The documentary The People vs. George Lucas gives voice to all the fanboy arguments against the special editions of the Star Wars trilogy, the quality of the prequel movies and even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe also argues that we should give Lucas a break: He intends the film to celebrate our cultural love of all things Lucas and to forgive him his missteps.
"I don't want to sound mean towards George," Philippe said in an exclusive interview last week at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas. "Making films is so difficult. It's so difficult to come up with a great story. Regardless of whether Episodes I, II or III are great films or terrible films, we can't forget that here's a guy who gave us movies that we will always remember, that will always be looked upon as some of the greatest films of all time. To some extent, yes, it's terribly sad that those movies didn't live up to the expectations, but at the end of the day, he's still the guy who gave us Star Wars, American Graffiti, THX and Indiana Jones."
Philippe found no shortage of fans who would debate issues of midichlorians, Jar Jar Binks and Greedo shooting first. He is concerned, however, that the more we tell Lucas we're unhappy, the more reclusive he'll get.
"The fans have gone so far in their supposed hatred of George Lucas that I think it's very possible that George as a result has retreated a little bit, distanced himself from his fans," Philippe said. "Maybe that's the reason why he has this perception of this guy who just wants to do whatever he wants to do and he's not going to listen to anybody anymore, because how do you listen to your own inner voice when you have millions of angry fans surrounding you? I think there's a certain part of responsibility from the fans in terms of the state of things right now. Where we're at with George, this is not all George's doing and I didn't want to cut the fans any slack either."
The film addresses how the prequel films alter the very mythology that Lucas created in the original Star Wars trilogy. It does not go so far as to criticize the horribly wooden acting and nonexistent relationships among characters. That was not Philippe's point.
"I didn't really want to criticize George as a filmmaker," Philippe said. "I certainly have a lot of issues with some of the things that he's done, some of the creative choices that he's made, but ultimately that's very subjective. What I was interested in was the elements that the fans very specifically became extremely angry about and why. An element like the midichlorians I thought was really important, because now you're talking about something that changes fundamentally this notion of the Force that we've all embraced for so long."
We should also be glad that Lucas gave us something to talk about. "Frankly, as much as the fans I think hate, for instance, Jar Jar Binks, they love to hate him," Philippe said. "There's a certain amount of fun in just going to whatever convention or forum or talking with your friends and just talking about it. It's just one of those things. Am I glad that Episodes I, II, III came out? Am I glad that this debate is going on? Yeah, it is fun. There are certainly some concerns in terms of cultural history and film preservation and all that, but those are very separate issues."
Also, hateful fans should consider that Lucas allows fans to re-edit his work. There are fan edits of the prequels floating around the internet, and Lucas doesn't prosecute anyone. "I think he knows," Philippe said. "He is just as mysterious to me because I love him, I really respect him, I'm really fascinated by him. At the same time, like every other fan I think of my generation, I'm just terribly frustrated with him."
Lucas himself has not commented on the film, and Philippe's point was not to get a direct comment. "You have to understand I am a fanboy, but I'm also very much a documentary filmmaker," Philippe said. "So it was really the documentary filmmaker in me that wanted to make this film because I felt like this needed to be explored from a cultural perspective. So it's primarily for the fans, and then it is to some extent dedicated to George."
Since fans have had 13 years since the special edition re-releases to start hating on Lucas and all the Star Wars revisions, it is entirely possible that Philippe's film won't live up to their expectations either.
"Then it's OK," Philippe admitted. "I think our film has sparked some debate for quite some time now, just the very existence of it has sparked debate. I've seen that since it came out. The few people who've seen it are already debating about it which is great. I've set out to do the film that I believe needed to be done and I've tried to do it with as much respect as possible towards George and towards the fans, and to be as objective as possible. So I feel good about what I've done and I fully realize that not everybody is going to feel that way. I just hope it becomes a lasting document of this truly unique dynamic in pop culture. If it continues the debate, then that's great."
Find out about future screenings of The People vs. George Lucas at the official Web site.