Before I begin, I’d like to point out that The People Vs. George Lucas isn’t like Ronseal, as it doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin. Far from it, in fact, as the documentary presents an almost balanced argument between the two sides of the story. But when certain people tell the camera that they want to slice Lucas in half like Darth Maul, you can tell right away this isn’t going to be pretty.
The films starts by taking Lucas back to his humble beginnings, as he released American Graffiti and THX 1138 and showed signs of promise as a young director and writer. When he released Star Wars, the documentary argues, it was the end for his career in those fields, and the beginning of a new career in marketing.
Star Wars was hailed by many as the best film they had ever seen, and through old interview footage of Francis Ford Coppola we are told that it was brilliant, but that the money it earned for Lucas was too great for him not to follow up.
There were many films of Lucas’ which went unmade, and remain unmade today, all because of the impact of Star Wars.
The film skips the making of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi, and moves straight to 1997 and the beginning of the remastering process of the original trilogy. Then the people interviewed turn, figuratively, into vultures, circling the wounded George Lucas, and waiting for any available opening to swoop.
Whether it’s the CGI addition of Jabba the Hutt (with the tail-stepping section of particular annoyance) or the oft-mentioned ‘Han Shot First’ scene, it’s clear that people had a problem with this edit of their beloved Star Wars.
From here, the documentary goes from quite good to especially interesting, as the fans of the films start to bring up a more ownership-based argument than I was expecting. Do the fans of a particular piece of work own it more than its creator? Should the creator be allowed to change fundamental things about characters and their decisions in subsequent remasterings?
There is a lot of healthy debate here, and The People Vs. George Lucas goes from being solely about Star Wars (with a healthy nudge to Indiana Jones too) into something that can be applied to any film with a cult following, or even that of any cultural touchstone, be it a painting or a book or anything whatsoever.
The film is well put together from over 400 hours’ worth of footage of re-cuts and fan films, interviews with fans, comedians, film historians, and footage of George Lucas talking about himself. However, the Francis Ford Coppola interview shown here is brilliant, and gives us an inside look into the man we love for giving us Star Wars, and some hate for ruining it.
He talks about the untapped genius that lies beneath the public figure who has forgotten his roots, and can probably never return. Once the cash cows of Star Wars and Indiana Jones had begun, Lucas turned from one profession to another.
For a subject like fan culture (especially within movies) to be examined correctly, the fans themselves are the best people to ask. These are the elite fans who know what frames were edited from the original version to the 1997 version, and even on the DVD edits in 2004.
These are the people who have re-cut the films to be ‘how they should be’. These are the people who have written, filmed, lived and breathed Star Wars since it first entered their lives. This film is a fitting tribute to the fans and fandom in general that doesn’t completely bash Lucas, but more often sides with his enemies and worshipers alike in saying that the world of Star Wars may have been created by the man, but is owned by the people.
It’s this intense examination that Lucas himself needs to be party to, but unfortunately, he did not take part in the process of the film (and who, with a title like that, would?) and he has reportedly not seen it since its completion.
I can only hope that, at some point, Lucas will see the film, realise his shortcomings, and maybe then he can move on. For now, The People Vs. George Lucas is an inspired documentary which will make you think and make you laugh, especially if you are already invested in the culture of Star Wars.
In the end, even if you only have a passing interest, this film (along with anything else Star Wars related) isn’t for the creators. It is for you.