Many 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!