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Entries in People vs. George Lucas/The [2010] (1)

Saturday
Nov192011

The People vs. George Lucas (2010)

Revenge of the Scruffy-looking Nerd Herder

If you're a Star Wars geek--or any kind of geek, for that matter--The People vs. George Lucas will either pop your Neverland bubble or strengthen it with an electric blue Gungan force field. Alexandre O. Philippe's nutty documentary about George Lucas' multi-generational, multi-media, multi-billion-dollar empire is as much an indictment of fans' willingness to support someone many of them profess to hate as it is the object of their ire.

It's mostly a study of arrested development. The movie features dozens of interviews with professed, lifelong Star Wars fanatics, almost all of whom are filmed surrounded by collectible pop objects. Their passion ranges from obsessive to eerily obsessive. I hadn't really believed in the expression "nerd rage" until watching this film. Twenty minutes of fan-film mash-ups and nostalgia diatribes gave me a headache and, frankly, made me ashamed to have ever been a fan of anything.

Then something cool happened: the whining about Lucas "raping" peoples' childhoods with sub-par new-millennium prequels and tampering with the original Holy Trilogy evolved into a serious discussion about who owns art--the artist or the audience? People from all over the world chimed in, presenting extremely well-thought-out arguments regarding Lucas' responsibility to himself to be as satisfied as possible with his own work, as well as his responsibility to a fan base that includes everyone touched by the pop-cultural phenomenon he unleashed in 1977.

People is filled with great points I'd never considered, such as whether or not Lucas' decision to re-cut and revamp the films' special effects is an insult to the Oscar-winning artists who'd helped him achieve his vision at the outset. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman turned the Da Vinci argument* on its head by insisting that fans' rights to an artists' work end at the artists' doorstep. Of course, the die-hards say that a lot of this debate would stop if only Lucas would make the original version of the films available in a solid, high-definition format; the author's refusal to do so, fittingly, adds more fuel to an already out-of-control fire.**

And that's the most distressing thing about The People vs. George Lucas. This army of devotees has taken escapism so far that the break from reality has become their reality. Watching the movie, I couldn't help but wonder if these folks honestly have nothing better to do with their time or more worthwhile things to spend their apparently bottomless disposable incomes on. Sadly, these thoughts caused me to stare off into space--a space that includes framed, signed prints by Gaiman and Robert Crumb, and a glass-door display case stuffed with rare movies and books.

Yes, fandom is complicated. It's also creative, and one of the joys of this documentary is its look at the myriad ways in which people have been inspired to interpret elements from their favorite franchise. I ragged on the fan films earlier, but not all of them are bad. Some are quite brilliant; like the short in which laser blasts are inserted into Gene Kelly's famous Singin' in the Rain street dance--and Star Wars Uncut, Casey Pugh's charming New Hope mosaic comprised of hundreds of fifteen-second, fan-made clips.

For all its gleeful indignation, though, it seems George Lucas emerges victorious from this allegedly anti-Lucas documentary. Of all the fans interviewed, I only spotted one who'd refused to see the entire prequel trilogy. Most claimed to be trapped in an abusive relationship with the director/toymaker: they hate his apparent disdain for his fans, but can't stop financially supporting his endeavors. A few point out that Lucas is one of the biggest supporters of the backlash against him, holding annual fan-film contests and not prosecuting the hundreds of flagrant copyright violations that pop up on the Internet every day.

This would be a great movie to put on a triple bill with the two Trekkies documentaries, if only to contrast the drastically different emotions the series evoke in their fans. Star Trek appears to attract science nerds and utopian idealists, whereas Star Wars folk seem stuck in the hellish predicament of not being smart enough for engineering careers and not tough or charismatic enough to take their galaxy-saving heroism outside the realm of a multi-player online game. Indeed, they're best equipped to form really compelling arguments as to why it's a cosmic crime that the mean, soulless billionaire (who filled their childhoods with wonder) won't give them exactly what they want in exactly the way they want it.

The debate rages on, and I can't wait for the inevitable People sequel. I imagine it'll be a five-minute short film that opens with news of Lucas' further tinkering on the series blu-rays and ends with a web-cam montage of tired geeks shrugging and/or hanging themselves with vintage Empire Strikes Back bed sheets.

*Would we tolerate the artist mucking with "Mona Lisa" if he were presented with the opportunity today?

**One of the film's coolest revelations is Lucas' 1988 Congressional testimony in which he claimed Ted Turner didn't have the right to colorize black-and-white movies--because, as cultural touchstones, they belong to the people.