In the vestiges of movie fandom, none more a group has defined themselves as the ultimate worshippers of a cinematic product than the Star Wars fan, and none more a filmmaker has disappointed that fan base than Star Wars creator George Lucas.
Out now in Australia on Blu-ray/DVD is The People vs George Lucas, an insightful and funny look into the fans gripe with the Star Wars creator, exploring issues as vast as the introduction of Jar Jar Binks to Lucas’ constant tinkering with the films that made him the icon he is.
Writer/director Alexandre Philippe spoke to Matt’s Movie Reviews about the issue of control, the religiosity of the Star Wars fanbase and why Lucas should let go of his creation.
I thought you created an informative and entertaining movie that balanced its arguments very well. I particularly liked how you approached George Lucas’s evolution from a filmmaker to a corporate entity. How important was it to express some sort of argument on behalf of Lucas’s viewpoint?
Well, obviously we tried really hard to get in touch with Lucas Films and we asked them several times to participate in the film. You know (laughs) they respectively turned us down.
I think the thing to understand about The People vs George Lucas is that the story is very specific, in the sense that it really addresses the love/hate relationship the fans have towards George. There are a lot of stories around George Lucas and around Star Wars and so many storylines that we could have possibly explored, and at the end of the day there just wasn’t time to really go there.
So in a sense it would have been great if they had participated, if they had given their two cents. But at the end of the day I just wanted to give the fans the opportunity to express their feelings and hopefully it comes across as a balanced debate.
It certainly did. The main focus of your film really comes down to a question of who controls the Star Wars franchise: is it the filmmaker or the fans? While you gave a balanced documentary, which side of the fence do you stand on?
I would say I’ve got a foot on both sides in the sense that I very much believe in copyright and in intellectual property, and there is no question that Star Wars belongs to George Lucas and to Lucas Film as an intellectual property.
That said (laughs) when culture embraces a cultural property to the extent that culture has with Star Wars, I think there is a moral argument to be made that in a sense that property has escaped the sole proprietorship of its creator. Really it’s in a sense the property of the culture that has embraced it.
Obviously it’s not a legal argument but I think it is a moral argument, especially in the uniqueness of Star Wars when a creator stubbornly refuses to restore and release in a proper format movies that by all standards been deemed extremely important in the history of cinema. I think that’s a unique problem of Star Wars and as a result of that unique problem we can actually have that debate in the open, even though there is no real solution to it I think this is a debate that’s very much worth having for us culturally.
"When culture embraces a cultural property to the extent that culture has with Star Wars, I think there is a moral argument to be made that in a sense that property has escaped the sole proprietorship of its creator." - Alexandre Philippe
I loved the creativity of the Star Wars fans especially with their short movies. Was there any fan made films which really impressed you?
Oh yeah! So many. Obviously some are much more technically or technologically polished than others, and I think that’s fine. But at the end of the day I think what really impresses me is the passion that the fans have put into making their own reinterpretations of Star Wars.
Whether it’s a really, really amateurish looking film or it’s really polished animation, I think what you’re seeing at the end of the day is people who put in everything they have into these little films with whatever they have at their disposal. I think they are all charming on that level.
The whole Star Wars phenomenon always struck me as a sort of religious movement. In fact in Australia a record number of people labelled themselves as Jedi in our last census. Why do you think this sci-fi franchise has had this type of effect?
Well, I think it really come down to how we felt as kids watching those movies in the theatre, and that’s something I try to express in The People vs George Lucas and I think it’s something that’s really important for future generations to understand.
First of all there was nothing like Star Wars. I mean it was the perfect climate certainly politically and historically in terms of what movie goers wanted to see. It was the perfect climate for that movie to shine, that’s number one.
Number two it was a completely different experience, and by this I mean nowadays what people have as a frame of reference is Avatar, which certainly provided a new kind of 3D experience like we had never seen before. But there is still a precedent of special effects movie leading to Avatar. So the gap between what we had and Avatar is much, much narrower than the gap between what we had back then and Star Wars. So it’s impossible really for me people nowadays to understand how much it just blew our minds.
Then number three you had the toys. When you were a kid those movies blew you away unlike anything you ever seen, then you had to wait three years for the next chapter, and then you go home and you play with the toys and every single day you are hands on in that universe, in George’s sand box, recreating stories, speculating about what’s going to happen next, and I think that those three elements combined is what made the Star Wars franchise so special to my generation and why it’s endured today.
Something you focused on in the movie was the introduction of “midi-chlorians” in the prequels, which left many fans irate since it pretty much took away from the spiritual value of the Force. Did you find it ironic that sci-fi fiction fans – who are statistically more atheistic in philosophy – would react so vehemently to a rational explanation to an almost supernatural force?
Well you see that’s the thing…now you’re talking about something which is really profound which is: what is religion? I would really venture to say: Who is to say that Star Wars shouldn’t be a religion? In the sense that in the way that I see religion is that’s not just a code of beliefs, but it’s also something that resonates with your being in a very profound level. It means something to you.
Star Wars means something to a lot of people on a very profound level. But that doesn’t mean that people are magically gonna go out and get a light sabre and put on Jedi robes or become a Sith, it’s more profound than that.
And that…sorry I just lost track of the question. You were saying..
"I for one believe that for a lot of reasons George should have let go of the Star Wars franchise a long time ago...for his sanity as a filmmaker and as a creator." - Alexandre Philippe
..I was saying that I found it kind of ironic that while sci-fi fans are more inclined to be atheistic in philosophy, they would react so vehemently to a rational explanation to something which is supernatural.
Sure. I guess where I was going with is this notion that as ridiculous as it may sound, the concept of the Force is something that I think resonated with our generation in that sense that it represented an intangible notion with what connects us with the universe, or what could connect us with the universe. For some people it is God, for other people it is not.
So I think whether fans are Christians, or Muslims, or whether they believe in a God or whether they don’t believe in a God, I think that the Force kind of dispelled that notion of the universe and our place within the universe in a very intangible way.
You don’t go out there defining God. Well it’s the same thing in defining the Force. It’s just something that either resonates with you or doesn’t resonate with you, and so when George goes 18 years later and tries to explain what it’s about, it just spoils the whole thing (laughs).
In regards to the prequels: Do you think the expectations were unrealistic?
I think it’s a little bit of both. I think on the one hand you know…my God, I can’t even imagine having the pressure of following that up with another trilogy (laughs). I think certainly the fans just really expected magic to happen twice and of course that very rarely happens, certainly not on that scale.
But at the same time I think had…and I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but had George made a better set of movies and by this I mean a tighter story, just stronger directing, no Jar Jar Binks…just a lot of things that I think would have made the fans…there is no reason why there had to be such a letdown.
I’m always of the mind that if Lucas had brought on different directors on each movie as a more collaborative venture, that maybe the movies would have been better.
Oh sure! I mean I for one believe that for a lot of reasons George should have let go of the Star Wars franchise a long time ago. Number one I think for his sanity as a filmmaker and as a creator…you know he’s been obviously saying this for decades now that he wants to make personal films, he wants to go back to making experimental films. So just for him it would have been a better thing.
I think also is you consider that my generation are now is our thirties and forties there are a lot of amazing directors in this generation who all grew up on Star Wars, and who would dream of getting a call from George Lucas and say “Hey. Do you want to make a Star Wars movie?” I think that would have injected some energy into the Star Wars franchise, and to me the tragedy is that George is seemingly unwilling to let go of that.
I think it’s established that he is the creator. Nobody debates that. So let it go.