Is George Lucas having the last laugh?
Lucas, the visionary behind the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, insists on tweaking the original trilogy every time it hits a new media platform. And with each change, longtime ‘Star Wars’ fans rise up in near unanimous fury.
Alexandre O. Philippe, the director of the new DVD ‘The People vs. George Lucas
,’ is starting to believe Lucas relishes the negative attention.
“Some of the things Lucas does to this day make me wonder … I feel like he’s enjoying triggering reactions from his fans. I see no other good reason for him to do what he does,” Philippe says. “The changes [to the franchise] are ridiculous. I don’t know of a single fan who says, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’”
‘The People vs. George Lucas' investigates the love/hate relationship between Lucas and a galaxy of ‘Star Wars’ faithful. They adore Lucas’ space opera and the colorful characters inhabiting it, but they despise how he won't let the films exist in their original form. And don’t get fans started on Jar Jar Binks, the comic relief introduced in 1999’s ‘Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace.’
'George Lucas' showcases the nuttier side of the modern fanboy, but it also tackles meatier themes like a director's responsibility to the public and if a beloved movie belongs to the filmmaker or the culture at large.
Philippe says the ‘Star Wars’ films had a “profound” impact on him as a child, and while he floated away from the franchise as a young adult it always remained in the back of his mind. So when Lucas re-released the original ‘Star Wars’ movies in Special Editions – complete with enhanced special effects and small but significant story edits – fans like Philippe blew a galactic gasket.
The latest insult? The just-released Blu-ray edition of ‘Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi’ adds an awkward “noooo!” to Darth Vader’s dialogue during the climactic battle between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid). It’s one of several tiny tweaks found in the Blu-ray editions that have fans hopping mad.
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It’s the reason why Philippe created ‘The People vs. George Lucas’ in the first place.
“I’ve always kept track of what was going on in the world of ‘Star Wars’ and George Lucas. And it soon became crystal clear the dysfunctional relationship that established itself between George and the fans.”
The documentary filmmaker in Philippe realized he had a topic worthy of a full-length picture. But he had no idea how much work lay ahead of him when he put out an open call for fans to send their thoughts on Lucas and the franchise. What they got was an avalanche of content testifying to the love people still share for all things 'Star Wars.'
"The richness of the footage we received was amazing - Lego, Claymation, puppets, Grindhouse films," says Philippe, who also spent months scouring YouTube for other 'Star Wars' fan footage.
The Blu-ray editions of the six 'Star Wars' films hit the market after 'George Lucas'' theatrical release, but Philippe says the 'Return of the Jedi' tweak epitomizes where Lucas has lost his artistic way.
"It really ruins a perfectly fine scene in terms of tone. That’s what George Lucas does over and over again," says Philippe, who refused to buy the Blu-ray edition but saw the changes online. "If Lucas isn't actually joking here, and he's serious about those changes, he's a filmmaker who has completely lost touch in the fundamental notion of tone … and his relationship with the audience. When you're creating a dramatic moment and people laugh, you know your tone is off."
Philippe fears the creative fires in Lucas's belly have long been extinguished, but he still has hope that the ol' Lucas might some day return.
"Maybe he just doesn’t get it, but then the guy is so brilliant, so capable of hitting that perfect emotional note," he says.
'Star Wars' fans may never be satisfied with the ever-evolving franchise, one set to get a 3D makeover in the months to come, but Philippe says Lucas' work speaks for itself.
"I don't think George Lucas owes us anything. If all he ever did was [the original] 'Star Wars' that would be an accomplishment of a career," he says.