5/26/10

Jedi Junkies - Documentary Review and some Feminist Digressions

I was excited to get an email about a new Star Wars fan documentary, “Jedi Junkies”. Excited, but nervous. With documentaries about fans, you never know what you're going to get until you start watching. Sometimes the results are great, other times you know that a director saw an entire fan base of people to tap into for the sole purpose of making fun of them. A la, “Trekkies”, which was funny, but you can't help but feel as you're watching it that they specifically looked for some unstable fans to highlight as if they were making a Christopher Guest mockumentary.

So you'll pardon me for being nervous. I have a great sense of humor about being a geek. So it's not that I'm oversensitive. It's just that, if you seen one, “let's make fun of these weirdos” documentaries, you've seen them all. I'm feeling similarly apprehensive about the news that Morgan Spurlock will be making a Comic-Con documentary this year. Be wary boys and girls, that's all I'm saying. If you want to be in the doc, just know that it all gets shaped in the editing room later and if they want to make you look like a freak, even if you're not, they absolutely can.

But a few minutes into, “Jedi Junkies”, I was breathing a sigh of relief. This is not one of those documentaries...


Right away, we're introduced to a slew of rabid Star Wars fans, most of them extremely productive in their fanhood and wanting to share the love. There are the collectors who make a living selling merchandise at shows, the collectors who simply collect (One of whom is covered in Star Wars tattoos, something I can relate to as I have a rebel alliance symbol and the Trek communicator on my right arm.) and people who have built careers and lives out of their devotion to Star Wars.

One man makes artful custom light sabers for a living, another sculpted a huge Millennium Falcon in a friend's backyard for a fan film, and the famed New York Jedi play a huge part throughout the overall narrative. There are fan scene celebrities included too, including Olivia Munn (Who almost always manages to turn the conversation about geekdom into a reason to discuss sex/sexuality in her various interviews across publications, likely because that's what her interviewers are asking her about.), the men responsible for the hilarious and popular, “Chad Vader” videos, and Peter Mayhew and Ray Park also make appearances along with other notable Star Wars alumni.

If I have one complaint about this movie, it's a mild lack of structure. We jump back and forth a lot from person to person, topic to topic, sometimes via very light connective tissue making it hard to keep pace sometimes or remember who people are after their brief introductions. The pacing is, at times, frenetic, and we can feel the filmmakers' need to squeeze it all in.  It is, in other ways, effective in the sense that if also mimics some of the frantic energy and rapid-fire pacing of some of the individuals being interviewed and the buzzing experience of walking any con floor.

This is likely a personal preference thing, but I wanted to spend longer bouts of time with these unique individuals. On occasion, the camera is allowed to stay with a person or group of people for an extended period of time and these are the most rewarding segments of the film when we're able to stay with people long enough to hear their personal stories, the "why" behind their "what". The time crunch will likely not bother anyone who isn't a rabid documentary fan or a film critic or an editor. So, not to worry. I can't think of a better criticism for a film than to say you wanted more of it, more time to take it all in.  

The film knows what it wants to be despite the sometimes rushed pacing, so people like myself who may wish that the ship was steered a little to the left or right at times still won't be disappointed, though we will remain curious. One collector, the one with all the tattoos, seems to be right at the edge of some kind of emotional breakthrough. He speaks of his habit of collecting sometimes in a negative way, as if he's grappling with a vulnerable life transition, asking himself what it all means. But we don't get to hear his further feelings on that, as the film stays all the time with the layer of Star Wars devotion that stays closest to our surface as admitted geeks. There are so many people covered in this film, that I would guess there was genuinely not time to delve any further.

We do get some cutaways to therapists talking about the impetus to collect and the mild OCD associated with doing so, thus offering a little bit more context, even though those moments seem to be pushing the film in a direction it doesn't quite want to go. The film wants to stay with the fan and make no apologies for that. The therapists seem to want to almost apologize for the collectors they're discussing, explaining away their motivations as entirely psychological and never taking into account a genuine love of pop culture. It almost offers an outside perspective on this phenomenon that is largely a mystery to non-Star Wars fans, or heck, even the Star Wars neutral of the world. However, that outside medical perspective is limited to just the collecting segments of the doc. Some people will want to hear more from them, some people will wish they weren't there at all. Such is life when watching any movie. 

This is not a criticism. The film itself is another piece of evidence from a Star Wars fan (I'm guessing, as the film feels cultivated with love and care.) and the scope feels like it's intended to make broad points. If we were to focus on the collector's story any more, there wouldn't be time for the celebrity interviews, or the fan band “AeroSith”, or the Slave Leias.

My readers will already know that I've got some issues with Slave Leia culture, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the Slave Leias are always beautiful women with amazing costume-crafting skills. Suffice it to say, it would've been cool to have seen some fans who maybe have an alternative view or even some deeper thoughts on the culture of Slave Leias at all the cons. But sometimes that's the beauty of a documentary, they give you the evidence and you decide what to make of it on your own.

In one scene, a Slave Leia belly dancer remarks giddily that at the end of her act she is pulled offstage by a man who comes and grabs her neck chain yanking her offstage, much in the same way that Jabba likes to command his slaves. 

