George Lucas documentary: Exploring the love-hate relationship with 'Star Wars' fans

george-lucasMany fans have a love-hate relationship with George Lucas. This is, after all, the man who gave the world Luke Skywalker, but later gave birth to Jar Jar Binks.

Director Alexandre O. Philippe bravely tries to get to the heart of this conflicted relationship between Lucas and his fans in the new documentary The People Vs. George Lucas, which has its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday.

In addition to a lot of contributions from obsessive fans, the film includes interviews with the likes of Neil Gaiman, Darth Vader actor David Prowse, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz, and George Lucas In Love director Joe Nussbaum. There’s even a band singing “George Lucas raped our childhood.”

EW.com recently caught up with Swiss-born, Denver-based director Philippe, who spent nearly three years making the film, amassing 634 hours of footage and interviewing 126 people. (See trailer at end of interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How big a Star Wars fan are you personally?
ALEXANDRE O. PHILIPPE: I think it’s safe to say that Star Wars had a huge impact on me when I was a kid. It’s well documented that many film directors of my generation were profoundly affected, and subsequently influenced, by it. I was 8 years old when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back in Geneva, Switzerland (my hometown), and I distinctly remember standing up in the theater during the iconic “Luke, I am your father” moment, completely devastated. You can’t underestimate how important those movies were to our generation. So, yes, I’m definitely a fan of the original Star Wars movies—always will be; but I’m not a fan of the way the franchise has evolved over the years.

Why did you want to make a film about this disconnect between George Lucas and his fans?
Well, we’re talking about a truly unique pop culture phenomenon. This intensely dysfunctional relationship has only increased in intensity over the years, and doesn’t seem to want to go away. The dynamic between George and his fans is singular in the history of film, and it’s a fascinating one, because it relates to a number of larger themes like ownership in the digital age, film preservation and cultural heritage, an author’s right to alter his/her work once it’s been released and inducted into the National Film Registry, etc. There’s a lot more to this disconnect than people might think, and that’s probably what will surprise audiences when they watch the film.

Did you try to interview Lucas himself, and if so what happened?
Yes, we originally approached Lucasfilm when we launched our website, and again when we released our first teaser trailer. We did invite them to participate, but they respectfully declined. That said, we interviewed a number of individuals who worked closely with George Lucas–most notably Gary Kurtz and David Prowse, as well as a number of original Star Wars crew members like Anthony Waye, who now helms the James Bond franchise.

Does Lucas know about the film?
Considering that’s it’s been all over the web since late 2007, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t. Again, Lucasfilm kept their distance; but they gave our project the respect that any legitimate documentary deserves. I can’t tell you if George has expressed any personal interest in watching our film. If he does, I’m sure he’ll let us know. And I’d be happy to go to the Ranch to show it to him.

Why was it so important to include so much fan input for this project?
George Lucas made Star Wars; but it was the fans who turned it into a seemingly undying worldwide phenomenon. So I thought it appropriate to give them a prominent voice in the documentary. We traveled the world to conduct our own interviews, of course; but the fan submissions gave the film a truly unique voice and personality. This film is just as much about the fans as it’s about George; and it’s dedicated to them, because they played a big part in it. They contributed their footage, ideas, information, and a great deal of passion; so it’s a participatory doc in the truest sense.

What was the craziest instance of fandom you witnessed in making the film?
I would call the fans intense, passionate, wild, even; but very few crossed the line, as far as I’m concerned. We did receive a handful of death threats, and a couple of them were definitely disturbing. Some people take their Star Wars a little too seriously, and it’s unfortunate when it degenerates into vicious hate mail. But those are extreme cases, of course. In terms of the submissions we received, one of the most extreme examples is this one guy who sent us a seven-hour webcam rant, deconstructing literally every beat of each of the six Star Wars movies, plus The Clone Wars. That was really intense to watch. Overall, we had to sort through 634 hours of footage; and I personally reviewed every minute of it, several times. You do the math. Editing aside, that’s a lot of logging work; but that’s the challenge of opening it up to the fans. Not to mention the issue of dealing with so many shooting formats and frame rates. A true post-production nightmare.

