segment, but even I have to admit that Fanboys is a fun comedy aimed squarely at that audience. The story of four Star-Wars-loving friends racing to steal an early copy of The Phantom Meance from Skywalker ranch, Fanboys gleefully indulges in geek references, inside jokes and enough re-quoted dialogue to qualify as a derivative work. I’m not sure why I was expecting something cheap, because the end result is polished B-movie, low-budget but not necessarily unpleasant to look at. The actors do their best (Jay Baruchel shows up in a decent early role, even showing his maple leaf chest tattoo), but it’s really the geekery of the film that takes center-stage in reflecting in the state of fandom circa winter 1999, still hoping that George Lucas would pull off a new trilogy of classic Star Wars films. (Part of the film’s humour is in the knowing references to the post-1999 reputation of The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks or Harrison Ford) The geek stereotypes are extreme, but good-natured and even endearing when it comes to the five heroes of the story. If nothing else, fans should see Fanboys for the succession of cameos and bit parts for notables such as William Shatner, Danny Trejo, Seth Rogen (in three different roles), Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and many more. (Only Kevin Smith’s cameo feels rushed and incoherent.) There’s also a snappy pop soundtrack. Fanboys isn’t much of a comedy without the geek references (people without knowledge of the Star Wars universe, in particular, will miss out on much), but it’s good enough to exceed low expectations. [Classification note for metadata nerds: The film was shot in 2007, pushed back numerous times during the film’s troubled production history and eventually released in theaters and DVD in 2009. IMDB thinks it’s a 2008 film, but I’m listing it here as a 2009 release.]