Galaxy Quest and Fandom

This is my second review segment for the Georgia Tech SF Radio Program. The theme of this episode is fandom, so I reviewed the film, Galaxy Quest and related that to the rise of fandom. Be sure to check out the show on Sunday, September 23 from 7pm until 9pm. Listen to it in Atlanta on 91.1FM or online at

Galaxy Quest and Fandom
Jason W. Ellis

Science Fiction has a long standing dialog between SF producers and the fans that follow, devour, and over analyze every detail and plot point of their respective SF love. This is proven by the early New York City Futurians and SF conventions or “cons” that accreted greater and greater numbers of SF readers, writers, and enthusiasts. This subculture of SF enthusiasts is known as fandom. Members of SF fandom go by different names including Trekkies, Browncoats, Whovians, and Otaku. However, that’s not to say it’s a subculture on the fringe in terms of numbers. In fact, fandom has gone mainstream. The larger national and international conventions such as Atlanta’s own Dragon*Con hosts an influx of tens and tens of thousands of SF fans to share something unknown, or at least unknown in the same magnitude and intensity, to the majority of pop culture consumers, and that is community.

In many ways, fandom hit the mainstream with the 1999 release of Galaxy Quest. This film starring Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, and Tony Shalhoub is about the washed-up cast of a late 1970s SF television show rising up to their fictional roles following an unexpected alien encounter. These aliens, called Thermians, contact Jason Nesmith (played by Tim Allen) believing that he is his fictional television role, Captain Peter Quincy Taggart. These naive aliens regard intercepted human television transmissions as “historical documents” and utilize them to rebuild their society. However, their new civilization is threatened by the reptilian Sarris, the genocidal leader of a warring alien species. The real life actors portraying film actors in turn portray the fictionalized crew of the Thermian constructed NSEA Protector in order to stop Sarris’ plans to obliterate the remaining Thermians.

Galaxy Quest has a deep connection to fandom, because a group of Questarians, or fans of the old television show (think Trekkies), assist the real life Protector crew with the help of a serendipitous exchange of authentic and prop communicators. Justin Long portrays the de facto leader, Brandon, of a band of Questarians. They rely on social networking and pooled, specialized knowledge to help Taggart and his crew. In the end, these die hard fans are as much the heroes as the TV stars, in part because they are both on the big screen, but also because fans are the driving force behind SF. They keep it alive and elevate it to mythic status by the communal sharing of ideas, stories, costumes, fan films, fanfic, and lest we forget, commercialization.

There are many other aspects of fandom in film such as the 1998 film, Free Enterprise. Directed by Robert Meyer Burnett, it’s about two friends clinging to their SF geek interests while seeking life advice of their hero, William Shatner. Another film about fan life is the forthcoming 5-25-77 written and directed by Patrick Read Johnson. It’s an autobiographical take on the fateful day that the original Star Wars film was released. In both of these examples, the SF source (not to be confused with force) supports the release–in the case of the former with a starring role by Shatner and the latter is produced by Gary Kurtz, who also produced two Star Wars films.

Fans also create parodies and original works based on the SF sources they love most. A famous example is Samuli Tors-sonen’s Finnish Star Wreck films including the immensely popular Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning released in 2005. In the Pirkinning is a feature length film complete with professional special effects and it’s an mash-up of Star Trek and Babylon 5. Other examples of fan films include Troops, the 1997 mockumentary mix-up of Star Wars and COPS. More recent examples include Star Wars: Revelations and Chad Vader.

Underlying fandom, fan films, and SF in general are fans. They are the immediate audience for new SF produced by writers and film makers as well as fan produced content available online. They’ve always been there, and they are making their voices heard more loudly than ever before thanks to the increasingly pervasive Internet, which has not only facilitated the building of fan communities, but also the sharing of rich and imaginative content made for other fans and as an homage to the creators on high. In the coming years, the division between fans and creators will further diminish, and I say to all the fans out there, the immortal words of Captain Taggert: “Never give up, never surrender!”

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.