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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Fanboys Director Kyle Newman On Celebrating Star Wars Fandom & Hopes for Sequel

"Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, you understand what it means to be passionate about something," says Fanboys director Kyle Newman.

By Josh Weiss
Kyle Newman GETTY

When you hear Kyle Newman talk about his formative experiences with Star Wars, you come to realize that there was no one better to direct that 2009 love letter to the galaxy far, far away: Fanboys (now streaming on Peacock!).

"My first memory on Earth is at a drive-in movie theater, talking with family and cousins about seeing A New Hope. That was probably late in the summer of ‘77," he tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "My first words were Star Wars action figure names when I was one-and-a-half. I [could say] ‘Tusken Raider’ and ‘Sand Person’ and ‘Hammerhead’ and ‘Walrus Man’ before I was saying the names of my brothers and sisters. ‘Greedo’ was more common than 'Kevin.' ... I was born a Star Wars fan."

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Years later, while studying film at NYU in the late '90s, Newman began to follow regular developments on an indie project called Fanboys. Written by Ernie Cline (future author of Ready Player One), the film centered around a group of Star Wars die-hards who embark on a road trip to Skywalker Ranch.

"At this point, it wasn't a period film," Newman explains. "It was the late ‘90s, Phantom Menace hadn't come out and it was set, I think, in ‘97, or ‘98. I didn't think anything of it. I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds like a cool movie.’"

The movie entered a state of suspended animation for several years until 2004, when a producer friend asked Newman to take a look at the screenplay (Cline ended up sharing final credit with future creator of The Goldbergs and Newman's pal from NYU, Adam F. Goldberg).

"I was like, ‘I've heard of the script. Let me read it and I pretty much guarantee I'm the person to make it.’ So I read it and promptly got involved," he recalls. "From there, it was about bringing people into the fold that were similarly passionate fans, who understood that we weren't making fun of fandom. We wanted to poke fun at times, but really embrace it and showcase the idea [that] being a fan or fanatic is a special, unique, personal thing."

To Newman, the fanaticism around a property like Star Wars is no different than the ride-or-die enthusiasm one finds in the world of sports. "You’re passionate about this thing and you take it to the next level," he says, going on to add, "I wanted the movie to speak to that. Even if you're not a Star Wars fan, you understand what it means to be passionate about something."

How Fanboys got permission from George Lucas

While "everyone in the studio system loved it" — including Steven Spielberg — "there was a lot of trepidation" on whether George Lucas would give his blessing to Fanboys. He was, to borrow a phrase from Princess Leia, the project's only hope. Thankfully, Lucas and his team were sold after reading the script.

"We had a call with the people up there [at Lucasfilm] and they realized it was all done in good spirit and it was done to celebrate fandom as opposed to undermine it in any way or mischaracterize it," Newman adds. "That was one of our key principles, was how we were going to embrace fans and showcase them. So George got on board and then there was a flurry of activity."

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In addition to its approval of the screenplay, Lucasfilm also permitted Fanboys to film on-site at Skywalker Ranch. "I think [we were] the first production they allowed to shoot there that wasn't like a Lucasfilm thing, that wasn't up there doing like an Art Digest shoot."

Newman continues: "[George has] always been cool and nice and the people up there have always been kind and inclusive. So I look at them as family and we tried to do justice to the movies and the fan community as best we could."

A map with Star Wars characters drawn on it in Fanboys (2009)

The story and biggest cameos of Fanboys

Set in 1998, Fanboys revolves around a band of childhood friends — Windows (Jay Baruchel), Hutch (Dan Fogler), Eric (Sam Hungtingon), Linus (Chris Marquette), and Zoe (Kristen Bell) — who decide to steal a print of The Phantom Menace from Skywalker Ranch when Linus is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Thus begins a wild, cross-country road trip punctuated by a gaggle of memorable characters like Seth Rogen's belligerent Trekkie, Admiral Seasholtz, and several genre icons like William Shatner (playing himself) and Silent Bob duo Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. The biggest guest stars of the entire film, however, are bona fide Star Wars veterans like Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, and Ray Park — all of whom make metafictional cameo appearances throughout the journey.

"We would write them in and hope they would say yes," Newman explains. "The script had a great buzz about it ... It was, in a sense, a hot property comedy in the Hollywood system. It was an independent movie, but people were aware of it, so people were pushing their clients to be in it. For the most part, everyone we went after wanted to do it."

