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Hot Docs ’2010: The People Vs. George Lucas

The People Vs. George Lucas

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Full disclosure: I have never watched Star Wars.

How much flack do I get for this?  That depends on who I’m talking to.  With girls, the news that I am part of the 0.001% of the population who hasn’t seen Star Wars is usually met with mild surprise and an indifferent “It’s good, but it’s not amazing or anything”.  With guys, I sometimes get showered with the kind of outrage usually reserved for Creation theorists.

-What do you mean you’ve never seen Star Wars?!  I thought you liked Kevin Smith movies!

Well, I saw Episode I…

-Ok, that doesn’t even count!  Do you even know who Boba Fett is??

Is he the one Liam Neeson played?

What the f*ck, Lena.  What.  The.  F*ck.

Personally, I don’t think that this kind of ignorance has in any way been detrimental to my cultural education, especially since I enjoy the fandom aspect way more than I could ever possibly enjoy the movies themselves.  It is the vibrancy of Star Wars fan culture that makes a documentary like The People vs. George Lucas enjoyable beyond the realm of its subject.  Entertaining, funny and warm, it celebrates the DIY ingenuity of fans that counteracts the stodgy image of passive, lonely culture consumption that plagues the stereotypical (and outdated) idea of what it means to be a nerd. At its heart, it tackles a question that comes up increasingly often in our era of countless adapto-remakes, and one that can be discussed by those in and out of the loop: does the creator of a cultural phenomenon owe anything to the fans who put him on his glossy pedastal?

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The creator in question, of course, is George Lucas and the short answer, as given by the many interviews accumulated by director Alexandre Phillipe, is yes.  From your average everygeek, to cultural studies professors, to nerdcore musicians, to TV personalities, to Neil Gaiman, Phillipe covers almost every base possible when it comes to finding people to talk about how Star Wars, and anything else spawned from the fertile grounds of Lucasfilm, changed their lives and inspired them to create the kind of obsessive, creative geek art that you can find linked to Boingboing.  Whether you think fandom is cool or bat-guano crazy, you kind of have to admire the ingenuity that some of these folks exhibit: stop-motion remakes, musicals, hand-made to-scale costumes.  There is no denying that Star Wars is a culture in and of itself, and George Lucas didn’t do that, the fans did.  With the amount of energy (and money) they’ve put into loving his work, some of those fans feel that Lucas owes them output to their specifications.  There is, of course, a whole section of the film devoted to the controversial prequel trilogy, arguably the most ire-inspiring set of films in cinematic history and the lynchpin to the fierce love-him-hate-him dichotomy in the psyche of fans everywhere.  As a non-fan, I sympathized with this sense of cultural betrayal, but when someone described himself as being a ‘battered wife’ at the hands of Lucas and Co., I kind of had to draw the line.

But back to the original question: does George Lucas owe his fans anything?  The short answer may be ‘Yes’ but the long answer is ‘Yes, but…’  What could have easily been a whine-fest turns out to be a love letter.  At the end of the day, George Lucas made Star Wars and fans love him for it.  And whether you like Star Wars, hate Star Wars or can’t tell a wookie from an ewok, watching this movie kind of makes you love the fans, in all their obsessive, lightsaber-wielding glory.

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The People Vs. George Lucas – Dir. Alexandre Phillipe, USA, 97 min

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–  Lena Duong