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Galaxy Quest: 20 Years Later and Are Fandoms Different?

Galaxy Quest crew

This winter marks the 20th anniversary of the comedy Galaxy Quest. The film is a romp that explores a couple of different comedic ideas: 1) What it be like to be on the cast of a long dead science fiction television show a la Star Trek and 2) if that science fiction world somehow came to life.

If you have never watched it, you definitely should. It is well cast, has some good performances and some great comedic beats. There is a reason why not long after the movie came out it was voted the 7th best Star Trek movie by Trekkies in a survey. (Especially if you like the Orville television show, it is pretty clear that some of its DNA can be found in this movie.)

But the thing that strikes me about the film when run through our modern lens is how it deals with fandom. The set up of the movie is that the actors have all basically been stuck playing in the same roles even though the show has been off the air for years. Alan Rickman remembers that he was once a great Shakespearean actor before becoming a Vulcan-like character with a catchphrase and some weird body adornment through makeup. And you get the gist that these actors aren’t quite so grateful for the fans.

Of course, Tim Allen plays a Captain Kirk-like hero and basks in the attention. He seems to do pretty well for himself just by showing up, shaking hands and signing some autographed 8x10s. When some kids approach him with a question about the schematics of the show, he takes out some latent frustration on them and falls into a drunken haze but not before agreeing to help the Thermians, who are an actual alien race asking for help.

Galaxy Quest Thermians

Part of what I love about the movie is that the Thermians take on the rolls of the adoring superfans. But, because they don’t have the capacity for lies and deceit, they don’t understand that the show episodes that they have collected in space and adapted their people around are fictional television episodes. Over the course of some shenanigans, they find themselves in the place like the guy from the classic wrestling video: “It’s still real to me.”

And so, in a world where we can become so jaded, is there still a place for genuine fans? Is it wrong to want to see the best in something? After the big revelation that Galaxy Quest is a made up show, the crew slowly starts to realize that while they may not meet the highest standards that the fan Thermians have, they can do some thing and they work together to defeat the enemies, aided from Earth by the nerdy kids that the Captain lashed out at, which adds even another layer of commentary of fandom.

So, how do we help the fanbases of things be healthy? How do we make sure that we treat the fans of things with respect and honor? What are some of the dangers when fandom gets pushed too far?