In particular, the late Carrie Fisher plays a kind-hearted doctor who urges the group to take Linus back home to Ohio. Due to the severity of his illness, he's just too sick to complete the last leg of the expedition. "We gave her some options of things that she could do because she's like, ‘I want to do more. I don't just want to be the stick in the mud that prevents this from fulfilling his last wish," Newman says.

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As such, Golberg "scripted out three scenes," one of which involved Linus suddenly kissing the physician when she gives him permission to leave the hospital. "We gave them all to Carrie Fisher and she's like, ‘This one, with the kiss.’ And Chris Marquette was like, ‘I want to kiss Carrie Fisher. This is awesome.’"

After smooching the doctor, Linus says "I love you," to which the doc replies: "I know." This nod to Han and Leia's famous exchange in The Empire Strikes Back came about in post-production once Newman was putting together the final mix at Skywalker Sound. Believe it or not, Fisher's "I know" in Fanboys was actually recorded during the filming of Return of the Jedi

"I think either from an unused stem or from the master take," Newman muses. They got the approval of Lucas and Fisher and were off to the races. "Within 30 or 40 minutes, this whole idea played out. We had this old take of Carrie Fisher from Return of the Jedi audio [that we] then included in the movie. Just little things [like that]. Magic can happen because you're also making the movie up there and George was supportive and everything flows."

Why didn't Mark Hamill or Harrison Ford cameo in Fanboys?

Newman did meet with Hamill, who was considered to play the head of security at Skywalker Ranch (a role ultimately played by The Exorcist: Believer writer/producer Danny McBride).

"It felt like it'd be weird to be in this subservient role where you're not yourself [in] a movie about the movie you were in, but you're playing another person," Newman explains. It was a strange fit and we tried to think of other things, but it didn't really work out that he could do it. But he's great and we stayed in touch. He's an awesome guy."

Ford, meanwhile, could not participate for scheduling reasons, though the Han Solo actor did give his approval for the gag where the crew talks about how Ford has never made a bad movie as they drive past a billboard for the critically-maligned Six Days, Seven Night.

Will there ever be a Fanboys sequel?

That's the not-so-new hope. Newman says he, the cast, writers, and producers have all talked about continuing the story via a movie or TV series. 

"Everyone’s down," the director adds, noting that the main obstacle is the fact that the film rights have changed hands several times. "It's all so complicated [with] business deals and takeovers. So it’s a lot to unravel to bring it to life, but there is a desire and it keeps getting brought up every year or two like, ‘Why are we not doing this?’ And we've come close many times. Never say never."

If a follow-up were to take the form of a series, the story would be set in present day and revisit the characters as spouses and parents contending with the sheer amount of Star Wars (and general nerdy) content that has bloomed since the turn of the millennium.

"They all have different opinions on the prequels, the sequels, the Disney-verse. Fandom has changed drastically," Newman explains. "It's exploded when you think of all the various franchises ... that are out there and how complicated and convoluted fantasy, sci-fi [has become]. Everything’s just so busy."

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He continues: "It's not just Star Wars dominating the conversation like it was in the late '90s in the build-up to Phantom Menace. That would all be part of it. They’d be characters that are interacting with fandom now .... they’re relics from another era when things were simpler and they would bring those opinions to the mix with their kids."

Newman also touches on the feature-length sequel ideas they've kicked around, two of them revolving around the gang trying to finagle their way onto the set of Revenge of the Sith or The Force Awakens. Either way, both entail the characters boarding a cruise ship ("because Hutch doesn't fly in that B. A. Baracus kind of way") that turns out to be a Star Trek convention at sea, allowing for the return of Rogen's Admiral Seasholtz.

Alien (Seth Rogen) speaks in Fanboys (2009)

"There’s a lot of shenanigans in getting them [there] ... at one point they they get high and are visited by Linus who is now a ghost ... so Chris Marquette would be in it," the director says, clarifying that all of these "were just rough ideas."

So far, there have been no conversations with Lucasfilm, which would almost certainly have to sign off on the project when — and, more importantly, if — it finally moves forward. "I think they're very intent on making their own things set in their own universe," Newman concludes. "So this would be something that would be its own thing in our universe."

Fanboys is now streaming on Peacock.