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Jedi Junkies Review

REVIEWS - DVD REVIEWS

So you think you're the ultimate Star Wars fanatic? Think again...

Mark Edlitz's Jedi Junkies

Fantasy has a funny way of capturing the imagination of the geek demographic. While readers of Harlequin romances, fans of John Ford westerns, or lovers of historical epics may daydream about their particular field of interest and imagine themselves as heroes or lovers in their genre of choice, 'hardcore' fantasy adherents simply aren't content with wondering "what if?". A true geek's love for his beloved material invariably translates to a real-life imitative lifestyle. A lover of all things medieval visits ye olde Renaissance Faires, complete with broadsword and chain mail. A Trekker wouldn't dream of attending the latest Star Trek convention without his Starfleet uniform, replica tricorder and phaser, and a practiced Vulcan salute. A Dr. Who fanatic has his Sonic Screwdriver and 1/6th scale Tardis. And a huge Star Wars nerd has...well...a seriously-distressing compulsion, to the average layperson.

Such is one of many issues touched upon, but never mocked, in Mark Edlitz's hugely-entertaining documentary Jedi Junkies, which leapfrogs over the casual Star Wars fan and focuses on a collection of uber-fans for which George Lucas' vision is not just a film franchise, but a way of life. For the subjects of Jedi Junkies, watching the films, owning the films, and being able to quote the films isn't nearly enough. In fact, for some of them, there may be no point at which ownership and knowledge of Star Wars and its memorabilia might ever be 'enough'.

Members of the N.Y. Jedi troupe strike a poseMeet collector Roberto Williams who, after remembering a quote by an Imperial officer that mentioned thirty Rebel ships attacking the Death Star in Episode IV's climax, bought thirty large X-Wing models when the newest of the line came out right before the prequels. They sit in his basement, along with thousands of other carefully-chosen Lucas-brand items, still in their original packaging. Meet Eduardo Sanchez, director and writer of The Blair Witch Project. His entire basement is a shrine to his beloved Star Wars. Every collectible conceivable is on display for visitors to see, lovingly lit by carefully-placed track lights, displayed behind glass cases, or hung from the ceiling. Meet Michael Knight, whose body is covered in dozens of Star Wars tattoos and who no longer has a working bedroom, because it is packed from floor to ceiling with every franchise-branded item that he's ever come across in his entire life. Meet Bob Iannaccone, who creates stainless steel Lightsaber replicas for a living out of his nondescript rural tool shed. Meet Flynn, founder of New York Jedi, a choreography troupe which creates elaborate Lightsaber battles for conventions, shows, or just for the heck of it. For these fans, Star Wars is not a passing fancy. It does not satisfy them to know what Luke Skywalker's call-sign was at the Battle of Yavin (Red 5, by the way). Their life is a continual push towards creating a life as close as possible with that certain galaxy far, far away.

Sanchez and Knight in particular are well aware of the level of obsession required to have amassed such collections. Sanchez surveys his "man cave" with an easy, practiced grin, happy to admit that it was Star Wars that ignited his love of film. Knight is a bit more subdued, however, clearly somewhat torn between his fondness for the franchise and a dawning realization that he has given his collectibles more space in his home than he has for himself, especially that he now has a young family.

But, even though Edlitz gives screen time to a psychiatrist and psychotherapist to explain the dangers of compulsive collecting and the impossibility of ever 'finishing' such a task, his documentary is hardly a criticism against the fanatical branch of Star Wars lovers. Rather, he gracefully and successfully presents the material in an unbiased fashion, allowing the viewer to draw one's own conclusion. Edlitz's intent is certainly not to point out his subjects' character flaws, but rather to give his viewers a quick peek at an incredible fantasy subgenre, which has been going strong for over 30 years. And mega-collectors and Lightsaber choreographers are just the tip of the iceberg.

