THE FORCE AMONG US: A FAN DOCUMENTARY
30 YEAR CELEBRATION EDITION
Written by Cristian George Macht and Cortney Macht
Directed by Cristian George Macht
Macht Movie Productions Ltd in partnership with Video Acumen
“Their journey. Their story. Their way of life.”
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Just what does it mean to be a STAR WARS fan?
Are there any differences between all the fans spread out across the far reaches of the world? Is there such a thing as a unique one off STAR WARS fan, or are we all linked to an immeasurable love, no matter what age we were that suddenly clicked itself on when we saw the opening shot of that incredible Star Destroyer chasing the Blockade Runner?
Are some fans more dedicated than others? How far does dedication have to go to be categorized in that way? Should a fans love for the saga be determined by the collection that they have amassed? Does more mean less? Does less mean more? How can one fans collection be judged better than another? Or should they even be judged?
Does being in love with STAR WARS mean more to you than you think it does? Is there such a thing as an unparalleled love of it that just takes someone over so completely blindly and resolutely?
These are some of the questions to be asked, pondered upon and, for the most part, answered by STAR WARS fans/film-makers Cristian and Cortney Macht in their 86 minute movie documentary, previously updated for the previous Thirtieth Anniversary of the Saga, titled THE FORCE AMONG US.
A high quality production, nicely photographed and edited in a straight forward manner, it was an enjoyable experience-far better than I thought it would be- watching the Macht brothers discover the truth. In honesty, I’m not a great fan films person-be it new adventures within the STAR WARS universe by eager fans turned actors/directors, or previous people’s viewpoint type projects. Recently, however, I’ve been starting to change my mind a lot more, with quality fan films on THEFORCE.NET and non fiction projects like Jambe Davdar’s Making of the Original Trilogy films, as well as the upcoming THE PEOPLE VERSUS GEORGE LUCAS, which, to me, seems almost like an organic extension of THE FORCE AMONG US.
The film breaks some of the modern taboos made by the general audience and the media about the STAR WARS films themselves, and the way those forces have approached fandom, manipulating it mostly in a negative way. For good or for bad, THE FORCE AMONG US tries to give rational thought as to why we all love it so much.
The film doesn’t shy from some of the controversial aspects and decision making by both LUCASFILM and senior fans over the years, either, with varying opinions on topics such as THE SPECIAL EDITIONS, EPISODE I, Jar Jar, the movie marketing and toys, and the way that STAR WARS is involved on the internet, and how LUCASFILM has licensed STAR WARS, and in the way it deals with its fan base, and the whole phenomenon, within cyberspace (I remember some webmasters over the years saying that the internet was basically built for STAR WARS-ten years on, I think they were right!!). There have been ups and downs along the way between LUCASFILM and the fans, and vice versa, but things are pretty stable at the moment.
It’s always fascinating to note the different and highly varying opinions by fans towards the films and the characters-which and who are their favourites, and why? And yes, there’s even a person out there, currently in a FBI protection program (just kidding!!), who likes Jar Jar Binks!! The debate about which Trilogy’s are better, however, doesn’t look like it will ever go away, probably lasting longer than the Cold War ever did between the Americans and the Russians!
And where would modern STAR WARS life for us be now without the ubiquitous and inevitable Prequel haters. For a film to present a balanced viewpoint on the fans, they have to be there and get there chance to rant their frustrations against Lucas’s decisions. Those on the counterbalance though are the new child audiences that have spawned from the modern day releases, who religiously watch ONE to THREE with the same kind of awe and fervor that all of us oldsters did in 1977. And young Josh Walden- when you grow up I hope you get revenge on your dad for not letting you go to CELEBRATION III. Swimming practice instead of STAR WARS. Man that sucks BIG TIME!
Some critics may make the arguments that there is a sense of madness tinged to fans in their pursuit of their STAR WARS interest. Viewers will have to make up their own minds about some of the things they get up to in the pursuit of their STAR WARS dreams-but is it really any worse than being a Football fan (they dress up, too!!). And what STAR WARS fans get up to is a lot, as the film takes us on a tour through a wide variety of their interests and dedications- men and women- of all ages and from all walks of life- who love their STAR WARS and are proud to show that love in the areas of fandom that they have chosen to live out their lives within. From LEGO STAR WARS builders to costume replicas, it’s a cornucopia of interests that Cris and his film making team explore...
One amazing Floridian toy collector started his collection in 1988 and has now amassed a staggering 10,000 items. I always enjoy looking at other fans toy collections and this is another one of those great visual treats with my face ranging from “Got that figure” to “Oh, that’s amazing, I wish I had that.” There’s also the other determined collectors-those who’ll never sell their collection-they just love them too much-who have to find every available storage resource to house the collections that they so cherish- and then there’s the missions they undertake…the chases…to get the newly released toys-the dedication of those determined fans charging through the US- state to state- to find those figures lurking at the back of the piles at the TARGET stores and get them before they can be acquired by hungry and unfair toy dealers desperate to make tons of money off them via EBAY.!!
