Friday, September 23, 2011

DVD Review: The People vs. George Lucas

The People vs. George Lucas ***
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe.

Han Solo shot first. Greedo came to get him, and before he could shoot or capture him, Han Solo gunned him down in cold blood. That was what happened in the original 1977 version of Star Wars. When George Lucas did the special additions, he added more than just special effects – he added a different plot point when he has Greedo shoot first, miss, and than have Han Solo gun him gun. That turns what Han Solo did from an act of cold blooded murder to an act of justifiable self defense. And you know what? I don’t give a shit.

Unlike most of the fanboys (and girls) who make up the talking heads in the entertaining documentary The People vs. George Lucas, I was not a child of the 1970s. I can’t remember watching Star Wars for the first time in 1977 and being blown away by it – mainly because I wasn’t born until 1981. By then not only Star Wars, but also The Empire Strikes Back, had been released. Sure, I watched the movies when I was a kid, and loved them (we had all sorts of Star Wars toys), but I can’t say that Star Wars was the definitive moment of my childhood. Which perhaps explains why, unlike so many in the film, I can never honestly say that George Lucas raped my childhood by making changes to the original trilogy, and then having the gall to make the “prequels”. I’ll admit – I actually like all three prequel films. Sure, other than Revenge of the Sith, none of them even come close to the original or The Empire Strikes Back or The Return of the Jedi, but all three are entertaining space operas – which is what the first three films were. But yes, I will agree, that Jar Jar Binks never should have happened.

The People vs. George Lucas is a fascinating look at fandom – at just how far some people will go with their love and obsession with something – and how quickly that love can turn to hate. It’s suggested in the movie that the way you prove that you truly love Star Wars is to hate Star Wars. And I think that makes perfect sense.

When George Lucas started his film career, he was frustrated by the fact that the film industry was run by corporations. He liked making tiny, non-narrative films and worked alongside Francis Ford Coppola. He made two other films before Star Wars – THX 1138 and American Graffitti, and although both are excellent films, he was frustrated that corporations stuck their noses into his art. He was determined not to let that happen again – and he didn’t. The Star Wars films, for better or for worse, are all George Lucas. He has complete control over every aspect of every film and it seems like he will never be done tinkering with them. And then, most frustrating of all, he’ll make the previous additions unavailable to all who want them. Star Wars is his, goddamn it, and people will see only what Lucas wants them to see.

And yet, George Lucas has also given much back to the fans. There are thousands of fan films featuring Star Wars characters and themes, and Lucas not only doesn’t sue anyone for infringing on his copyright, he encourages it. He holds contests for the best ones, he makes special audio and visual effects available to anyone who wants to use them in their films. You can essentially do whatever you want to Star Wars, and George Lucas doesn’t care. But those six films are his, and he’ll do to them whatever the hell he wants.

Yes, there are arguments about preserving film history to be made – and I agree with them. There should be the original versions of the films made available. These are the films that people fell so much in love with, and these are the films that won so many Oscars. The Special Additions are not the same film. And the originals should be preserved.

But in all honesty, does it really matter THAT much? Are the changes Lucas made to the original trilogy really THAT awful that anyone can honestly say that they go from loving them to hating them? Will future generations watching Star Wars really care? Are the prequel movies really that much awful?

What I would interesting is to show all six Star Wars films to a 30 year old who had never heard of Star Wars before (impossible I know) and see what they think of them. I would argue that the people who hate the special additions and the prequels as much as they do are doing so more because of nostalgia for their childhood then any logical reason. Just don’t tell them that.

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