The heroes of Galaxy Quest know less about their own canon than their obsessive fans do. They find it easy to see everything bad about their work, and much harder to remember why it connected with people. The comedy comes from their not easily stepping into the fiction. They’re fish out of water. In Armada, apparently, the gamers find their favorite snack food waiting for them at their battle stations. In Galaxy Quest, on the other hand…
“Are you enjoying your kep’la blood ticks, Dr. Lazarus?”
“Just like Mother used to make.”
[blood tick, still alive, jumps from spoon back into bowl]
In Galaxy Quest, what saves the day? Not just the technical know-how (which was provided, again, by the secondary characters). How do the good guys win? Hope, courage, quick thinking, camaraderie. They live up to the virtues that their show, at its best, embodied.
(Note that the treknobabble that the fans provide is effectively dialled down to a minimum: basically, “reach this spot and push this button.”)
I think it also helps that the makers of the Galaxy Quest film took the trouble to invent their own show-within-a-show. It’s not just that inventing stand-ins for Trek imagery requires a bare minimum level of creativity that the Sandlers of this world never bother aspiring to. This move ensures that developments in the film’s plot can’t turn on minutiae of the Trek series they’re parodying. The jokes play on the recurring motifs, not on incidents isolated to individual episodes. This helps the movie strike a healthy balance: it’s not a shallow parody, but it doesn’t require encyclopaedic knowledge of the source to appreciate, either. It also helps create a little emotional distance, making it easier to appreciate the best and worst of Trek by holding it at a brief remove. Moreover, this way means that differences of opinion about particular Trek stories don’t lead to arguments that detract from enjoying the film.
Plus, it’s fun to see what ST:TOS would look like if upgraded from ’60s cheese to ’80s cheese. Shatner, with an Action Mullet? Yes please.