After making this doc, what’s your current opinion on Lucas?
You know, my opinion hasn’t changed, really. I still have the same respect and admiration for him; and that’s how I wanted to approach this film. The interesting thing is that after three years of working on this doc, he remains just as mysterious to me as he was when I started working on it. I still don’t understand how the filmmaker who made Episode One can be the same filmmaker who gave us THX, American Graffiti, and Star Wars. I still don’t understand why he so stubbornly refuses to restore and release the theatrical version of the original trilogy, and why he continually tinkers with films that were deemed masterpieces of the cinema. But that’s the great thing about George. At the end of the day, he baffles us all; and I think that the love people have for him far outweighs their frustrations and disappointment. Personally, I’d like to see him return to his early experimental roots. I’d like to see him take risks, and surprise us again with something new. That said, I also realize that he has nothing left to prove to any of us, and that he probably has other interests now. No matter what he does, he will always be the great George Lucas; and I think the debt we owe him is easily measured by imagining what our world might be like if he’d never existed. I’m glad he was around, and I’m glad he’s still around. And I wish him well in everything he does.

And another trailer here.

So, readers, are you a Lucas lover or hater, or simultaneously both? Sound off in the comments!

Comments (77 total) Add your comment
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  • DW

    This sounds fantastic. I’ve personally lost any respect I once had for George Lucas as the years have gone on, and I’m sure many other Star Wars fans feel the same.

    • Siskel

      Star Wars fanboys need to get lives. Lucas can do what he wants, he is not beholden to you.

    • therealeverton

      The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of The Lost Ark, American Graffiti and, from a pioneering standpoint, Star Wars epIV and Industrial Light & Magic; I think he has enough respect to go around.

    • ChrisS

      I agree, but honestly I’d peg my disapproval to his writing ability with regard to characters. His ability to direct, at least from a special effects standpoint, is pretty incredible. And the overall story is so compelling that we’ve overlooked his idiocy and utter lack of imagination when it comes to, for example, names and places.

      The Calamarians look like talking squid. Jar Jar Binks is like a sci-fi Step-n-Fetch-it. The Trade Guild guys have Fu Manchu-type accents when they’re speaking English.

      I mean, if your characterizations are nothing more than mimicry of racial and ethnic stereotypes, it’s a pretty clear sign of intellectual bankruptcy. I’m not saying he’s racist — I’m saying he’s lazy and remarkably unable to view his own work objectively.

  • bigtoe

    me dont know what it is about

  • Sarah El

    Well George Lucas certainly baffles me in the same way as Philippe puts it. I mean, I’ve been a huge Star Wars fan since I can remember via my mother’s own love for the original trilogy. And I sat through the prequels faithfully and despite my complaints I own them and have seen them several times, albeit not as many times and not with as much reverence as the original trilogy. I love Star Wars and I’m eternally grateful to George Lucas for giving those movies to the world, but I’m also frustrated by how he feels the need to keep going back with less-than-stellar results. But then, there is a huge expanded universe for Star Wars that I most certainly love, books and video games and comic books that I’ve explored, so I’m not mad at George Lucas for making the prequels and I haven’t even seen The Clone Wars movie, but at the same time, they are definitely a bit of a disappointment.

    • Sarah El

      On an added note, I’m excited to see this documentary!

    • Tim

      This is one of the most rational, level-headed comments about George Lucas I’ve ever seen on the Internet. Thank you Sarah!

      I think there’s room to find both disappointment and enjoyment out of the prequels. Some things George got right and some things he didn’t. What I hate is when people just pass a blanket judgement on everything he’s done in the past decade and write it off. There’s still good stuff in there, mixed in with the bad.

  • B

    I’m frustrated with the prequels like so many are, but whatever the problems in execution, they still tell a great underlying mythic story. I try to focus there, but I definitely have not watched them as much as the original trilogy.

  • Indy?

    Is this documentary exclusively about Star Wars?

    Because it was watching “Crystal Skull” that left me feeling like my childhood had been violated.

    I’m praying there will never be an Indy 5. Star Wars has already been ruined for me (because of the recent trilogy), but I’ve been able to suppress most of my memories of Indy 4. I don’t think I could handle another Indy movie – and the solution isn’t simply to not watch an “Indy 5,” because the media would be saturated with unavoidable coverage of it.
    Yeah, Lucas ruined Star Wars, but I hope he doesn’t do the same thing to Indy.

  • BlackIrish4094

    George Lucas is a douche. The fans made him rich, he OWES it to them (and me) to restore and release the original without his idiotic, ego-driven changes.

