The People versus George Lucas – 4.5 stars

This is a fun, smart documentary that chronicles the fall of George Lucas in the eyes of his fans and mines their conflicted attitudes towards a man they belove yet revile.  At root, it’s a story about how gods disappoint.

The social impact of Star Wars can be overstated (one fan references Shakespeare), but there is no denying that Lucas’s 1977 film was revolutionary not only in how it changed movie entertainment, but in its creation of a legion of fans dedicated to its ethos.  They just don’t just love Star Wars; they revere it and deem it participatory in their lives.  They wear the outfits, make their own film homages (the clips of these movies are the highlight of the documentary), buy the toys and products and countless DVD releases, and endlessly debate the impact of the film.  And the nature of its creator, who once gave them sun and now provides only darkness.  This goes beyond Spock ears.

The first third of the documentary shows Lucas’s rise from geeky auteur, hostile to the Hollywood machine, to corporate titan, overseeing not just Star Wars but the technical transformation of Hollywood films in general.  And then the fun begins. First, Lucas re-envisions his Star Wars trilogy.  He brightens things up, adds some more incredible effects, and best (or worst, if you’re an acolyte), changes a few scenes.  The ensuing furor is atomic.  Fans are particularly incensed that Lucas changed the character of Han Solo, who in the original picture shot a bounty hunter point blank, but in the “re-envisioning” returned fire only after the bounty hunter shot first (the bounty hunter missed from 2 feet, a failure that makes fans apoplectic).  As one disgruntled fan notes, “It’s as if Martin Scorsese cut out some killing from The Departed because he realized he had an 8 year old son.”

As fun as the collective kvetching is over that change, the roil becomes greater when the fans attack Lucas’s decision to erase the first cut of the trilogy.  I did not know this, but you can’t get a DVD of the original movies.  Lucasfilms even intimates that the original prints are destroyed.  And boy does this make the Star Wars fans nutty.  They point to the hypocrisy of Lucas’s opposition to Ted Turner’s colorization of black-and-white films and say, collectively, “Aha!”  You can almost see Lucas in a dark room, on a throne, wickedly chuckling at their discomfort.

While the outrage over Lucas’s authoritarian control over his original work is pitched, the response to the release of his execrable second set of films is a hilariously bitter pill.  Oh, did these folks want to love those films, having waited sixteen years for them. And their recollections of how they felt when they realized the pictures sucked are almost heartbreaking.  One fan explains that he saw The Phantom Menace over a dozen times hoping he would just get it.

The documentary is really made by the fans who gave the interviews. Their love is pure, their hostility to a Jar Jar Binks poetic, and yet, they all seem to have a good sense as to how ridiculous they look as grown ups incensed, and even enslaved, by George Lucas.

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