“The People vs. George Lucas” examines the love/hate relationship between “Star Wars” fans and the master of their universe. The documentary gives voice to those who matter most – fans who gobble up every “Star Wars” trinket and analyze each new “The Force Awakens” teaser trailer with breakneck speed.
What might have been silly or worse, rendered insignificant becomes a culturally relevant essay in the hands of writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe.
“Star Wars” gave him all the freedom he would ever need, although creatively the saga became a curse as well as a blessing.
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The documentary lets a legion of interview subjects, including filmmakers, movie scholars and “Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz, share their thoughts on Lucas’ legacy – and the reasons why some fans can’t help hating him. But the best bits involve the fan contributions. Philippe sprinkles amateur “Star Wars” movies into the mix, proving the franchise not only spawned a passionate fan base but ignited their collective creativity in ways few other films could.
Has “Harry Potter” or “James Bond” inspired poetry slams?
But Philippe doesn’t let the fans do all the work. The film delves into deeper themes, from the ephemeral nature of art to its ownership. “Star Wars” belongs to our culture, but Lucas owns all the legal rights -- at least before he gave them up for that $4 billion check from Disney.
Fan love for Lucas started to turn in the mid-90s when he decided to re-release the original three “Star Wars” films in “special editions.” These new and so-called improved films upgraded the trilogy’s special effects, re-inserted scenes cut for a variety of reasons and, essentially, tossed aside the source material.
The “Star Wars” faithful erupted in anger, and with good reason. A healthy chunk of the documentary details the outrage over the “Star Wars” scene involving Han Solo and Greedo, which underwent an ill-advised tweak, to showcase Lucas’ bald overreach.
What isn’t directly addressed is that Lucas the artist is clearly in decline. When he decided it was time to create the prequel films his filmmaking skills had started to ebb, but his ego had only just begun to grow. Rather than hire a director or two to shape the prequels, as he did with Episodes Five and Six, he took on the task himself.
DID YOU KNOW: ‘George Lucas’ director Alexandre Philippe says most of the film preservationists he contacted about Lucas’ refusal to preserve the original film trilogy refused to appear on camera.
Lucas’ journey toward the Dark Side began when the “Star Wars” toy brigade started hitting the market. The franchise’s merchandise potential caught his eye, turning an iconoclastic filmmaker into a parody of the corporations he once mocked. And where are those small, personal films outside a galaxy far, far away he promised us in interview after interview?
Lucas comes off as arrogant here, and blindingly hypocritical for massaging the original trilogy. Years earlier he had testified before Congress about the harm adding color to great black and white films would do to the cultural fabric. Yet here he was performing a similar act to his own trilogy with little regard for the consequences.
“The People vs. George Lucas” addresses themes that most audience members will find intriguing, but it’s best viewed by people who once owned – or still do – a Han Solo action figure or detailed model of an X-Wing Fighter.
And, despite all the evidence piled up against Lucas, the film can’t help loving the flawed auteur all the same.