The People vs. George Lucas (Director: Alexandre O. Philippe): The concept of The People vs. George Lucas is succinctly summed up in its title, presenting the case of the contentious relationship that has formed over the past decade or so between the Star Wars creator and his numerous alienating missteps with the franchise, and said franchise’s diehard fans. Lucas apologists get into the mix as well, but for the most part it’s the pissed off fanboys who are granted the most screen time.
The filmmakers launched a website in 2007 asking for input from the public on the topic, which garnered over 600 hours of raw footage from 700+ submissions. The wealth of material involved webcam rants, stop motion movies and skits, drawings, computer animation, and “fan edits” (where someone re-edits one of the movies in the Star Wars series to their own liking). Director Alexandre Philippe refers to the finished product as “a fully participatory documentary”. A handful of notable figures from the Star Wars universe (including Lucas biographer Dale Pollock and Lucas’ former producing partner Gary Kurtz) are also interviewed, providing a nice counterbalance to the occasionally over-enthusiastic viewpoints from the rabid fans (are these people still arguing about whether Greedo shot first?). One of the most interesting interviews in the film is with director Francis Ford Coppola, who does little to sugarcoat his belief that Lucas squandered his talent by succumbing to the dark side of franchise and merchandising riches. Like many, I thought the newer prequel trilogy was stunningly bad and even his involvement (as a co-writer and executive producer) in the recent disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull film did Lucas no favours. When you stop to think about it, it truly is mystifying how someone with the vision and creativity he once possessed can manage to lose it so emphatically.
Lucas’ questionable franchise decisions provide ample fodder for disgruntled fans to voice their dissent and it’s hard to defend him on most of them. A clip shows the director testifying before Congress about the dangers and artistic criminality of colourizing black and white films, yet he had no problems “tweaking” Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi for their own “special editions”, adding CGI effects shots and restoring the original master copies (with the revisions added) for a theatrical re-release and VHS/DVD transfer. That a cleaned up version of the original movies (without the newer bells and whistles) isn’t available is a major source of controversy within the fan community. Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm, even refuses to rent old prints of the originals to theatres who want to do retrospectives. This, and some related issues that are covered fall under the umbrella of one compelling question: how do you measure the rights of someone who created a certain piece of art versus the audience’s rights to that art? Especially when it’s something as big as the Star Wars phenomenon? The question doesn’t get a nice, tidy answer in the film, which is okay, since that’s not what The People vs. George Lucas set out to do. What isn’t okay is the repetitive nature of the interviews, which tends to recycle similar viewpoints from different interviewees.
One need not be a Star Wars geek to appreciate the documentary – I’m certainly not, though all of the films from the original trilogy still rank among my favourite movies. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s no escaping the respect due to a cultural piece that has so unprecedentedly managed to transcend its original form and take on a life of its own. The film ably captures this aspect of the Star Wars subculture, but fails to provide a sustained, gripping piece on its titular topic, which feels well past its due date at this point. The Phantom Menace, the first movie in the prequel trilogy, came out more than 11 years ago and the last, Revenge of the Sith, was released in 2005. Anyone who has seen all six movies in the series has no doubt already had a conversation or debate about aspects of this topic with their friends a long, long time ago.