Hot Docs: The People vs. George Lucas Review

The People vs. George Lucas

Over the past decade or so, we have been subject to a never ending wave of documentaries about fans and fan culture, largely produced by fans themselves. The majority of them are ultimately self-serving and shoddily produced, but every now and then one of them manages to rise above the rest and prove itself to be something more. The People vs. George Lucas is not one of those films. Don’t get me wrong — a lot of people will definitely be entertained on a surface level, but but as an insightful look at the lasting appeal of Star Wars, the mind of George Lucas, and the battle for ownership of art in the digital age, the movie fails to shed new light and simply indulges its subjects a little too much.

There is plenty of potential for a documentary of this sort, seeing as Star Wars is such a huge cultural touchstone, and the fan base surrounding it is one of the biggest and most passionate. What’s more, George Lucas has become a curious and controversial entertainment figure in recent years, making a lot of questionable creative decisions while also becoming a bit of a recluse. To make a movie like this from an unauthorized perspective opens up some new possibilities, and early on the film succeeds in digging up some dirt on Lucas by criticizing his decision to essentially erase the existence of original prints of Star Wars while simultaneously pushing the importance of film preservation in Congress. The idea of an artist revising his own work gets a little bit of discussion, but eventually it gives way to more fan ramblings.

A large chunk of the movie attempts a dissection of the Star Wars prequels and why they were a disappointment, which to me, is not all that interesting. It has also been done much better elsewhere. The movie rehashes a lot of the same old gripes people have been arguing about online for years (Jar Jar Binks), and although there may be something cathartic about it, I think by now a most people are over it and sick of discussing it. This could have been worthwhile if they had brought in some critics to comment on it or people who were involved in the production, but most of the interview subjects are just fans.

Which brings me to my biggest complaint about the movie: it just throws a bunch of random people at you without really introducing you to them or justifying their inclusion in the film. Maybe some of these people are celebrities within the world of hardcore Star Wars nuts, but I certainly didn’t know who most of them were. Fans were apparently encouraged to submit pre-recorded rants via webcam for inclusion in the documentary, but actual “experts” are far and few between. Why should I care what the creators of, MC Frontalot, or some guy wearing a stormtrooper outfit think about what went wrong with the prequels? If they are funny, that’s one thing, but otherwise it’s irrelevant.

Surprisingly, Kevin Smith is nowhere to be found here, but Neil Gaiman, Henry Jenkins and Gary Kurtz are among the few worthy interview subjects. Unfortunately, neither of them get enough time to really make any points. There are some older clips of Francis Ford Coppola thrown in for good measure and also some stock interviews with Lucas, but the quality is so bad that it’s difficult to hear the audio at times. (Spoiler: George Lucas did not agree to any new interviews for this film.)

Director Alexandre O. Philippe’s choice to make this a “participatory” project seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the subject matter, but it also severely hampers the production quality and leads to a lot of rapid-fire editing. The movie constantly cuts to clips of YouTube videos and fan films for comic relief, but most of it is either stuff you’ve seen before or stuff that is not that funny to begin with. I realize that part of the reason for this is to offset the lack of official Star Wars footage, but ultimately it is a poor substitute. The phenomenon of fan films and fan edits don’t even get explored with much depth, aside from maybe some brief sidebars on Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation and Star Wars: Uncut.

On some level, I have to admit that it can still be compelling to watch people talk passionately about Star Wars, and it is cool hearing stories we can all relate to about first experiences with the original films, the special editions and the prequels. I just don’t know that this is really a good enough reason to make a feature-length documentary. It is definitely a conversation starter, and plenty of fans will enjoy it simply because it caters to them, but as a definitive look at the Star Wars phenomenon, The People vs. George Lucas falls short. At its best, it is lighthearted and easy to digest, but it doesn’t really tackle many of the issues it purports to address, choosing to showcase a plethora of goofy fan videos instead. The conclusion is also a bit of a cop out, considering that under the circumstances, this mock trial should have been thrown out of court in the first place.