Thursday, January 17, 2019

Why the Ending of Galaxy Quest Always Makes Me Cry

power of stories, getting emotion from readers
By David Mack, @DavidAlanMack

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Stories have the power to inspire us, move us, and profoundly change us. Please help me welcome David Mack to the lecture hall today, to share a story that moves him, and explain why we should never take what we do for granted.

David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure.Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), short fiction, and comic books. His new novel The Iron Codex is available now from Tor Books.

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Take it away David...
galaxy quest, star trek, great endings, emotion
David Mack

I have a new book out today, but that’s not what I’m here to tell you about; I’m here to tell you why I get choked up every time I watch the ending of the movie Galaxy Quest.

This is a movie that hit me where I live from the first time I saw it in the theater. It’s a parody of Star Trek (both the Original Series and the movies based upon it) whose premise is that aliens mistake the campy science-fiction series for a documentary, pattern their society and technology upon it, and, when threatened by a hostile culture, recruit the unwitting stars of the long-canceled show to crew their now-real starship in order to protect them — with results both hilarious and tragic.

The actors of the show-within-a-movie enter the story in various states of burnout, ennui, frustration, or cynicism. Their on-screen camaraderie is revealed as a sham by their backstage sniping. The only one of them who seems to enjoy convention appearances is the show’s star, Jason Nesbitt (Tim Allen, doing a marvelous send-up of William Shatner). Then a chance encounter shatters his shell of narcissism, and he descends into a bitter, misanthropic funk.

Wallowing in a brutal hangover, Jason is recruited by aliens known as Thermians to represent them in a vital negotiation. Mistaking their request as a gig, he half-asses the job and worsens their plight. Only when they teleport him home does he realize that the Thermians, and their duplicate of his fictional ship, are real.

Energized, Jason rushes to share his news with his former castmates. This leads to them all being pulled into the catastrophe he created on his first visit, a series of crises that force all of the actors to overcome their personal flaws to save the day, and a final showdown as satisfying as any ever delivered by a “serious” science-fiction action film.

Along the way, our heroes are forced to seek help from a group of fans who Jason previously treated with contempt. In a brilliant celebration of nerdity, it is the fans with their CD-ROM virtual walkthroughs of every inch of a “fictional” starship who help guide our heroes to victory.

The movie ends with the actors’ homecoming. They crash a landing module into a shopping mall that is hosting a convention devoted to their defunct series. Full of cosplayers, shippers, and old-fashioned fanboys, it erupts with delight as our heroes stagger out of their wrecked vessel.

Then comes the moment that makes me choke up (and sometimes just outright shed tears of joy) every damned time I watch it: Jason steps forward into the adulation of the crowd—and then he sees Brandon (Justin Long), the fan who days earlier he rudely brushed off, and who has just helped save him and his friends…

…and with genuine respect, he salutes him. Then Jason looks back, sees his castmates upstage, and beckons them to join him, signaling that understands he is no longer a star standing alone, but a member of an ensemble that stands together.

By that point, I’m reaching for a second tissue.

This moment hits me deeply, I think, because I have been professionally associated with Star Trek as a writer since 1995, when I made my first script sale to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I have been to my share of conventions both large and small, and I have gone on to write twenty-eight novels as well as numerous works of short fiction and comic-books under the Star Trek license.

It is because of Galaxy Quest that I have never taken for granted the privilege of being a Star Trek writer. To be a writer in a shared, officially licensed fictional universe such as Star Trek is to be part of a team. In the case of Star Trek fiction, it has felt to me like an extended family.

Galaxy Quest is a reminder to all those of us who create fiction that the tales we tell have power. Stories and characters we bring into the world can come to matter to others in ways we might not have expected. We should strive not to let ourselves become blasé or jaded about what we do, and we ought to be thankful for those whose emotional investment in our flights of fancy make it possible for us to pursue careers of imagination.

At its best, Star Trek is a vision of hope for humanity’s future, a testament to the idea that we can be better than we are, if only we choose to be. What Galaxy Quest has added to this conversation is the understanding that Star Trek would mean nothing if not for those who love it: Its fans.

So go forth, artists of every stripe! Create with passion and truth. And most important: Never give up. Never surrender.

About The Iron Codex

david mack, science fiction, dark artsNew York Times bestselling author David Mack's Dark Arts series continues as the wizards of World War II become the sorcerers of the Cold War in this globe-spanning spy-thriller sequel to The Midnight Front.

1954: Cade Martin, hero of the Midnight Front during the war, has been going rogue without warning or explanation, and his mysterious absences are making his MI-6 handlers suspicious. In the United States, Briet Segfrunsdóttir serves as the master karcist of the Pentagon’s top-secret magickal warfare program. And in South America, Anja Kernova hunts fugitive Nazi sorcerers with the help of a powerful magickal tome known as the Iron Codex.

In an ever-more dangerous world, a chance encounter sparks an international race to find Anja and steal the Iron Codex. The Vatican, Russians, Jewish Kabbalists, and shadowy players working all angles covet the Codex for the power it promises whoever wields it.

As the dominoes start to fall, and one betrayal follows another, Anja goes on the run, hunted by friend and foe alike. The showdown brings our heroes to Bikini Atoll in March 1954: the Castle Bravo nuclear test.

But unknown to all of them, a secret magick cabal schemes to turn America and its western allies toward fascism―even if it takes decades...

The Dark Arts novels
The Midnight Front
The Iron Codex

Read a prequel story.

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  1. Thanks for the terrific blog post - and yes, it had me reaching for a tissue myself.

  2. Another Galaxy Quest fan! The end always has me in a mix of wanting to cry and cheer at the same time. :)

  3. I've always enjoyed the movie and attempt to catch it when cable offers it up now and then. While I can't say I would get choked up at the end, I read your commentary above with interest, absorbed really, and...there you go, I got choked up reading the last paragraph. Yeah, it's the fans, man, it's the fans. As a new fiction writer emerging in an older body, I'm just getting into the swing of things, having spent a year researching plot structure and the craft of character. My first five scenes just emerged over the past two days. I have a lot to learn, much less gain a fan or two. But as a former musician, having gigged for over 45 years, the fans made the weekend road trips worthwhile. It was never about the money. The look on their faces when the band was in the zone, when my solo soared perfectly, if only for a moment--THAT was what brought it all home. For a moment, we were all lost in the story of music. I used to quote Tennyson ("Arise, go forth, and conquer...") but I think this makes more sense now: "Never give up. Never surrender." Thanks for the inspiration.