The People vs. George Lucas

The People vs. George Lucas

There’s a moment in Star Wars: A New Hope – or, well, the “Special” Edition at least – where smuggler Han Solo visits the bay where his famous spaceship, the Millennium Falcon resides. Only in addition to viewing his vehicle there, he also meets with a CGI monstrosity: Jabba the Hutt. Whatever spark of insanity drove George Lucas to insert a bunch of computer animated gimmickry into the film in an effort to re-energize the fanbase and draw the work closer to his original vision, I can mostly forgive. What enrages me, though, is how this addition totally kills the reveal of the character in Return of the Jedi. In the original print, Jabba the Hutt was a name spoken in low tones, a kingpin who would kill Solo if he got the chance. When he first arrives on-screen and we find that the character is in fact a hulking slug-creature, it comes as a great surprise. Altering the first in the series in this way doesn’t just add newfangled wizardry unnecessarily, it destroys the narrative flow completely. Then there is the matter of “Who Shot First“, a change which undercuts Han Solo’s characterization dramatically – making him less the hard-as-nails tough he had been previously. These alterations upset the original story in such fundamental ways that it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the “Special Edition” films are different movies entirely from the originals.

All of which is to say that I am, at least in some respects, a Star Wars geek. Having personally felt the love/hate relationship with George Lucas that so many other ardent fans have felt since the re-releases and especially after the train wreck that is the prequels, it was easy for me to connect with the dismayed rage present throughout most of the 2011 documentary The People vs. George Lucas. A viewer without that background may find less to enjoy within the film, but there is nevertheless a potent argument about how far an artist’s reach extends. This could be discussed without need for the film (and has been, over and over again), so one might say that the movie really does little more than beat a dead horse. That’s probably a fair assessment, but for those whose anger at Lucas has no outlet, a collection of like-minded individuals laying out the reasons for their discontent on film is wonderfully therapeutic.

The question at the center of it is a moral quandary for the ages. Does an artist own his or her work to the extent that extreme changes can be made to it at a whim, or does the audience have a stake? An analogy raised within the film that I found compelling proposes a possible world wherein Leonardo DiVinci returns to life and says that he’d like to touch up his “Mona Lisa” because the mouth was intended as a smile. The painting is revered, in part, for the enigmatic expression on the woman’s face, lips curved ever so slightly that it’s impossible to tell whether or not she is smiling at all. Such a change would corrupt the “essence” of the painting, that which made it special in the first place. So maybe the original Star Wars films are the true “Special Edition” – did I just blow your mind, or what? There would rightly be outrage if DiVinci returned to reform his work, but would our resentment of the undead master hold any moral weight?

Of course not.

Sorry for being so blunt, but a work’s creator has the sole responsibility for determining how it is to be handled. If he wants to sew crude bug wings on its back like a goddamn freak, that’s his prerogative and there is nobody who has the authority to stop him. Which is not to say that Lucas’ decisions since the late ’90s have been right, or anything less than despicable – it only makes them acceptable. An artist who is concerned with the response that proposed changes will spur might try to take the input of the fans to heart before hacking up the body, but an artist does not owe his or her fans anything. Art, like life, is ephemeral – we can only contain it for so long before it dissipates completely. We see Star Wars disappearing much too quickly, at the hands of its own creator, and are wont to paint him as a villain. But Lucas is hardly concerned with petty concerns about “story” or “characters”, and he has no reason to be. The Saga is all business now, and when the “Special Edition” trilogy was re-re-released in a Blu-Ray box-set in 2011, it sold more than a million copies in a single week.

That said, the only way that a Star Wars purist can respond to the resounding success of an ugly bastardization is by admitting that the original films are dead. The only way to save it is to abandon it, to knowingly sheath your metaphorical lightsaber (self-righteous ire) and let the metaphorical Darth Vader (Lucas) strike you down. We have our memories and we may have copies of the original series on VHS, but we should resolve to ignore our anger rather than allow it to make us more Lucas’ servant with each passing moment. If we can get indifference trending, maybe we can make a difference (see what I did there?). And even if we can’t, at least we’ll be healthier for it.

Oh, the movie? You wanted to talk about the movie? It follows a fairly standard chronology, from Lucas’ early days as an idealistic filmmaker in Modesto, California, to his moment in the sun as his films began to grow and take on a life of their own, to the 1980s boom of Star Wars-inspired fanfic and fan-made videos, to the point where the man grew too big to care about the irony of living a life eerily parallel to that of your most enduring work’s major antagonist. Dozens and dozens of people, of all walks of life, wax rhapsodic on how much the series has meant to them in their lives, and how devastated they’ve been since the Saga began crumbling. For a non-fan, or even for a self-aware fan, the rabid nature of the response to Star Wars is amusing (and, to some extent, troubling).

But the film itself, The People vs. George Lucas, does little more than accumulate the same thoughts every fan of the series has had a hundred times before. It’s nice to be able to sit down and consider the ethical dilemma, to be clearly presented with the paradox that is George. In that respect, that I was really looking forward to writing this review after I got done watching it, I suppose the film is a success. But otherwise, the movie has little substantive to offer.


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