Thursday, March 12, 2015

The People vs George Lucas


Not Rated (Probable R, but should be PG-13 for Language)

I enjoy the "Star Wars" movies, but I am not a "fan."  Meaning, I don't own any "Star Wars" media, and I really don't care whether Han Solo shoots Greedo first.  I also enjoy the prequels (although after watching them all in succession, I think that the original trilogy is better...albeit marginally since they're all wonderful).

In fact, I am so out-of-the-loop with all things "Star Wars" that I didn't know there was a fan controversy in the first place until I read some of James Berardinelli's thoughts on the subject (God bless Reelviews!).  That's when I started thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought that the fans should just get over themselves.

That is until I saw this movie.

"The People vs. George Lucas" offers a reasonably balanced portrayal of the arguments against George Lucas.  While some fans hate Lucas, there are others who defend him.  The film also explains the arguments fans use to bash him.  Both are given equal weight, and this makes from an enlightening 90 minutes.  It's insightful, rather cheery, and occasionally funny.

No one can doubt that "Star Wars," or "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" as it was later known, struck a chord with children of that age.  The maverick filmmaker who was burdened by the studio system and went ahead to create a masterpiece on his own.  The triumph of absolute good over insidious evil.  The creation of a whole new, strange and weird universe.  It's no wonder it created such a sensation.

George Lucas, ever the businessman, allowed the marketplace to explode with memorabilia (Lucas accepted a lesser salary in exchange for full merchandising rights...a huge gamble that paid off big time, seeing as everyone but Steven Spielberg thought the film would flop).  Fans would re-enact their favorite scenes and come up with new stories, something that LucasFilm encouraged.  For years, fans and Lucas had a two-way street of creative love.

Things changed when Lucas released the Special Editions of the original trilogy.  Lucas tweaked a few things here and there, and even changed a relatively crucial scene or two (Greedo shooting first).  Fans were not pleased, and feelings towards Lucas soured.  They turned rancid when he wouldn't release copies of the unaltered trilogy.

Still, it wasn't all out war until the prequels released.  Ask anyone my age or older, and they will be able to tell you all about the level of anticipation leading up to May 19, 1999.  The level of anticipation was high, but the response was low.  It didn't match up to their expectations (how could they?).  That's when fans turned on Lucas for good.

The film asks a number of intriguing questions.  At what point does a filmmaker have a responsibility to his fans?  Some argue that they bought so much merchandise that Lucas created, and that they in turn elevated the franchise into a cultural phenomenon.  Does that mean that "Star Wars" belongs to the public, or should it remain with him?  Fans who are displeased with his changes are clamoring for the release of the unaltered originals, but in a response to a petition, LucasFilm claims that the originals were too degraded and that the studio has no plans to release them (but according to James Berardinelli, they're still available, albeit not in Blu Ray).

Also addressed is hatred for the prequels.  I can't tell you how often I hear that the prequels suck.  I don't get it.  For all their flaws (and there are some big ones, such as more than a few clunky lines and some stiff performances) I enjoy them.  Others do not, and I think the film touches on something intriguing.  It argues that the fans have simply grown up and that the films have taken on a life of their own.  There were cultural and emotional components that went into "Star Wars" that no filmmaker could recapture.

Finally, the film examines the Oedipal nature of the relationship to the fans.  It's a weird relationship, which the fans recognize (one woman claims to have lost her husband and son to her "Star Wars" obsession).  But it's gotten over-the-top; some even go so far as to claim that Lucas "raped" their childhood.  Where does that come from?  Disappointment in his lack of fan service to or to the fact that they simply grew up?

On a technical level, the film is decent.  It looks great, and the film gives each argument its due.  But it's too long, and director Alexandre O. Philippe has too much love for fan re-enactments.  Some of these are necessary to get his point across, but he should have found something else to use in place of talking heads to keep things moving along at a decent clip.

What would have made this film truly eye-opening is something that would be realistically impossible for it to have: a completely candid interview with Lucas himself.  It would be interesting to hear his views on all of this hoopla, but there would be no way that he, or anyone for that matter, would be willing to show himself in such a compromising position.  Especially for a movie that probably couldn't pay him very much.

The film ends too abruptly.  One minute they're talking about how vile the hatred for Lucas has become, but the next they're saying they still love him.  Huh?

This isn't a movie that's going to have a wide appeal, but for people like me who are curious about all the hate for George Lucas, this represents an interesting 90 minutes.

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