Beyond the toys and other memorabilia related moments there’s also the emotional comfort of being a STAR WARS fan and being involved in its fantasy. Some smart-ass journalists/psychologists would say that such an enjoyable immersion would be harmful, but how can it be when it is used in such positive ways as seen in this documentary? How STAR WARS has been used as a powerful counseling technique and as a metaphor to conquer some of the dark times that have affected people over the years is ultimately inspiring-their love for the saga has helped them conquer such tragedy as serious illness and personal loss, even helping a relationship between a father and his STAR WARS loving autistic child-quite incredible, that we should be celebrating the fact that this iconic film series and characters can help them overcome so much darkness.
This film is about the people and goes into the diversity further. Several dedicated fans for the 501st Stormtrooper costume army tell their story and the way that the costume association has changed, for both good and bad, since its original inception as a fun piece of fandom and now as a fully fledged organization assisting LUCASFILM in events/charity related projects all round the world. The 501st itself- the amazing way they bring the costumes to life- has become a cult beyond the cult. There’s even a Captain Jack Sparrow Stormtrooper wannabe who sadly talks about his fall from grace with the 501st after some footage he recorded on one of the films got leaked out on onto a wider part of the world wide web than intended-an act that he will never be forgiven for by either the 501st or LUCASFILM. Clearly he is in the wrong-and he accepts it-but it is sad that he has been banned forever from the 501st, which you can see he has always enjoyed!
On the flip side of all that, there’s also a couple of young guys who make their own costumes just for the opposite –there are no rules, no regulations they have to follow, they just like to go to conventions/events and create their own stuff, with no inhibitions, no creative restraints-I remember one of the duo wearing the Luke training gear and a blonde wig with a backpack Yoda at one of the CELEBRATIONs-nicely done.
There’s also a look at life beyond the printed pages and toys, with a look at the “first of its kind” STAR WARS ACTION NEWS pod cast team and their history in coming together -sorry guys, but I have to say that you weren’t technically the first to do it as far as I’m aware- you were pipped to that post by the good folks at Canada’s STARWARSENDIRECT!!
Whatever your opinions, you can’t help but be intrigued in what the fans love to do. For the most part all of the people shown in THE FORCE AMONG US are normal, hardworking people who just love their hobbies. Yep, a few of them may have gone a little bit too far at times-and they’ll readily admit it themselves, but they like to escape the mundane and, in these dark times of recession, who can blame them. The Macht brothers overall approach to the project is refreshingly candid when it comes to the obsession element (one LEGO builder admits there have been times when he’s thought about chucking it all, in but the lure of the STAR WARS universe and all the great LEGO products soon pulls him back to it all). We’ve all gone through it at some point, I’m sure…
The documentary also tries to celebrate the worldwide diversity of fans, but the American-ness of it is overwhelming-it would and should be-it is after all the Saga’s ultimate Mecca-the birthplace of STAR WARS and fandom, in as much a way as Graceland’s is to Elvis Presley, though a few more European fans partaking in it (especially from the Brits side) would have been nice-having been in England in 2005, it’s a shame that Cristian, a fan since he was introduced to it by his late father at just three years old, presumably not having time, wasn’t able to talk to us all–we’re just as passionate about it as you are in the US-we’re second in the worldwide STAR WARS market, after all. To compensate, though, he tells a nice tale of his meeting George Lucas for the first time in
at the 2005 SITH premiere-I had a similar little bit of an “Oh, my God” moment with “The Great Maker!” that day as well. London
As well as the varying fan contributions from the fans, there’s also a very good list of contributors, some with longer interview installments than others, linked to STAR WARS and its fan base that viewers will equally enjoy seeing.
Though not known to me, University Professor John Tenuto goes one step further into revealing the habits, likes and dislikes of the fans, providing some intriguing information from his survey of 35,000 of us, again from all ages and all walks of life-questions about themselves in which we discover if they really are nerds, have partners, whether they have active social lives or still reside in their folks basements (that’s not me saying that –that’s the stereotypical opinions as voiced by the fools who work in the entertainment media-the ones who should know better and actually die-hard fans themselves!!). Tenuto soon reveals that STAR WARS fans are certainly not stereotypical at all…
Dick Staub, author of “Christian Wisdom and the Jedi Masters” talks about how Lucas cleverly created his story and its saga. As Mark Hamill called it, the Force is “religion’s greatest hits”, though Staub does his best to bring the argument for it being towards a philosophy nearer towards Christianity than any other faith. I’m not a religious person at all so what he says isn’t relevant to me, but he puts his views across with clarity and he’s obviously as mad about STAR WARS as we are, so that’s always a good sign!!
The ever amiable Dustin Roberts talks about THEFORCE.NET, its history and how he came to be in charge, and talks about his promotion as a Fan Club President. Don’t worry, he’s still a nice guy-he doesn’t throw blue Force lighting just yet!!
The equally jolly Belgian super-fan Marl Dermul (does this man ever NOT smile!! I wish I could be as happy as him) talks about the way that STAR WARS and fandom have inspired him to launch his own autograph website, and later in arranging special group tours to specific STAR WARS locations-more on that later...
