By Grabthar's Hammer
Confession: The first time I sat down to write this blog, I stopped after the first paragraph to go watch Galaxy Quest. Not because I felt the need to be especially refreshed on it, but the act of critically considering the film left me wanting to re-experience it. Believe it or not, that’s an interesting change, because originally I was very lukewarm on Galaxy Quest. It’s a movie that has grown on me tremendously through the years, and with every viewing I appreciate more things about the film.
Sidenote: It’s ~20 years old, so I’m not doing a full recap, but… spoiler warning. Or just go watch the damn movie, it’s not even that long, and you’ll be glad you did.
This is a movie with a lot to love. When your cast features Sam Rockwell, Sigourney Weaver, and Alan Fucking Rickman, you know the acting is solid, but honestly even the casting on the bit-parts shows quality. Even Tim Allen, a not always consistent actor, finds solid ground playing the Hollywood douchebag. The plot, while admittedly a little simplistic upfront, prioritizes its main job, which is putting them in Star Trek like situations as efficiently as possible. The running lines are hilarious, the jokes land, and the characters play off one another well. It’s a great film, and one I enjoy a lot, but the quality isn’t why I wanted to talk about it today.
Galaxy Quest is fascinating to me because while it is an obvious satire of Star Trek, fandom, and sci-fi in general, it’s also an examination on the value of art. The easiest place to see this journey is with Alan Rickman’s character: Alexander Dane. Dane is an interesting case study, because while he despises the show and his role in it, he doesn’t view other forms of acting in the same way. In the opening scenes, he discusses his prior accomplishments, extolling the glories of proper theater and performing the classics. Compare that to how he views this acting job. And we know he does still consider this work to be theater, because on the verge of fleeing, he is brought back into a convention by Tim Allen saying a simple line: “The show must go on.” Dane loves theater, he respects the art of acting, and he considers himself a professional above all else. So why does he hate Galaxy Quest so much?
The obvious answer is the silly line being parroted back at him over and over, or the cumbersome prosthetic on his head. Both of which would hold up if we only see this with Dane, but the truth is, everyone (save for the fans) treats this show like it’s a lesser thing. Because it was sci-fi, because it was silly, because the ideas of the artform have changed, this thing they put a lot of work into is dumped on. Because it isn’t weighty or serious, it’s dismissed as pure fluff by the world at large. But not the worlds at large, as we see when the Thermians approach Tim Allen.
Here is where we start to see the flip-side of the coin. This, by the way, is a plot point that I love. In some ways, you could say that having an alien species see the show and assume it to be fact is a lazy writing trick to explain away their ignorance, but honestly, intentional or not, it sets up the piece that makes this movie so much deeper. They are the contrast to the people of Earth viewing these stories through ten layers of experience, irony, and cynicism. The Thermians remind us of what makes these kinds of stories important in the first place. Without expectations or Earth context, the Thermians watch the show sincerely, and in it they see such courage and decency that it inspires the entire species to strive and be more like these people. That’s not nothing, and while you could probably read a statement on cargo cults in there, the greater effect is to drive home a theme that starts popping up over and over in this movie.
Art doesn’t have to be serious to have an impact.
In one way or another, every character’s arc is about them making peace with the show, their part in it, and how it affected their lives. Sigourney Weaver embraces her job despite it seeming ridiculous, Tony Shalhoub remembers what it means to try, Tim Allen learns that his role as lead on both ship and show mean shouldering responsibility, and then there’s Alan Rickman’s Alexander Dane, who easily has the most memorable line and moment of the entire flick.
Early on, Dane meets a Thermian who grew up idolizing Dane’s alien character, Quellek. While polite, Dane doesn’t want to hear anything about that, and shuts down Quellek when he tries to use Dane’s signature catchphrase. Through plot-convenience, the two end up working together when the ship is under attack and form a bond. Then, of course, Quellek is then fatally wounded during the rescue mission, dying slowly in Dane’s arms. It’s a wonderful, emotional scene in which Quellek admits that despite never meeting the man, he viewed Dane’s character as a father figure. And that part hits hard. I think a lot of us have looked to fiction for guidance and influence more than we like to talk about, and the actor really drives it home.
This scene is sort of an encapsulation of the film itself. Because as Quellek is dying and tells all that to Dane, it demonstrates for him something he needed to see: this show mattered. Even though it was hokey, and the writing was subpar, and it wasn’t “The Bard”, and a million other things, it meant everything to someone. It literally shaped Quellek’s life. So Dane does the only thing he can, he embraces his role and gives the speech he hated, because it will make Quellek’s final moments a little bit better. And that matters too.
Maybe it’s because I write in genres where terms like “popcorn” get thrown around, as I’ve grown up I’ve found that message resonates deeper and deeper with me. But truthfully, I agreed with this idea long before I was on the creative side. There’s a lot of pretentiousness around art in every form, people like to tell you what things mean, or what type of work should even be assumed to have meaning. Which is total bullshit, by the way.
The wonderful thing about a creative endeavor is that it can connect with countless people in countless different ways. What you take from it, what you see in it, is the part that matters. I took the first steps toward self-publishing because of a quote from a poet I don’t like in a movie that was considered pretty terrible overall. Why? Because I encountered something that spoke to me, even though it was in an unlikely place.
Galaxy Quest is a fantastic film that you should watch, sooner than later if possible. And, if you’re working in a field where you feel creatively frustrated, I’d double down on that recommendation. It’s a great reminder that creators don’t always realize the reach of their work, or its importance in some fans’ esteem. What might be a silly sci-fi show to some could very well be another person’s inspiration to aim for the stars.