Generations from now, when historians are wondering what the big deal was with the Star Wars prequels, someone can hand them the documentary The People vs. George Lucas and they’ll have a pretty good idea.
From the title, The People vs George Lucas would seem to be a court case presented by the fans of Star Wars (and to a lesser degree, the Indiana Jones franchise) against filmmaker George Lucas. It is also much more. It is about the special urge the fans of these franchises feel to be part of the story, through tribute films, parodies and phantom edits; it is a biographical sketch of a smart young filmmaker who went astray; and it is also, surprisingly, a solid defense of George Lucas, even as it criticizes him.
Even though the documentary is pregnant with soundbites criticizing Lucas, his defenders are allowed to speak from time to time, and I walked out of the film with much more sympathy for Lucas than when I came in. I wish the film had been more of what the title promised, and more rigorously structured itself as a trial of his crimes against cinema. With articulate interview subjects like Neil Gaiman and The Onion‘s Todd Hanson, the movie is at its best deconstructing the dichotomy between Lucas the Auteur and Lucas the Mogul.
Several times it ends up down fan ratholes, like a meandering discussion of the merchandise and a primer on the perpetually-bootlegged Star Wars Christmas Special. Which is not to say these diversions aren’t entertaining. I give the filmmakers credit for incorporating so much original, astounding and hilarious fan footage.
In their introduction, the director Alexandre O. Philippe said they wanted to give fans a voice. Some of the “fan interviews” done on webcams are articulate and worth tolerating poor sound, others aren’t. But I think the filmmakers have succeeded very well in encapsulating the joy that fans felt with Episode IV and the soul-crushing feeling that blindsided them when Greedo shot first, and later pulverized many a childhood memory under the name Jar-Jar Binks.
634 hours of footage were whittled down into 90 minutes. It still feels a bit long, but the bottom line is this documentary is a must-see for Star Wars fans. I wouldn’t say it’s better than slave Leia, but then again, to true fans, not much is.