There is, perhaps, no filmmaker in history as beloved and despised as George Lucas. Beloved for the original Star Wars trilogy, which introduced the world to a mythological sci-fi fantasy space fable so mind-blowing, powerful, archetypal and universal that it spawned what is essentially a religion, with tens, if not hundreds, of millions of devoted followers around the world. And, of course despised for, as some indelicately put it, "raping their childhoods," first by literally rewriting history with the "special editions" of the original trilogy, then with the truly putrid prequels that created a crisis of faith that makes the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal look like nitpicking over an awkwardly long hug.
So, for those of you who feel betrayed, disappointed, infuriated or traumatized by George Lucas, there's finally a movie for you, the fascinating, excellent documentary The People vs. George Lucas, which not only details the crimes Lucas has committed against his fans, but goes much deeper, examining the Star Wars phenomenon, the man who created it, its fans and the very idea of culture itself. Watch the trailer for The People vs. George Lucas below.
The film starts with Lucas' childhood, growing up in Modesto, California, getting in trouble and working on cars until he discovered film. But with his first two features, American Graffiti and THX 1138, studio interference was so invasive and onerous that it scarred him, which might explain why his next film was about a tiny band of freedom fighters battling an oppressive evil empire.
Of course, that next movie revolutionized filmmaking and became the biggest thing ever, and The People vs. George Lucas examines the phenomenon that followed, with fans around the world testifying to how seeing Star Wars changed their lives forever. Not only did fans attempt to relive the magic of the films through an endless array of Star Wars merchandise, but they did something unusual -- they began recreating, expanding and riffing on the trilogy with thousands of reenactments, spoofs, parodies, plays, art, websites and fan fiction to keep the story alive, with the film showing clips of some of the most interesting ones.
Naturally, the film relives the painful experiences freshest in our minds -- the excitement of the news that the original trilogy would be reissued, followed by the shock and disappointment at pointless and silly new scenes, the controversy over Greedo shooting first, and the defanging of the trilogy to supposedly make it safer for kids.
Then, of course came The Phantom Menace, where faith in Lucas was restored by the trailer, then dashed in the most brutal, heartbreaking way that can be summed up in five devastating words: midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. And let us never speak of them again.
Along with commentary by a wide range of authors, critics, experts, bloggers and superfans, The People vs. George Lucas also includes the producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, the man who played Darth Vader and archival interviews of Francis Ford Coppola and Lucas himself. What's so compelling is the passion, eloquence, emotion and intelligence with which all the subjects talk about the Star Wars universe, which means so much to them, and the film never for a second makes fun of even the most extreme fans.
What emerges is a portrait of a man as contradictory as the two trilogies he created, deserving of both sympathy and scorn. An anti-corporate rebel who became the head of a multi-billion-dollar corporate empire. A creative genius who became enslaved by his greatest creation. A man who testified before Congress, condemning the colorization of black and white films, then later went back to alter his masterpieces. Someone who gave his fans the greatest gift imaginable, then took a dump on their faces.
At the heart of The People vs. George Lucas are complicated questions about art, artists and culture. Shouldn't an artist do the works he wants, regardless of what his fans demand? Is the artist the owner of his work, free to change or destroy it as he pleases, or does it belong to the culture that embraces it? For all its criticism, this film is a love letter to Lucas from fans desperate to forgive him despite what he's put them through, that I enjoyed immensely. Perhaps the only drawback (if you can call it that) is that the film rightfully assumes that those viewing it already know a lot about the Star Wars films -- if you don't, the film might not mean much to you.
And to answer the question "Did George Lucas rape my childhood?", I think my comedian friend Paul Jay put it best when he said, "George Lucas didn't rape your childhood. He just jerked off and made your childhood watch."
The People vs. George Lucas is currently playing at the Nuart Theatre in Santa Monica, CA. To find out if The People vs. George Lucas will be playing near you, visit the official website.
Follow Jonathan Kim on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ReThinkReviews