    • mscisluv

      I don’t think he owes me anything, but I do really want to be able to purchase the trilogy the way I saw it (albeit on DVD, not VHS) so that I can show it to my kids. I don’t like all the changes made after the fact.

      • orville

        Exactly. I don’t think he owes me anything either, but I’m still baffled as to why the original trilogy as it was originally screened wasn’t an option when the box set came out. Probably waiting for the next major anniversary for another release (which I’ll probably buy, dammit).

      • Lisa Simpson

        I agree that he doesn’t “owe” me anything (I’m not that arrogant), but I would also like to have the original trilogy on DVD. I still have my old VHS copies around, but My VCR is getting pretty old now. And I didn’t bother buying the prequels.

    • Anna

      He owes you NOTHING!

      • Chewie

        CAPS and an exclamation point!!!

      • Quirky

        Actually he does owe me $10 for that last Indiana Jones movie.

    • annie

      These are not the droids you’re looking for.

    • Siskel

      Get a life!

      • Desmo

        You have already said that, no need to repeat yourself.

    • BlackIrish4094

      Hell yes he owes me and other fans like me. WE made him rich beyond all imagining based on movies he created. Not that he doesn’t have the right to release a “Director’s Cut” or anything but the movie in it’s original form should be available to fans alongside any changes me makes. It was the 1st movie I saw on the big screen and made me a lifelong movie fan so maybe I’m emotional about it but isn’t that what movies are about. I respect his work but not his douche-y attitude. If you don’t care about the changes I don’t think you really love the movie(s) that much.

      • john

        Blackirish, you didnt make him rich, his talent made him rich. There you are with your hand out wanting something for nothing, trying to get credit for something you didnt do.

  • Cindy Bradshaw

    I like the fact that Han doesn’t shoot first. It’s more Christian which I think is what the whole starwars movies and america are all about.

    • Kat

      I don’t mean to be disrespectful (or stupid), but are you joking? I really can’t tell, but I hope you are. :)

      • D Man

        Star Wars is not about Christianity in the least. America is not all about Christianity either. America is about people being allowed to express themselves and worship however they like. Jesus, Christ, God – never mentioned once in the constitution.

    • LM

      Greedo shooting first wouldn’t bother me as much if it made sense in context of the movie. Greedo was capturing Han for a bounty, he wouldn’t just shoot him. Even if he did, he couldn’t realisticly miss sitting right across from Han. Of course, Han shooting first was a great character moment. I would be hard pressed to think of a less christian film than Star Wars, but that’s neither here nor there.

      • Lisa Simpson

        Exactly, LM. The change made no sense and was just done to ‘soften’ Han’s character.

    • RetardedMonkey

      Yes Christianity is what Stars Wars and America is all about, cuz its such a warm and fuzzy religion.

      • Desmo

        Aside from all the other warm and caring religons in the world…

    • Things that make you go hmmmm

      I want to teabag Cindy Bradshaw

    • Grey

      Christian? Lest anyone forget, Han was smuggling “spice” for a crime lord. In the Star Wars universe, “spice” is slang for Ryll, a drug.

  • crispy

    Dude, I coulda saved you 3 years. When you’re in your 20s, you work from your heart. When you’re in your 50s, you work from your brain. That’s a pretty common path in any field.

    • Walden

      I could have saved him 3 years too. I would have just told him to watch the original trilogy through adult eyes, and not with the nostalgia glasses. The original trilogy wasn’t very good either, the sophomoric writing, wooden dialogue, bad pacing, it’s all there in the originals. Empire is the exception, it is a pretty well done film, and that’s the one Lucas was least involved in. Hey, I was a Star Wars kid too, but any honest viewing of the original trilogy reveals that the emperor had no clothes even then.

      • orville

        I had no idea that he had so little involvement in “Empire” (my favorite of the trilogy too). That explains a lot.

      • Sgerbil

        dude, when talking about Star Wars please don’t reference the Emperor’s New Clothes. Scary visual.

      • Billy

        Not only did he have the least involvement in it, he was actually dissapointed in the job Irvin Kershner had done and refused letting him return to direct Jedi.

      • BlackIrish4094

        Walden you are a douche with no taste and no sense of cinematic history. Go watch the remake of Tron or something.