Sadly, there’s not enough of the interview piece with Patrick Read Johnson, director of the movie 5.25.77 (has this been released yet?), who amazingly recounts how, under a sneak invite from John Dykstra at ILM in 1976/early 1977, managed to see early effects footage of THE STAR WARS- the blue screen shot of the classic Star Destroyer coming down from the screen to chase the Blockade Runner. Even then, Johnson knew that this film was going to be something special.
One of the nicest people and one of the best interviewees on the film, though, has to be Dan Madsen, who talks about his love for both STAR WARS and STAR TREK, how his from home fan clubs for them became officially recognized (basically, LUCASFILM contacted him in 1988 after the success of his running the STAR TREK club for PARAMOUNT-it was an offer that Madsen, who adored both sets of films, couldn’t wait to bring to life-truly a dream come true), his cameo in EPISODE I, and just what happened that led to other crummy publishers like TITAN getting hold of, and absolutely ruining, such a once beloved and inspiring magazine as the original STAR WARS INSIDER that he was in charge of.
For someone so enthusiastic and dedicated, a true friend to STAR WARS, I found it very disappointing and heartbreaking to hear how Madsen lost SWI, basically due to his having brought a ton of stock for THE PHANTOM MENACE that didn’t sell and leaving him in a situation where he had no choice financially but to secure another company to take his place in running it. As Editor of STAR WARS AFICIONADO, I think it’s a major shame that LUCASFILM, considering what an excellent relationship they had with Madsen, and surely seeing what a good quality product they had under his manager-ship (despite it not being affiliated with LUCASFILM itself-they didn’t, at that time, want to run their own in-house club), were, for reasons unknown, unable to help him keep the Club running with some kind of aid package through a bad time that he didn’t deserve. LUCASFILM take note-we should never, ever, have ended up with TITAN PUBLISHING’s early disastrous running of the magazine and it’s equally inept handling of the fan club member’s needs.
Madsen’s contribution to the merchandise lucrative and popular CELEBRATION conventions mustn’t be overlooked either, especially when he reveals that LUCASFILM almost cancelled that all important first event in
as a sign of respect to the lives lost only a few weeks before from the Columbine shootings. Though we greatly appreciate LUCASFILM’s strong gesture of respectfulness in such a time of terrible pain for the people of Texas, the fact they would have deprived fans from all over the world of attending their first major STAR WARS convention experience in so many years, and one of the best marketing potentials for the then upcoming EPISODE I, would have been a terrible mistake, resulting in Madsen fortunately enlisting the help of the Mayor of Denver in persuading LUCASFILM to changing their minds in going ahead with the event, helping Texas get through a terrible time with such a positive and uplifting boost to the community that STAR WARS would give it. Fortunately for all of us, and three highly successful CELEBRATIONS on, LUCASFILM changed their minds… Denver
Dan Madsen we miss you!
The film rounds itself off with Cristian being involved in the Mark Dermul fan trips to Tunisia and Norway, joining the Brotherhood of the Brave in traveling and discovering some of the remotest destinations that the Classic Trilogy were made in. Having not personally been to the barren but equally beautiful wilderness of Finse, Norway, and with so little travelogue material having been previously shot at the site anyway, Chris truly makes the most of this unforgettable filming experience there (we’re with you all the way on this, buddy!), interviewing people who live and work at that almost barren snow outpost- a fascinating adventure story in its own right that fans will greatly enjoy. Though, perhaps it could have been tightened up a little bit on the editing front.
The jump between the talking with the fans and the actual fan trips themselves is quite sudden and there’s no real build up to it. Another problem with a film of this type is that it doesn’t really have a sold definitive ending, literally just stopping with the location filming trips-ultimately, THE FORCE AMONG US is more of a statement of fact than a documentary film that has a beginning, a middle and an end-a situation that is both the projects strength and its weakness-the film celebrates being a devoted, life changed STAR WARS fan, but there’s no through line beyond that-the documentary doesn’t really have a sense of closure or any kind of a denouement to it-no sense of what’s next to being a STAR WARS fan. The film is more a celebration of the uniqueness and diversity of fandom more than anything else, and in that respect it totally succeeds.
Taken as a whole, however, and despite similar internet/fan produced fare from other people over the years, THE FORCE AMONG US stands out as a very individual presentation and production (and with a nice, subtle background music sensibility to boot!!)- it’s a great film-making debut from the Macht brothers (with the thanks of their family and friends who work within the movie industry (including Director of Photography Rick Thomas (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS and PRISON BREAK) and Producer Frank Yario (SPIDER MAN 2/ FRED CLAUS)), as well as serving as their own personal, straight from the heart love letter to STAR WARS, showing us a celebration of all the elements- the trials, tribulations, frustrations, dedication and enjoyment- that go hand in hand with being veteran appreciators of George Lucas’s unbeatable saga.
STAR WARS AFICIONADO RATING: A fascinating look at the phenomenon of STAR WARS and STAR WARS fandom itself, THE FORCE AMONG US is a welcome addition to the fan documentary arena, and probably the most professionally made one so far in relation to its subject matter. 8 out of 10
For more information on THE FORCE AMONG US documentary and the DVD, head over to the Macht Brothers website: www.theforceamongus.com