Edlitz also lends time to the recent rise of the 'fan film', independent and often extremely low-budget short films set in the Star Wars universe. Among these that he gives us a insider's view is John Bardy's Tremors of the Force, a delightfully seat-of-one's-pants picture based in New York and still unfinished at the time of Jedi Junkies' production. The enormously-popular "Chad Vader" series of YouTube videos are highlighted as an example of all that is right with contemporary fan tributes; its creators Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan are particularly self-deprecatingly hilarious. The increasingly-popular 'Slave Leia' subculture is also shown to give Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca)a female perspective to the Star Wars craze (yes, women like it, too). Edlitz even tracked down Ray Park (Darth Maul), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Orli Shoshan (Shaak Ti), who are asked about their experiences with the franchise, often admitting a slight, but delighted, puzzlement that their roles will be followed and studied with a fanboy's beady-eyed focus for decades to come.

Throughout it all, Edlitz allows a playful, even admiring, tone to inhabit Jedi Junkies. When allowing airtime to Dennis Ward, who built a life-size Millennium Falcon in his backyard for a fan film, it would have been easy, perhaps too easy, to allow a touch of cynicism or loathing to creep into the production. But there is none to be found. If you find yourself having to hold back from screaming "holy crap, you NERDS!!!" when watching aficionados argue about whether Han or Greedo shot first, or who would win in a Lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Darth Maul, that is your prerogative. But Edlitz is not about to tell you whether you are right or wrong in doing so. His is an admiration of the Star Wars uber-geek, an admiration for the kind of person who has found something that they love so strongly that they don't care what people think of them when they walk down the halls of their neighborhood mall in a Jedi cloak. And don't we all wish we could find something that we love so much that it would override our basic sensibilities of social awareness?

Simply put, big fans of the Star Wars franchise will almost certainly get a huge kick out of Jedi Junkies. However, its enjoyment is not purely reserved for the subculture insider, because Edlitz makes such a great effort in creating an interesting study into the uber-fan's psyche that even one totally unaware of the source material will probably relate to it in some way. Hardcore hobbyists will undoubtedly find common ground in Michael Knight's assertion that it might have been better if he had never started collecting, because it's such a near-impossible cycle to stop. Model builders won't have a choice but to give a big hand to Dennis Ward's backyard-sized Falcon. And those just looking for a bit of eye candy will be pleased with Olivia Munn's multiple soundbites. But whether you ultimately look up to these uber-fans or laugh derisively at their quirks, Jedi Junkies is a documentary that will stick with you. No matter your perspective, it is a study of what fans can be capable of when they find something that they can connect with. And in that vein, the fact that a science fiction cinematic franchise is the documentary's focus is almost beside the point.

A couple minor complaints... Some conversations are a little shorter than I would have liked. I came down with a couple mild cases of "that-last-guy-itis", in which  I found myself wishing there had been a longer discussion with "that last guy". Also, the situation does occasionally arise when you almost wish Edlitz would aim his turbolasers a bit more strongly on what, as the saying goes, makes his subjects "tick". But these are trifles, and do little to detract from the overall experience. Anybody who has any interest in all things Star Wars would certainly do well in spending an hour and 15 minutes in Edlitz's world.

In the end, I'm sure that nearly all positive reviews for this title have concluded with this general thought, but it's an inescapable necessity for a Star Wars fan, so why fight it? ... Yes, the Force was certainly with Mark Edlitz and crew. So go find a copy, set out the Yoda bobblehead, dig your Darth Vader voice changer out of storage, and embrace your inner geek. And if you don't quite understand that sentence, Jedi Junkies is here to help.

Jedi Junkies is available on Amazon, in select video stores, or direct from the source at JediJunkies.com.

4 stars

See also:

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D review

Will the real geek please stand up?

The golden rule of cultural references in film and TV

20 Years of the Star Wars Expanded Universe

The Praxis effect: Star Wars > Star Trek

Six unlikely changes for the Blu-ray release of Star Wars

8 easy ways that the Empire wins in Star Wars

Does Canon Even Matter?

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars Review

Star Wars Clone Wars Season 2 Blu-ray review


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Comments 

 
#1 Once you start down the dark path Caleb Leland 2011-04-13 04:32
forever will it dominate your destiny. Still, I think I need to see this doc. Excellent review, man!
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#2 RE: Jedi Junkies Review DamonD 2011-04-13 08:03
Never heard of this, but definitely interested now. Never been a hardcore SW hobbiest (it's been the six films and some of the books) but this sounds worth checking out.
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