03/09/2014 12:56 EDT | Updated 03/10/2014 07:59 EDT

Fan-Funded 'Veronica Mars' Movie Is The Best (And Darkest) High-School Reunion Ever

TV shows die all the time, even beloved ones. No, especially beloved ones. And the fans cry and cosplay and usually that's as far as it goes.

But not "Veronica Mars." The Kristen Bell-led high school noir about a teen-girl detective was killed before its time seven years ago, much like poor Lilly Kane in the series' literally perfect first season, but it didn't stay dead. Last March, after years of vain hopes and go-nowhere rumours, creator Rob decided to see if the show's fervent fans would put their money where their mouths were. He pitched a "Veronica Mars" movie on Kickstarter, hoping to make $2 million. He got that in 10 hours, and by the time the campaign ended 91,585 fans had donated $5,702,153.

Almost exactly one year later, "Veronica Mars" the movie had its world premiere at SXSW in Austin, Texas -- also Thomas' home town -- and he paid tribute in his onstage introduction. "I think I can say this more than any other movie that has ever been made -- thank you to the fans of "Veronica Mars." The Kickstarter backers, we would not exist without you. This was the only way this movie was going to get made. Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the movie."

And did we ever.

The movie was the dictionary definition of fan-service. Now that term is often used in a derogatory manner - creatives acquiescing to fans rather than being true to their own impulses, giving them what they want rather than what they need. But that's not the case here. Rather, Thomas made a movie for people who have already seen the three seasons of the TV show rather than trying to dumb it down for newbies.

Most such resurrections go out of their way to do the latter, because, well, if the core fanbase was enough they'd have never been cancelled in the first place. Thomas, however, had no choice - the fans needed to get the movie that they paid for.

"When it became a fan-funded movie, I couldn't find a way to do an FBI one that rolled all these characters into the show," Thomas explained, referring to his aborted attempt to bring the show back with Veronica as an F.B.I. agent. "So I landed on the idea of Veronica going back to Neptune and putting the 10-year reunion as a set-piece in the middle of it because I wanted to give the people what they wanted."

They wanted it, but could a return to Mars' class warfare-riven hometown Neptune, California possibly meet their expectations? As a fan, albeit one who didn't pony up in advance, the answer is unequivocally yes.

Thomas was genius to make a ten-year reunion the centerpiece of the film because it did feel like reuniting with old friends. TV is different from film because, as the cliché goes, you invite these people into your home each week. But cliché is often rooted in reality and we do become more attached to TV shows.

The crowd at the world premiere erupted into cheers each time a familiar character first came onscreen - Keith! Logan! Wallace! Mac! Weevil! Schmidt, er, Deputy Leo! Even poor, old Piz, Veronica's college boyfriend comes back. (Acknowledging his fan-dividing status, Chris Lowell joked onstage afterwards, "I'm just shocked that I'm even on the stage or the film. I thought I was gonna have to be the $10,000 backer to have a speaking role in the movie.") But be warned, Backup does not return: "I did the math on big dogs," said Thomas, "It wasn't pretty."

There were also countless in-jokes and callbacks, from having Austin's own Alejandro Escovedo playing the show's theme song on a sidewalk and the return of that season-three sextape to Kickstarter and "Buffy" references.

Story continues after slideshow

Photo gallery "Veronica Mars" At SXSW See Gallery

But it wasn't just a rehash. The genius of "Veronica Mars" the series was that it was a detective show built on season-long mysteries peppered with case-of-the-week episodes. Fans may have loved it for its characters and relationships, but there was a genre narrative structure that propelled the plots along.

Essentially the movie is a case episode, albeit a cinema-sized one -- "We bit off a huge movie: 60 speaking roles, 35 locations, action pieces," Thomas noted -- so it fit with the show's established pattern.

But it still felt like a season-long mystery because it was embedded with three years of back stories that added an incredible amount of emotional depth that a regular movie, with only two hours to play with, could never achieve.

At least, that's how it is for fans. For those who have never seen the show, watching the movie is kind of like being someone's date at a high school reunion. Everyone knows each other and has all these unspoken stories and complex relationships but you can only see the surface of their interactions.

Luckily, the dark-as-night case, involving the murder of Veronica's ex Logan's pop star girlfriend, is twisty and turny enough on its own that it works for newcomers. At least that's what one told me as we were exiting the theatre, and the bonus, he added, was that he now has three season of prequels to watch.

It also helps that the actors fell back into their old rhythms so well - Ryan Hansen's richie-rich jerkwad Dick Casablancas is a fantastic comedic foil, Jason Dohring's Logan and Bell's Mars still stretch sexual tension to impossible lengths and Bell's familial chemistry with Toronto actor Enrico Colantoni as her private-eye pop Keith Mars remains the greatest father-daughter relationship in pop-culture. (And one which extends to real-life, too, as at one point during the post-screening talk he said "Any parent will tell you, no matter how old they get, I'll look at her like she was this big," which resulted in a teary embrace.)

But as the title implies, it's Veronica Mars' show, and there's a reason the character has become so iconic. Bell joked on stage "They often say that a writer's protagonist is his alter ego and I think I speak for all of us when I say that Rob we're so grateful that your alter ego is a teenage girl."

This caused Thomas to explain the inspiration came from his time as a high-school journalism teacher. "I became like wallpaper to them. They forgot I was there. I felt like for five years I got a crash course on how teenage girls think and talk.

"To me, the best thing about Veronica, the thing that made that character special, in listening to those girls - it's a time period of being self-conscious," he said. "Other girls on television, like Buffy, they can literally kick ass. I felt like Veronica's super power should be that she just doesn't give a shit."

But while that may be true of her relationship to authority, she was always one of pop culture's most intensely caring characters, and this film's existence is proof that quality extended to "Veronica Mars" fans, as well.

Veronica Mars hits theatres on March 14 as well as day-and-date Video-On-Demand