The woman doing the dancing is completely innocent and genuinely just having a good time giving the fans what they want, but some viewers will flinch. In moments like that, I wished again for more time or a slower doc, (or perhaps a sequel?) longing for the film to ask questions of what that means for the little girls who come to watch the dancers and the fetishization in general of the one scene throughout any of the Star Wars films where female characters are marginalized in a big way. (I'm not anti-Slave Leia by the way...it's a whole 'nother beef and if you want to know more about it, you can click on the link above two paragraphs earlier. It's not my most popular opinion, but what can I say? A critic is supposed to tell the truth about how they feel.)

But this ain't college lit class. It's a fun documentary well worth a watch. It does what all good documentaries should do. It leaves you wishing there was more, makes you curious about the people featured, and brings up opinions on Star Wars related issues you might not have even known you had before viewing, a la my squirmy moment of feminist (and yes, slightly pretentious) concern.

In a way, the film feels like it holds the possibilities for longer versions of documentaries about each individual featured. I work in production fairly often, and the sheer amount of coverage they must've had to get to make this film is impressive. I can't imagine how many hours they shot to get this done. They have nothing but respect from me as a Star Wars fan and as somebody who knows what it takes to get a monster like this finished, from travel costs to equipment to the hours of labor cutting it down to the way that it maybe spilled over into the personal lives of the people helping to get it done. If the documentary features the higher end fan films, then this is a high end fan doc.

I say, definitely see it. Especially if you're a Star Wars fan. In a perfect world, the doc would be a touch longer with a bit of a more focused and intensive lens at key moments (Mr. Conflicted Collector) and more varying opinions on what it means to be a Star Wars fan. (As does happen in the case of the collectors, some seem to have their head on straight, others seem to be experiencing anxiety over their habit.)

It's an engaging film absolutely crammed with entertaining material, one that I had to watch all the way through without stopping, and one that is very obviously a labor of love that respects its subjects instead of chopping up their interviews to make them look foolish or to get a laugh. Kudos to the filmmaker, Mark Edlitz, for that especially. Most importantly, I think people who don't love Star Wars would have a good time watching this, and it may even give them a little window of insight into our crazy devotion.

The best thing about the film, for me, was the way it captured the spirit of fun and community among us.  When I go to any convention, no matter the size, I'm instantly among friends. Instantly. The film shows that, it shows how much fun the children of Star Wars geeks get to have, it shows the healthy side of loving Star Wars, the productive side, and the inspired side. If you're a Star Wars fan, I dare you to watch this and not walk away feeling like you want to use your devotion to give something back to the world by using your gifts and talents. We've had enough bad examples and stereotypes of what it means to be a geek, this doc is playing a part in restoring the image of the Star Wars fan and possibly even motivating fans who didn't know what to do with all that intense energy before.

If anything, this film is a reminder that there could (and should) be more documentaries that explore even deeper the likes of geekdom. I could watch an entire doc about Slave Leias, the New York Jedi, and all female Star Wars fans as there seems to be a consistent lack of varied female voices among most geek culture. Sidebar: As I've said before, the temptation for female geeks to take on the sexual attributes of men's geek fantasies sometimes overpowers their willingness to find their own place in the geekosphere...and don't even get me started on the posers. It's just too easy to undo a button, throw on a school girl skirt and buy a pair of drug store glasses in order to fit the mold, in order to seek approval or acceptance. To which I say, that doesn't automatically make you a geek. Again, I'm not anti-sexy, I'm just anti-poser and pro self-esteem. I know plenty of women who wear drugstore glasses and the Slave Leia costume and have a healthy amount of self-esteem. End Sidebar.

I could also watch a flick about kid fans, just collectors, and the list goes on and on. It's a fascinating universe, not just the universe of Star Wars, but each and every facet of Star Wars fandom on the whole. It never ceases to amaze me how three little movies spawned so much of an alternate culture in reality that just keeps going and going and going. Even in my own life.

Watch the preview below and when you have time, I encourage you to watch the entire thing. At the risk of stepping over the line of objectivity and sounding like an advertisement (probably too late for that) I should mention that you can watch the entire doc for free at DailyMotion.com HERE

3 comments:

  1. Audrey,

    Mark Edlitz here. I produced and directed the documentary.

    You wrote, by far, my favorite review (slash feminist digressions) about Jedi Junkies.

    You really "got" what we were trying to do. We wanted to show how people use their love of Star Wars and based on their own personal interests (costuming, collecting, music making etc), they can create something new and unique.
    Their expression of those passions is in some ways separate and dare I say larger than the 6 movies.

    We tried to walk the fine line of celebrating fandom but also understanding some of the motivations behind it.

    Thanks again for writing such a thoughtful and insightful review.

    Best wishes,
    Mark

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  2. It was absolutely my pleasure. I truly loved the movie for the exact reasons you're talking about! I love the part where Peter Mayhew talks about fans who have come up to him and talked about how Star Wars launched their careers, usually in the creative arts. I know I for one am doing what I do for a living because of the way that Star Wars and Indiana Jones gave me this craving for adventure! I am just so happy and proud to FINALLY see a doc that treats us like human beings who actually give back to the world, especially the NY Jedi. SO thank YOU for making this film. I really have been recommending it to everyone.

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