'Star Wars' Fans and the Sins of George Lucas


Exhibit A Pictures

Last week, the director Alexandre Philippe walked out in front of a giant screen at the Austin Convention Center to introduce the fourth and final screening of his new film, The People vs. George Lucas, an examination of the tortured relationship between the Star Wars director and his fans.

After thanking everyone for coming, he said, "Some news for you Star Wars fans. I don't know if you read the entertainment news today, but George Lucas is going to do a new TV show on Jedi babies. It's going to be called Squishies." The crowd—perhaps a little over a hundred people that night, chuckled.

One could be forgiven for thinking it was a joke, an opening salvo by the director before the recriminations against Lucas by his fans (and even a few of his collaborators) began. But one google search of "George Lucas Jedi Babies" later, it turned out the director wasn't kidding.

And that's just the latest in a long series of betrayals committed by George Lucas against Star Wars fans. The People vs. George Lucas goes through them all, featuring witnesses for both the prosecution and the defense. The central question is this: What does a creator owe his fans, and what do the fans owe the creator in return?

The obvious challenge for a documentary like this is how to visually examine moments from the Star Wars films without violating copyrights and incurring the wrath of Lucas himself. While some clips from the films are used, many key moments are represented through fan re-enactments, which are legion in the Star Wars world. There are fan films using pets, kids, toys, clay—virtually every medium has paid homage to the Star Wars universe (even instant messaging), and The People vs. George Lucas puts them all to good use. Thousands of fans submitted videos for the documentary, and their enthusiasm and adoration seems more and more conflicted and confused as the film moves from one Lucas betrayal to the next.

His sins are many. First, there is Lucas's own Vader-like transformation from anti-studio auteur filmmaker into the guy no one says no to. He no longer has to deal with criticism, adversity, or collaborators. For someone who railed against studio funding and control, who still seems to be getting over the battles fought (and largely won) for his first two films, THX 1138 and American Graffiti, Lucas doesn't seem to have done much to change the equation. He hasn't helped produce any auteur or independent films since 1986, and hasn't made any of the small, personal films he claims to dream of doing. As the documentary points out (with some damning words from friend and former collaborator Francis Ford Coppola), Lucas is more of a toymaker now than a filmmaker.

Then there are the controversial changes in the 1997 theatrical re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy—Greedo shooting first, the nightmare musical number in Jabba's palace, numerous distracting CGI additions. Does Lucas have the right to go back and change his films, and then make the originals more or less unavailable? At what point do creative works become more the domain of the public than the creator? As one interviewee in the documentary asks, if Jackson Pollock were alive today and wanted to go back and remove the cigarette butt from one of his paintings, would the National Gallery allow him to do so?

Based on his re-thinking of and tinkering with the original films, perhaps Star Wars fans shouldn't have been as surprised by the outright awfulness of the prequels that began to appear two years later: midi-chlorians, Jar Jar, trade embargoes, flat acting, and shallow characters—these are all debated in the documentary, but the apologists for Lucas's newest Star Wars movies are few. (It may just be in the editing, but there are only three defenders of Jar Jar Binks, and two of them are French.) Several fans in the film are torn over whether they want Lucas to make any more Star War movies at this point, and if he did, whether or not they would even see them. (One interviewee, part of the duo behind the song "George Lucas Raped Our Childhood," didn't even bother seeing Revenge of the Sith.)

Is there any hope for the Star Wars franchise? The director, during the Q&A after the film, suggested Lucas turn over the creative rights to Star Wars and allow a new generation of filmmakers to take over, similar to last years' reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Then Lucas could get to the small, personal filmmaking he's long been wanting to return to, like Coppola has in recent years with Tetro and Youth Without Youth.

But that's unlikely to happen. Instead, we'll probably get more cartoons, toys, Jedi babies, and re-workings of both the originals and prequels (all of which have been modified even more for their DVD releases). And maybe a third Robot Chicken special. It's nice that Lucas can laugh at himself, but after watching this documentary, I wonder if he shouldn't do some crying, too.

For more background on the complicated relationship between Lucas and his fans, click here for recommended viewing