It’s fascinating to see the trajectory George Lucas’ career has taken in the arena of public opinion. Here is a man who for years was beloved by everyone on planet Earth for creating “Star Wars,” who beat the Hollywood studios at their own game and opened us up to a world of tremendous and endless imagination. Then came the “special editions” of the original “Star Wars” trilogy which served to fund the prequels, and he went from being seen as a demigod to being treated like a pariah of the worst kind. Our love for Lucas has long since turned into a vicious hatred that has us out for blood, but has he really become just another greedy CEO or are we all just being a bunch of ungrateful bastards?
Those issues are examined in Alexandre O. Philippe’s highly entertaining documentary, “The People vs. George Lucas.” After all these years we finally get to see the filmmaker have his day in court. Granted, he only appears in past footage of interviews and behind the scenes stuff, but Philippe does make it seem like he’s giving his side of the story here.
This could have been just a one-sided portrait of Lucas and the venom he has inadvertently inspired in the most devoted fans, but what’s great about this documentary is that it gives us a multi-faceted view of him. We see Lucas’ humble beginnings and how he developed a love for film and a deep hatred for the corporations that took over Hollywood. We feel for him when he talks about how upset he was at film executives who re-cut “THX-1138” and “American Graffiti,” and we find ourselves rooting for him to gain his independence from the studio system forever. The fact that he did through getting exclusive merchandise rights on “Star Wars” was a kick because no studio will ever let another filmmaker get away with that again!
Then we see how Lucas, by gaining his independence, became the very thing he fought against. There’s a great interview with Francis Ford Coppola who talks about the filmmaker Lucas could have been and of how he had many great films inside of him, but that the success of “Star Wars” ended up enslaving him for life. Lucas has said that, with the conclusion of the prequel trilogy, he was going to make the smaller and more experimental films he always wanted to make, but he soon found himself drawn back to that galaxy far, far away when it became possible to do 3D versions of each “Star Wars” movie.
Philippe also shows us how Lucas is full of contradictions. On one hand this is a filmmaker who fought against the colorization of black-and-white movies, and yet he will do nothing to save the original versions of the first “Star Wars” trilogy. Many feel like he totally ignored the fans that helped build “Star Wars” into a mighty franchise by giving them “The Phantom Menace” and Jar Jar Binks, but even he agreed with them that “The Star Wars Christmas Special” was a huge mistake.
By presenting all the different sides of Lucas, we don’t come out of this documentary loving or hating him. In the end he’s human like the rest of us, prone to making inescapable mistakes like anybody else. While many despise him for how the “Star Wars” prequels turned out or for what he did to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” his never ending imagination has created splendid worlds we would all love to be a part of.
One of the great things about “The People vs. George Lucas” is watching the fan made films and parodies which “Star Wars” inspired. Seeing filmmakers use stop motion animation, anime and other methods is a lot of fun to take in. Among the best bits were “Troops” which is a spoof of the TV show “Cops” but with Storm Troopers, and the “Misery” parody which has Annie Wilkes making the injured George Lucas rewrite “Revenge of the Sith” the way she wants to see it. Why she didn’t make him rewrite “The Phantom Menace” remains a mystery.
In many ways the “Star Wars” prequels and even the last “Indiana Jones” movie were victims of our intense anticipation for them. They represented a way to once again experience the things in our childhood that made us so happy to be alive, and we would give anything to feel like a kid when it comes to movies. But in the end our excitement for these movies was undone not because we expected more from them, but because our anticipation proved to be more exciting than the finished product. To put it in another way, here’s a quote from Lewis Black:
“There is no better moment than this moment, when we’re anticipating the actual moment itself. All of the moments that lead up to the actual moment are truly the best moments. Those are the moments that are filled with good times. Those are the moments in which you are able to think that it is going to be perfect, when the moment actually happens. But, the moment is reality, and reality always kind of sucks!”
The anticipation for “The Phantom Menace” was higher than any other movie before it, and there was no way that it could have completely satisfied everyone. In retrospect, our excitement for the prequels proved to be far more enthralling than what ended up on the silver screen because we wanted them to be one thing, and Lucas ended up going against that whether he intended to or not.
What “The People vs. George Lucas” seems to suggest in the end is that we should be thankful he continued with “Star Wars” at all. It also suggests that, despite our utter disappointment at the prequels, he still gave us a wealth of imagination we can still be deeply inspired by. Had this been just a documentary dedicated to bashing Lucas to within an inch of his life, it would have become tiresome and boring very quickly. But “The People vs. George Lucas” is great because it give us the different dimensions of the man and shows us how the ways he fought the system ended up working against him in later years. This is a great documentary that will appeal to fans and non-fans of “Star Wars,” and that’s assuming there are any non-“Star Wars” fans on this planet or others.