Allison Loring

June 28th, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Producers: Vanessa Philippe, Kerry Deignan Roy, Robert Muratore, Anna Higgs, Alexandre O. Philippe
Featuring: Gary Kurtz, Neil Gaiman, Dave Prowse, Sandy Lieberson, Anthony Waye

The love/hate relationship fans of George Lucas’ work have towards the creator himself run deep and are as intense as they are contradictory. Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary, THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS, explores the reasons behind these strong emotions.

Disenchanted by the movie-making process as mandated by the studio films he had worked on coming up in his career, Lucas decided to make his own film so he could control (and own) every part of it. With no real “boss” to answer to, Lucas set out and created what turned into a cultural phenomenon, STAR WARS. However, despite the fact that millions of people around the world fell in love with the film, Lucas was never fully satisfied with the version that was originally released. And that is where the trouble starts.

Because Lucas owned the film, he had the power to go back and re-edit, re-touch, and add in new scenes. The updates to make the film look better, sharper, and clearer were accepted by fans, but when it came to changing the actual story and thus the characters' motivations themselves, things started to unravel. One of the main issues that came up was the now epic question: “Who shot first: Greedo or Hans Solo?” In the original version, it was Solo, but in the re-released version, Greedo actually fires first. This seemingly simple change outraged fans and merely asking about it draws fans into a tizzy to this day.

The question then becomes, who really owns a piece of art (whether it be a film, a painting, a song) – the creator themselves or fans of that art? Obviously Lucas believed himself to have full rights (as he already had full control) to change what he wanted to because it was his vision to begin with. But because his film became so popular and affected so many people, these changes did not go unnoticed and actually offended fans. To them, the film was something they considered “theirs” in the sense that they had memories and feelings attached to their experiences first watching it. With the film now altered, it caused their emotions related to it to feel invalid and wrong.

Different filmmakers interviewed in the documentary noted that all films are unfinished because the direction of any film is determined by the limits of how much time you have to make it and the resources you have to make it with. No one’s film or art is probably exactly what they wanted, but it is usually what happens when you have to change, improvise, or make something work while actually creating the film that become some of the best moments. And as many STAR WARS fans noted, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But to Lucas, the film was “broken” in that it was not complete and he had the ability to change that, so he did.

Beyond the fact that the original STAR WARS was changed, Lucas began releasing prequel chapters to the film to lay the background of the characters people had grown to know and love. Prior to the release of STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE, fans were ecstatic and lined up for days to see the film in theaters. And almost every one of them was disappointed by what they saw, and even more outraged at the man who created it. Were their expectations too high? Were they setting themselves up for disappointment? Maybe. But as one interviewee noted, fans want more of what they already like and in PHANTOM MENACE, Lucas gave them (yet again) what he wanted and sadly, those two mindsets are no longer the same.

So why are fans so connected to this film? Why do they feel as though they have the right to demand it not be changed? Some perceive it to be because the film “inspired people to play” and then gave them the tools to do so with endless amounts of memorabilia and toys inspired by the film. Lucas himself has commented that he has become what he had been fighting against when he set out to make STAR WARS, as he is now the big businessman in charge of controlling this franchise rather than the artist simply creating it. Some people feel he has become his own version of Darth Vader as the “evil” he had tried so hard to avoid, ended up consuming him.

But fans keep buying everything and anything that is released related to the film from special box sets to action figures to bedding. The question then becomes, if they hate the film so much, why do they literally keep buying back into it? I think it is because they are constantly trying to get back the feeling they once had when they first watched the film. And because the original is no longer readily available to re-experience that lightning in a bottle, they turn to whatever is available. It becomes about more than the film itself and instead about the feeling the film originally evoked.

In the end, who is in the right? Who is in the wrong? Despite the faux mock trails depicted by fans in the film, there is no easy answer. Even though the legions of fans interviewed and featured claimed they have hated and resented Lucas’ latest work, in the same breath, they admit they would still turn up for another STAR WARS film, high hopes in hand. Regardless of where you stand in the debate, Lucas created something that resonated with people, whether you are an older fan who first saw the film in theaters, a newer fan seeing the versions released today or even just a person who finds fighting with a light saber cool. There is an appreciation and a love there, no matter how complicated. Even though I myself am not a die-hard STAR WARS fan, I can understand the emotion the film inspired in those who love it and what, in turn, it would feel like if that film were then changed. The world of STAR WARS may not actually be real, but the feelings attached to it, without a doubt, are.


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