It’s appropriate that I am writing this review on May 4th, also known as Star Wars Day—May the Fourth be with you…! *groan*
Before I talk about The People vs. George Lucas, let me first qualify my review with a short preamble about my relationship with Mr. Lucas.
May 18th, 1999. It’s raining, it’s cold and my friend Craig and I have been standing in line for nearly eight hours. We’re in line to see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. There were hundreds of other people in line with us, all of whom either saw the original trilogy in theatres or grew up watching the films on VHS. The atmosphere was absolutely electric: a new Star Wars movie had been made and we were about to see it. If only we’d known how disappointed we would be just hours later. Sheer excitement and anticipation would turn to confusion and anger. For me, the gravity of just how badly The Phantom Menace had sucked took some time to set in, but when it did, it was crushing. My 15 year old self couldn’t face my 7 year old self. “How could Star Wars suck?”, I wondered. “George? What happened?!”
The new doc The People vs. George Lucas aims to find out exactly what happened. The film is part biography of the filmmaker/CEO and part history of Star Wars as a cultural touchstone; featuring interviews with film critics, filmmakers and theorists, writers and pop culture experts, fanboys and professional dorks. Director Alexandre O. Philippe appropriately splits his film into several episodes. In episode one he uses archival footage, rare photos, and interviews with Lucas and contemporaries like Francis Ford Coppola to assemble a picture of a gifted and promising filmmaker. Episode two focuses on the fans of Star Wars and Indiana Jones and how important these films were to them. To see grown men, many now respected writers and creators in their own right, absolutely giddy and nostalgic talking about Star Wars sets up the last half of the film. The final few episodes focus on the corporatization of the Star Wars brand, the special editions, the hype leading up to the prequels and reaction against them. To see the same group of people, who thirty minutes earlier could hardly contain their child-like glee about Star Wars, turn around and spew such vitriol against Lucas and the prequels is shocking, but not unsurprising. You have to have loved Star Wars a lot, to hate the prequels the way most of the interviewees do.
One of the key questions the film asks is at what point does art not belong to the artist? The Star Wars films are so engrained in popular culture, that fans actually felt owed by George Lucas. The Flannelled One and his fans are equally responsible for this situation—They asked for it and he gave them more Star Wars; they didn’t like it, but they went to see it anyways! The documentary made me feel sorry for George Lucas (Yes, billions of dollars… World’s tiniest violin, I know) and fans alike. You have a genuinely talented filmmaker, trapped and cut-off from reality by his success, and an entire generation of fans whose expectations could not possibly have been met. Star Wars is as much a series of films as it is a cultural phenomen, but there was a point where it became something else: Star Wars became a business. Caught up in an empire of his own creation, George Lucas the filmmaker became, perhaps unwillingly or unknowingly, a businessman. The dorky kid from Modesto, California went from creating whimsy and adventure to dealing in hypocrisy and impossible promises. It’s depressing stuff, the story of George Lucas begins to sound disturbingly like the story of Anakain Skywalker, a talented young upstart seduced by the dark side.
My only gripe with the film, is that it’s slightly too long. Given that most of the film is dorks humourously complaining about George Lucas, the inclusion of clips from numerous Star Wars fan films really lightened the tone. Aside from that, if you are, or ever were a fan of Star Wars you should see The People vs. George Lucas. There are no excuses here, the film isn’t kind to Lucas. You’ll probably lose a lot of respect for the man after seeing it, but at least you’ll understand him better. You’ll also understand yourself, the fan, better than you did before. How can you indict a man who brought so much joy into your childhood? Ultimately, an artist does not owe anything to their audience; in that sense Star Wars belongs to George Lucas as much as it does to us. However, when that artist ceases to be an artist, what does he owe his audience then?
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want an apology for Jar Jar Binks. No excuses for that, Mr. Lucas!