Further evidence that L. Ron Hubbard doesn’t have a monopoly on lucrative sci-fi-based religions, Alexandre O. Philippe’s participatory docu “The People vs. George Lucas” allows the more fervent members of the cult-like “Star Wars” fan community to express their displeasure with how Lucas has handled their beloved franchise. More exhausting than exhaustive, this overlong geekfest serves up a sloppy yet frequently entertaining rehash of the usual complaints, with gripes about special-edition tweaks, how Han shot first and the introduction of Jar-Jar Binks wedged between amateur homages. The “People” the pic represents (and hopes to reach) are strictly of the die-hard sort.
Beginning with an open call for submissions, Philippe amassed 634 hours of fan footage, 126 interviews and thousands of emails on all things “Star Wars,” but it’s hard to imagine what shape he thought all that material might take (the “Shoah” of “Star Wars,” perhaps?). A questionable use of fair-use law, the project proves nothing short of an editing disaster, with too many talking heads piled on top of too many clips.
The governing principle seems to have been to include as many participants as possible, but the elements seem to contradict one another: While the fan films demonstrate how influential Lucas’ mythology has been on an entire generation of moviegoers, the interviews mostly feature geeks grousing about the betrayal the prequels and special editions represent.
Analogies to rewriting the Bible and the oft-repeated phrase, “George Lucas raped our childhood” (presented even in song), make “the people’s” argument seem shrill and petulant, overvaluing the original “Star Wars” trilogy and protesting too much about everything that’s come since. Surely, a more focused “Roger & Me”-like approach, in which a single intense fan tried to confront Lucas with his grievances, would have made for a more compelling case.
In lieu of a fresh firsthand interview, pic turns Lucas’ words against him, unearthing his Congressional plea against the colorization of classic films that seems to contradict his own revisionist tendencies.
Still, there are some valid points to be made, with “Star Wars” (and Lucas’ other franchise, “Indiana Jones”) serving as a case study in appropriation, intellectual property and other pop-culture issues. Do artists have the right to alter their own creations after the public has made them their own? Of course they do, but “People” counters with the question, “Does the public have the rights to the material of its own culture?” Clearly, in Philippe’s view, the geeks shall inherit Tatooine.
Though the docu doesn’t mention it, Lucas dramatically changed his position on fan-created content in 2002, even going so far as to sponsor contests for the best homemade “Star Wars” homages.
“People” is a testament to the new era of egalitarian participation, showcasing an impressive range of inspired-by offerings, played either for recognition (to the fans who may have seen them online) or laughs (because there’s something inherently absurd about recreating classic “Star Wars” scenes with stop-motion Legos). But given the sheer volume of material, the film spreads all the contributions thin, reducing sources to soundbites buried among blink-and-you-miss-it samples of fan films.
Most of the time, we can’t tell what we’re watching. In keeping with the pic’s attention-deficit style, subjects are shot with two cameras placed at dramatically different angles, alternating the perspective mid-thought.
The Onion’s Todd Hanson and Film Threat founder Chris Gore emerge as the film’s “experts,” while an international lineup of intellectuals, critics, collaborators and more “establishment” sources appear fleetingly enough to lend credibility to the project, but little to the discussion.