The People versus George Lucas

Fanboys are excellent at bitching about minutae over series they love; you give ’em an inch, they’ll run off with a list of gripes as long as your arm. While offering no new discoveries about the man in charge of Star Wars, Alexandre O Philippe’s movie is a rather affectionate fanboy love-in and whingefest about the galaxy far, far away and its checkshirted creator.

The People vs George Lucas starts off with a set of hand-drawn and witty animated title cards and a short history of George Lucas: a misfit child, a genius photographer, car-crash victim, through to UCLA graduate. It’s an effective distillation of the pre-THX 1138 history, further revealing a filmmaker traumatised by studio interference in his first features THX 1138 and American Graffiti.

Philippe’s documentary makes a sincere case for the inspirational qualities of the Star Wars saga; witness a gaggle of creative types gushing over the cultural and inspirational impact – and a huge number of excerpts from trailers, press-kit materials and fan-films of all kinds. Comparisons are made from other great storytellers, including Homer and Shakespeare – and the interviewees raise an apt point, “it’s not about the author, but the culture that embraces it!”

Some of the fan works are so good, that I hope the resultant DVD will contain many of them. I can also hope they have Star Wars: Uncut, a collection of 15 second works which attempt to recreate every single scene of Star Wars in any way, shape, media, fashion or form – the clips are very amusing and subversive. Rather than using the movie’s footage, Star Wars: Uncut is often substituted for clever and comic impact.

It then takes a sour note, with a chapter entitled “The Great Tinkerer”. This deals with the 20th Anniversary re-release and subsequent video releases, where Lucas changed his films to better fit his vision. There is an extensive comparison of visual effects work, and a large amount of discussion of the two scenes that caused the most furore. First up, the Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt CGI scene. Gary Kurtz (producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) gets on the record, describing the scene as “totally unnecessary”. Worse than this is the Greedo Shoots First sequence, where the many participants provide their own theories and discuss the folly of the scene’s revision. To counterpoint, the movie shows a selection of Star Wars: Uncut edits, including a devious reconstruction using Lucasfilm’s adventure computer game system, SCUMM.

The interview subjects pose the copyright question “Does the public have ownership of the materials of its own culture?” Ignoring copyright for a moment, the movie discusses various not-exactly-legal attempts to restore and preserve the original films using high-quality sources – we see a fan fondling his prized 1993 THX-certified LaserDisc boxset. On the other hand, The People versus George Lucas takes time for a tangent showing that Lucas spearheaded a movement against Ted Turner’s colourisation of classic black and white features.┬áThe distinction is blurry at best.

Philippe draws the pointed contrast between the anti-studio filmmaker, and the shrewd multi-billionaire businessman who now owns his own studio. It also raises a valid point: in that no-one stood up to Lucas post-Empire Strikes Back to point out aspects of the subsequent films that just don’t work. What happened between then and now? The People vs George Lucas also makes the case of a fundamental disconnect between George Lucas and the Star Wars fans. A multitude of geek interviews perfectly capture the 1997-2005 zeitgeist and the reaction to the awesome Episode I trailers – something I can truly relate to. And of course, the subsequent crushing disappointment of the prequel trilogy (Jar-Jar Binks snuff movies, and midichlorian nerd rage are a big part) and re-editing efforts to make them more palatable for the fans.

Lucasfilm’s merchandising machine is also mercilessly dissected. The nerds are both proud and truly ashamed of their willingness to buy everything that the Empire spawns. “I now feel I’m in therapy talking about this!”

Ultimately, The People vs George Lucas doesn’t offer anything truly fresh for Star Wars nerds, but it’s amiable enough, and the mostly pre-Youtube fan-film extracts are delightful – and Lucasfilm’s subsequent embrace of these fan films, even sponsoring competitions and giving away free materials to start filmmakers off. Lucas’ galactic sandbox is remarkable, and the fanboy Rebel Alliance continues unabated.

Just don’t mention the hopefully-erased-from-history Star Wars Holiday Special – so toe-curlingly unwatchable it has been dubbed “Mom & Dad’s Sex Tape”.

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