With the entire Star Wars saga now playing on IFE screens everywhere and interest in all things Skywalker at an all-time high thanks to the massive global success of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which also premiered earlier this month on most major carriers), it seems only natural that Star Wars fever would extend to the world of documentary films as well. And while there have been literally dozens of Star Wars documentaries over the years covering everything from the series’ ties to real-life historical events and Greek mythology in the Emmy-nominated Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed, to the cheeky, Lucasfilm-produced mockumentary R2-D2: Beneath the Dome, documentaries about Star Wars fandom (and there have been many) have had a much spottier track record.
It’s not that one can’t make a great documentary about fandom. 2005’s Ringers: Lord of the Fans was fun and I’ve heard nothing but raves about the two Trekkies documentaries, but as 2012’s God-awful Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony doc proved, not all documentaries about fandom are created equal. Especially when said films are produced by earnest, die-hard fans who, more often than not, prove to be much better fans than filmmakers.
So, although I’ve been a hardcore Star Wars fanboy since long before the term was coined, like Luke in the cave on Dagobah, I watched the fan-produced documentary Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys recently with much trepidation. And though Galaxy wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, it wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been either. Don’t get me wrong, Galaxy definitely has its moments, but, in the end, like Luke’s experience in the cave mentioned above, Galaxy is a very mixed bag. Particularly for the uninitiated. Which isn’t to say that you need to have actually collected the toys and action figures celebrated in Galaxy to enjoy the film, but it certainly helps.
Directed by first time helmer Brian Stillman, Galaxy explores the impact that Kenner’s pioneering Star Wars toy line had on the toy industry, movie marketing tie-ins and perhaps most importantly, young Star Wars fans the world over who bought more than 300 million action figures between 1978 and 1985. Featuring interviews with authors, pop culture experts, and more rabid Star Wars toy collectors than you can shake a Tusken Raider gaffi stick at, Galaxy really comes alive in interviews with a host of former Kenner employees. Detailing just how risky and totally game-changing the Star Wars toy line was at the time, the Kenner production team share some amazing pics of early design prototypes (including a Jawa cloak crafted from one of the designer’s brown socks!) and fascinating behind-the-scenes stories from the front lines of the 3.75 inch action figure revolution.
But, sadly, things are much less interesting when the camera is turned on the fans and collectors themselves. For while they might have a pristine Early Bird Certificate Package (aka the notorious “empty box” which Kenner sold during the Christmas of 1977 to meet the demands of fans clamoring for action figures that were still in production) sitting on a shelf next to their weathered X-Wing, they just don’t make for very compelling interview subjects. And though Stillman does manage to wring a few touching, nostalgia-fueled moments from some of the aging fanboys onscreen, at the end of the day, like George Lucas’ much-maligned prequels, Galaxy just doesn’t deliver the goods.
Now playing on select Virgin Australia, Air Canada and Air New Zealand flights worldwide, Galaxy is also currently streaming on Amazon Video and iTunes.