Thought you'd heard all about George Lucas? Greedo shooting first, Jar Jar Binks and Darth Vader's cry of "Nooooo!" at the end of Revenge of the Sith are common complaints about Lucas' dumbing down of the Star Wars saga. Now a new documentary film gives voice to all those opinions but introduces some really valid points we didn't even think of before.
The People vs. George Lucas, directed by Alexandre O. Phillippe, interviews hundreds of fanboys. Famous artists such as Neil Gaiman, notable fan filmmakers Joe Nussbaum (George Lucas in Love) and Kevin Rubio (Troops), film critics such as Chris Gore, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz and more discuss the case against George Lucas. Phillippe also includes plain old fans contributing via webcam. They all make some good points.
After a little background just to establish the importance of this discussion (it did stem from the one of the greatest cultural phenomena of the century), the film digs into the 1997 "special edition" re-releases. This is the "Han shot first" discussion, but it's also important to remember how he tricked us into this altered version. We were so excited to see Star Wars in theaters again, looking all spiffy, that they really blindsided us by changing things we had never complained about.
A problem with the special-edition debate is that it becomes a sort of he said/she said against Lucas. We say we want the theatrical cuts. He says he should be able to present the version he originally intended. We say we don't want the new one. He says it's his property, and on and on. People vs. articulates it in a way that makes it a matter of political importance.
With changes to the visual effects and the timing of edits, one commentator suggests that the special edition is not the film that won the Oscar for visual effects and editing. That is a practical point. There was a qualitative judgment of the theatrical cut. Lucas has essentially removed that from existence. Here we were just upset that they added an unnecessary Jabba the Hutt scene. Now the Oscars sitting on Paul Hirsch and John Dykstra's shelves might be dissolving from existence like the photo in Back to the Future.
Another commentator compares Lucas's dismissal of the theatrical cuts to Holocaust denial. Melodramatic, perhaps, but a meaningful argument in terms of cultural history. Would Lucas also erase the concentration camps because that's not the ideal version of history? As even South Park pointed out, Lucas petitioned against Ted Turner's attempts to colorize old black and white movies in the interest of preserving film history.
The most frustrating thing about the special-edition argument is that a second wave of DVDs came out with the theatrical cuts as "bonus features," only they were not even transferred to DVD with the basic minimum technical specs. This isn't about his vision versus ours. Somehow he thinks it's okay to erase 1977 from the record books. That would be wrong even if he weren't a hypocrite, but he doesn't even see that it's worse than colorizing! It's unfortunate the filmmakers could not get a comment from the Library of Congress. That would have strengthened their case, but their "no comment" could be telling in itself.
The documentary is only getting started with the special editions. The prequels are where people really got disappointed in Lucas. It's one thing to change the films we love. It's another to wait 16 years to continue a story, only to have it be The Phantom Menace. Now fans start to claim Lucas raped their childhood, because he turned the backstory of Darth Vader into nonsense like midichlorians and Gungans.
There are some healthy pro-Lucas advocates in this section. Artists claim Lucas has no responsibility to his fans, only one to make money. Others say it'll never be 1977 again and we'll never watch Star Wars with fresh eyes like that. Valid points, although the fact that the French love Jar Jar Binks probably shouldn't count as a pro-Lucas point.
The film debunks the Lucasfilm argument that he's making movies for kids. It does show children who love the prequels, and Jar Jar, because they do exist. But the notion that Lucas only made the prequels for the young audience is bogus. It's all about trade embargoes and such politics. What kid understands that?
Two passionate fans debate the midichlorian issue. You may already agree that it's a stupid explanation for the Force, and one that changes spirituality to medical science. The film also points out that it's a direct contradiction of Obi Wan's first explanation of the Force in A New Hope. And you get to see a cute Star Wars fan girl take a midichlorian defender to task.
The film skips over Episode II, jumping to the ridiculous "Noooo!" moment that ends Episode III. We all agree that sucked, but some people suggest more dramatic ways they could have portrayed Anakin's transition. They manage to touch on Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a bit, too.
The film ultimately concludes on a positive note. As much as it analyzed all the ways in which George Lucas sucks, it's all about people who love Lucas' creation. Even some of the most vicious haters admit they love him and just want him to make more good Star Wars movies. If he doesn't, at least there's The People vs. George Lucas.
The film just played the South by Southwest film festival. Check for the latest info on its next screenings and release prospects at www.peoplevsgeorge.com.