Throwback Thursdays: Galaxy Quest

galaxy questI watched Galaxy Quest as a kid, but, like some others here, my family also didn’t have the habit of watching classic sci-fi shows together, and so I didn’t know that Star Trek existed until long after I watched this for the first time. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t appreciate this 1999 sci-fi parody for what it was, and I remember it being one of the comedic highlights of my childhood. This week, after the death of beloved actor Alan Rickman, I decided to dust off Galaxy Quest for a little trip down memory lane. It wasn’t as good as I remembered, but it was still pretty good.

Spoilers after the jump.

Galaxy Quest is about a bunch of washed-up actors who used to star in Galaxy Quest, a Star Trek-esque TV show. Times have changed, and now all they do is go to fan conventions and sign autographs, and generally speaking they all hate it—none more so than Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman), who laments that he’s classically trained and reduced to quoting lines from the show that he hates. Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen), who plays James T. Kirk Commander Taggert, is the only one who’s still enthusiastic about the show, and often signs up for gigs without the rest of the crew. At one of the conventions, he’s approached by a bunch of aliens called the Termians, whom he mistakes for fans of the show. The Termians take the actors up to their actual spaceship, where the actors find out that the Termians think the whole show is true and have based their entire society and all their technology on it. They even want Jason to help them negotiate a treaty with their feared enemy, Sarris. Of course, at first the crew all think it’s some kind of joke, but they soon realize the aliens and their spaceship are all very real…

“Confused aliens mistake sci-fi show for actual history” is a great meta idea to run with, and as a kid, it was the duality of the story that was so incredibly hilarious to me. As an adult who has now seen at least some Star Trek episodes and the rebooted movies, it was a little less so. While it was a fond parody of the show, it wasn’t quite satirical enough to really hit home. For example, Gwen (Sigourney Weaver) complains that her character—the only female character in the show—never had anything in the show to do other than repeat the computer, but when Gwen has to be her character on the alien’s spaceship, she still didn’t do anything more significant than repeating the computer. At the end of the last battle, she even had her jacket open for a cleavage shot, for no discernible reason. The only other female character of note, the Termian Laliari, was only really in the movie to kiss crewmate Fred Kwan.

Race-wise, neither the show or the movie did much better—much like Star Trek, there was just one Black character in the cast. And the show even had its own instance of whitewashing—Fred Kwan (Tony Shalhoub) reveals that while he plays Tech Sergeant Chen, he’s really not even Asian himself. But there were, of course, no actual Asian roles of note in the movie to counteract this.

What really made this movie work, I think, was all its nods to fans and to fandom. Gwen shouting “This episode was badly written!” was one of my favorite lines as a kid and still is today as a person who sometimes writes about TV shows, and all the fans’ overenthusiastic quoting of obscure trivia facts still rings very true to fandoms today. When the crew finally decides to actually attempt to help the Termians and defeat Sarris, they have to break themselves out of captivity, break the Termians out of where they’re being held, and stop the computer from exploding the ship. The problem with this is, the crew barely knows anything about their own show, so they have no idea how to do any of this. Fortunately, they’re able to talk with some mega-fans of the show, who guide them through the steps and are the ones who really save the day. It truly encapsulates how fandom can be a successful and useful endeavor. However, though there were geeks of color, of different genders, and of different body sizes in the convention audience, those personally consulted by Jason were the stereotypical white geek boys in their moms’ houses. In the end, though, all the crew regain their appreciation for their roles and for their show, and even start a reboot of the show by the end of the movie.

Although Galaxy Quest certainly had its drawbacks, it’s still one of the most enjoyable and hilarious movies about fandom that I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. If you’re rewatching all of Alan Rickman’s movies now, be sure not to skip this one. Plus, it might actually be a TV show soon—so remember, never give up, never surrender!

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