For those of us who are fans of both documentary and Star Wars, Alexandre O. Philippe’s The People Vs. George Lucas is an essential film. This Wednesday evening, I’m excited to be moderating an online panel and live stream of the 2010 feature, just as we’re all gearing up to see the latest installment of the Star Wars Saga.
While watching the doc this week, I couldn’t help but feel the irony of the hype lately. In the film, which focuses on how fans have turned on franchise creator George Lucas post Star Wars Special Edition and prequel trilogy, there’s a section on the build-up to Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace and how there’s never been anything like it. Well, the hype for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is greater and potentially more dangerous if this new sequel is also a great disappointment.
Of course, Lucas has little to nothing to do with The Force Awakens, so he will no longer be able to take the blame for any further blemishes on the legacy of the series. But I’d still love to see a sequel from Philippe, whether or not the fans embrace the new movie and the Disney era of Star Wars in general. They already have been embracing it for the most part, enough to provide another chapter or two in the story chronicled in The People Vs. George Lucas. The doc begins with the rise of the fandom before getting into the downfall.
Outside of what it means for its subject matter and this week’s big event release, as a film The People Vs. George Lucas has some good and bad qualities, though it’s additionally fascinating in these days of cheap fandom docs arriving all over the place, most of them fueled by crowdfunding. This is a fandom doc that turns into an anti-fandom doc, or maybe just offers something more complicated for a property that really does continue to delight as well as frustrate. Few fans seem to have totally walked away.
A lot of fandom docs are filled with the fans spouting their love and devotion to something like, say, Back to the Future. Sometimes they have cultural academics discussing the fandom and giving it psychological contexts, but for the most part they’re positive. The People Vs. George Lucas has both positive and negative testimonials, often from the same talking heads. There’s a complex nature to Star Wars fandom unlike any other, as people fittingly struggle with being pulled to the light and dark sides.
Star Wars has been the focus of many fandom docs going back 15 years, since the wake of The Phantom Menace, and understandably a good number of them have dealt primarily with the hype and subsequent disappointment of that prequel in particular. I haven’t seen them all, but The People Vs. George Lucas is probably the most comprehensive in its coverage.
I love that it doesn’t serve as necessarily a defense of the prequels but does allow for a proper discussion of the movies from various angles, contexts, relative comparisons and reasoned understanding. It’s not simply the opposite of fandom docs with hateful ranting in place of excited praise. However, with five years having passed since its release I was left wanting the doc to be more recent and address the growing defenses and fan theories, etc., that have put them in even brighter light.
There’s actually been report that Philippe is working on a sequel, since the Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm and announcement of new Star Wars movies. But I haven’t heard anything more on it. If it does happen, one section will have to look into the way Star Wars fan fiction (films and art included) has totally taken over now that Lucas is off the franchise and a generation of filmmakers who grew up on the series are trying to save it. And I do think (having seen The Force Awakens) that most people will think they have succeeded.
Before I turn this post over to the actual movie so that you can watch it for yourself (and the ad for Wednesday’s live stream), I want to note that Star Wars and documentary have had a great past together, with Lucas and the other original trilogy directors having been interested in, been influenced by and come up through nonfiction cinema. Also, the highly respected documentarian Jon Shenk (The Island President) made behind-the-scenes films for The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
And the next generation continues the tradition as both Rian Johnson (Star Wars: Episode VIII) and Colin Trevorrow (Star Wars: Episode IX) directed docs at the start of their careers and Gareth Edwards (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) did visual effects for some. Also, as we showcased a long time ago, Johnson is a big doc fan.
Below you can stream The People Vs. George Lucas free, with commercials. First, though, here is a flyer with information on Wednesday night’s special group stream and panel discussion with yours truly, Philippe, two guys from Star Wars fan sites and a prequel-defending film critic from The A.V. Club.