|A George Lucas in The People vs. George Lucas.|
Yes, Sir, may I have another?
By Don Simpson
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope is one of the first movies I remember seeing in a movie theater. I was five-years-old at the time. I instantly became my parents’ worst nightmare: a desperate addict in dire need of everything and anything related to Star Wars. There were millions of others like me, young children brainwashed into a zombie-like state of mass consumerism that was impossible for most parents to combat (that is without lopping our heads off). With our Star Wars action figures, we immersed ourselves into daydreams of the Star Wars universe, building upon the foundation George Lucas laid out for us, developing brand new scenarios, ideas that (as it turns out) Lucas himself could never match in his wildest dreams.
If only Lucas could tap into the collective consciousness of his fan base, the franchise may have taken another path. There is no debating -- amongst fans, at least -- the legitimacy of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back; so it was not until Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi that fans of Lucas’ franchise first had to deal with disappointment.
That disappointment then boiled into disdain in 1997, when Lucas released new versions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Not only did Lucas tinker with the special effects and editing, but he also added new material (including a universally detested new scene in A New Hope in which Han Solo’s altercation with the bounty hunter Greedo plays out much differently). Lucas the almighty “Creator” declared the new versions of episodes IV - VI to be not just the definitive ones, but the only surviving ones -- therefore the version of A New Hope that was inducted into the National Film Archive no longer exists?!
(Note: In the mid-1980′s, Lucas led a campaign fighting against Ted Turner’s attempt to colorize the black and white films that Turner owned. These films were not originally created by Turner, which would probably be how Lucas would justify how this is not contradictory to his own actions.)
The backlash against Lucas only became increasingly tumultuous with the long-awaited release of the prequel episodes I - III. Many Star Wars fans protested against the inclusion of an all-too-comedic -- and depending on who you ask, racist -- character, Jar Jar Binks; while most felt as though the patronizing and childish tone of the prequel trilogy was contrary to episodes IV - VI. Nonetheless, Star Wars fans returned to the cinemas time and time again to watch these horrendous films. Why? Did they hope to glimpse a fleeting moment of Lucas’ genius that they missed during their first 10 viewings? Or were they just addicted to Star Wars?
Time and time again, Lucas did not listen to his all-too-loyal fan base but, then again, why should he? Interviewees in Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary draw comparisons between Star Wars fans and heroin junkies or victims of domestic abuse. The backlash never seems to last as the addicted fans keep coming back for more frustration and disappointment. Even now, if Lucas released an episode VII, I guarantee that fans would still turn out in record numbers to repeatedly watch the next train wreck of a film. Yes, I can also guarantee that it would be a train wreck.
The People vs. George Lucas poses the question: Who owns a piece of art? The creator or fans of that art? A more interesting question, in my opinion, would be: Why do so many people still like the Star Wars franchise? (Lucas’ pompous attitude notwithstanding.) Even the two Star Wars films that are repeatedly placed on a pedestal above all others -- A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back -- are not great films. However, the first trilogy was masterfully crafted to appeal to a specific age demographic for whom Hollywood was not traditionally producing films. Kids do not care about the art of the cinema; they just want to be entertained, and Lucas grasped that. It also turns out that kids can fester into quite the rabid fan base (the Toy Story and Shrek franchises preyed on the same demographic), but who could have ever anticipated that this fan base would remain loyal to Star Wars three decades later? The Star Wars films (and the clever marketing strategies) spoke to the kids of the 1970s and 1980s, and despite being embarrassingly cheesy and not well-written, they still fostered a creativity in youth that has been unmatched ever since.