Look, I was there, okay? I was nine years old when “Star Wars” opened in 1977 and saw it with my father and brother about a dozen times during its initial run. I’m no stranger to obsessive fandom, either, even if the vices of my current old age are Doris Wishman movies rather than Boba Fett action figures. So I don’t begrudge the superfans, the folks who costume themselves for conventions, argue online about trivia and spend hard-earned bucks on overpriced toys and trading cards. It’s a bleak world and those of us lucky enough to live in the civilized sectors still have plenty of boredom and horror to deal with, so follow your bliss. Just don’t tell me that “Saving Star Wars,” a film made by, for and about the most devoted Force fans, functions as credible entertainment for anyone who isn’t one.
Woody is a lifelong “Star Wars” fan with a terminally ill son. Although they agree with the rest of us that “Episode I” sucked like a Hoover, father and son have bonded over the films, and the ailing boy wants George Lucas to restore the series to its former glory and continue making future episodes so his father can enjoy them after he’s gone. He writes a letter to this effect and asks his father to deliver it to Lucas, who is visiting the Star Wars Celebration convention in Indiana. With old buddy Hank in tow, Woody makes the scene, but his request to speak with the famous director is rebuffed and he finds himself thrown to the curb. Through an unbelievable chain of events, Woody and Hank accidentally kidnap Lucas and hold him hostage in his hotel room, lecturing him all the while about forgetting his debt to the fans that made his fortune. Meanwhile, the script for “Episode III” has been stolen, and in the course of retrieving it from the guilty party, Woody learns something about himself and his lifelong fandom.
The themes at play here are worth exploring. How much does an artist owe the fans that provide a paycheck and a platform? Is it possible to reconcile childhood obsession and adult reality? The cloying sentimentality of “Saving Star Wars” distracts from serious perusal of these questions and the weak, obvious humor ensures they are never answered. The characters are unappealing (Woody might be in terrible emotional pain, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s an a*****e) and the cast gives us performances informed by bad sit-coms and cheap TV movies. The clichés are too common to work, and these boys seem to see all females as bubbleheads, b*****s or scar fetishists.
As a protest against the declining quality of the “Star Wars” franchise, however, writer/director Gary Wood succeeds, dramatizing the secret hopes of a million fans in the guise of a little boy with terminal cancer. Personally, I say George Lucas has been flipping us the bird ever since “The Empire Strikes Back” ended with Han Solo frozen in carbonite, but many are still true believers, waiting for a return of that magic we felt the first time “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” crawled across an infinite span of stars. The fantasy of kidnapping Lucas and giving him what for after a lifetime of dedicated consumerism must be appealing to more than a few “Star Wars” fans, and for them, “Saving Star Wars” will have particular weight. Those folks will also enjoy the film’s location shooting at the actual 2002 Celebration as well as an amusing performance from David Prowse as himself. Regrettably, there isn’t much to recommend for any other demographic than the very fans at the heart of this limp dramedy.