  • tom

    You people think he OWES you??? You’re idiots. For starters… YOU bought into it. Plain and simple. NOBODY twisted your arms. You bought the toys, the posters, the movies on VHS and DVD GLADLY. You ran to the theaters as each film came out. How do I know… LOOK AT THE BOX OFFICE, DVD and toy receipts. Constantly at the top of sales. Secondly, anyone who complains about the Prequels obviously have ZERO concept of storytelling. Of course 4-6 were going to be the more interesting chapters while 1-3 are the building blocks to those. 3 being the more interesting. Pay attention to whats being told and less to small things like Jar Jar. There was plenty of bad dialogue in the original films too. C3PO was the Jar Jar of the OT but nobody remembers that now. As for the Clone Wars series, if you’re not watching it, SHAME ON YOU. It’s some of the best Star Wars material since Empire.

    OH and for those losers who refer to Lucas raping their childhood… try using that term in front of a REAL rape victim. You have NO IDEA what the F*** you’re talking about. If you truly hated what he did, then you should have stopped buying into it years ago… but you can’t and won’t. Personally, I get what he was going for and I get why he made changes in the OT. BTW, Cindy, It wasn’t a Christian thing… That’s the last thing going through his mind when he did that.

    • Missing Ted

      Maybe you should switch to decaffeinated? C3PO was NOT the Jar Jar of the originals, the Ewoks were just as hated as JJ Binks was. And btw, more than one of my friends bailed on 1-3 so don’t say “we can’t”.

    • M Weyer

      Thanks for pointing out how stupid the “raped my childhood” arguement is. I LOVE Star Wars but if you base your entire childhood around one movie, that doesn’t say a lot about you growing up.

      • Billy

        While I hate the expression “raped my childhood” too, bringing up real rape victims is over-sensitive and foolish. Do you have any idea what hyperbole is?

      • Billy

        That was to tom, not Weyer.

  • Johnification

    My theory is that the whole Star Wars endeavor shifted in a direction Lucas didn’t want when Irving Kershner, Lawrence Kasden, and Leigh Brackett accidentally made Empire Strikes Back into a great drama that surpassed the pulp origins Lucas wanted to recall. Lucas wanted to make these fun, semi-goofy eye-candy feasts that ignited our imagination in a non-serious way (while still making massive leaps in FX technology), but then this dark, serious, witty, and well-written comes along and warps everybody’s perspective and expectations. Woops.

    • zoe

      Agreed. It is well known that the thing George Lucas said when he first watched the rough cut of Empire was, “they didn’t need to make it so good”. If only those 3 had done Jedi instead.

      • Siskel

        Actually, Lucas was talking about budget overruns. He didn’t think the extra expense was worth it since Lucas paid for the film out of pocket, even though it was higher quality.

    • Billy

      Thank you. And what everyone forgets is that the downfall of the series starts with Jedi, long before Jar Jar Binks and Phantom menace. Killing off a great villain in Boba Fett for comic relief is something I’d like to forget, not to mention just about everything Ewok related. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t like Jedi or that it is even the same discussion as Phantom Menace, but you can definitely see signs where Lucas was headed.

  • Ames

    The memories I have of going to Star Wars with my family and the endless conversations with my brothers are what I really treasure. I love the movies, but Mr. Lucas gave me the gift of having something in common with my brothers that did not include getting the crap beat out of me. I will be forever grateful.

  • Toby

    Oh, great… just what the world needed, the movie equivalent of an internet movie message board.

    The first interviewee should yell, “First!” during the movie.

    • BlackIrish4094

      LMAO!! Nice one…

  • Rebecca Jill

    This sounds fun and interesting to watch.

    I was only 7 years old when I saw “Empire Strikes Back” in the theater and was also devastated like Alexandre O. Phillipe by the whole “Luke, I am your father” Darth Vader moment.

    I still have the originals of the first 3 on VHS and prefer watching those to the Special Editions on DVD.

  • Celia

    I’ve never seen Star Wars (and don’t plan on it), but sounds pretty interesting.

  • Margaret

    I think the Original Star Wars was a fluke. He had NO idea it would do so well and be so well loved by so many people. Then came Empire, which is the best one and he just couldn’t live up to the standards we fans put on him. And then came technology, and that just killed the series. The last 3 that were made were all about visuals and not plots or lines (“Hold me like you did in Naboo” blech! really?). I don’t count the recent 3. They do not exist.

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