The Force is strong with this one …
“The People vs. George Lucas” examines the love/hate relationship between “Star Wars” fans and the master of their universe. The new documentary gives voice to those who matter most – the audience members who line up for every “Star Wars” film and gobble up everything from toy light sabres to “Star Wars” sleeping gear.
What might have been silly or worse, rendered insignificant becomes a culturally relevant essay in the hands of writer/director Alexandre O. Philippe.
The Colorado debut of the new film helped close out the last day of the 33rd Starz Denver Film Festival on a high, and oh, so colorful note.
“The People vs. George Lucas” begins with a thumbnail sketch of Lucas, a young filmmaker with an ax to grind against the Hollywood system. The scruffy faced auteur didn’t take kindly to the suits’ pressure on films like “American Graffiti,” and he dreamed of working unfettered by the corporate touch.
“Star Wars” gave him all the freedom he would ever need, although creatively the saga became a curse as well as a blessing.
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 sit back and 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.
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.
Just when does an artist decide to step away from a piece of work and say, in no uncertain terms, “It’s done?”
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 addressed, but implied throughout the film, 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 to help the prequels, as he did with Episodes Five and Six, he took on the task himself.
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 him all the same.
(Photo: “The People vs. George Lucas” details the complicated relationship “Star Wars” fans have with the franchise’s creator. Photo courtesy of Exhibit A Pictures)