“There is something about our love for Star Wars that is different from our love for other things.” — one of the many fan comments in The People vs. George Lucas that addresses the visceral emotions regarding this beloved science fiction series. Perhaps we react so deeply to these films because they are some of the modern myths of our times. Or perhaps we are just moved to indignation at changes because we like the status quo ante, “the way it was before.” There’s a “reset button technique” in fiction writing that allows the writer to cause major changes to the protagonist of the story, and then return the story to its previous plotline. These are often introduced in dream sequences or parallel universes where the dramatic changes are dissolved back into the plot afterwards, and the story arc goes on. What happened to the status quo ante button for film revisions?
When what many feel were drastic changes were introduced to the Star Wars films in the Blu-ray release, the Star Wars community rose up in arms. Masterful scenes from the trilogy such as Vader’s redemptive stride to protect his son against the Emperor were changed. What was a powerful silent meditative moment for Vader’s character became a dance of errors, crudely altered by the prosthetic addition of the “Noooo” exclamation. Now where, O George, is the damn reset button!
The People vs. George Lucas arrived on DVD October 25th, courtesy of Lionsgate Home Entertainment. It was written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. I had a chance to ask Philippe about the reactions of the Star Wars community, the impacts of the Changes and “film revisionism” and received some fittingly passionate responses.
GeekDad: There has been a lot of buzz in the fan community about the changes that George Lucas made to this release. What was your goal in doing this documentary and why is it important to you personally?
Alexandre O. Philippe: As a documentary filmmaker, I’ve always been fascinated by the uniquely dysfunctional relationship between George Lucas and his fans. There’s really nothing like it in popular culture, and I believed it needed to be explored in a detailed, feature-length format. Personally, I would consider myself a Star Wars fan in the sense that the original trilogy had a profound impact on me when I was a kid. So making this film turned out to be cathartic on some level. I’ve been fortunate to screen it at festivals around the world, and many Star Wars fans came up to me after each screening to tell me that watching The People vs. George Lucas felt like therapy, which is a tremendous compliment. As for the recent changes that George made to the Blu-ray release, I can certainly say that I’m not surprised, because you expect him to make controversial changes every time he re-releases the films. Surely, he must be in on the joke. Because if he’s serious about those changes, then I think he’s fundamentally lost touch with what made his films so popular in the first place. Some will argue that perhaps he never really understood why his films resonated with an entire generation so profoundly. At the end of the day, he’s a great mystery. Sometimes, I think his “film revisionism” is one big Andy Kaufman-esque prank. Or an extended middle finger to the many fans who have been so critical of him.
GD: What possible negative impact do you think will be caused by these controversial changes to the original films of the Star Wars saga?
AOF: Financially, I don’t foresee any negative impact. I think he’s proven this in the past. Star Wars, as Todd Hanson says in The People vs. George Lucas, “is a brand that you cannot break.” Personally, I don’t know if it’s possible to inflict more damage upon the original trilogy. Are the Blu-ray versions any worse than the “original” Special Editions? At the end of the day, none of them represent the original movies that so many of us fell in love with when we were kids. George certainly understands the importance of preserving those versions, as evidenced by his 1988 Congressional testimony against the colorization of black & white films. So the negative impact has been caused. But who believes the Lucasfilm Limited argument that the original negatives were permanently altered? We had an extensive interview about this with Anthony Slide (former Associate Archivist of the American Film Institute and Resident Film Historian of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), and even he doesn’t believe it. What bugs me, more than anything, is the long list of conflicting reports and arguments. Why would you lie to your loving fan base? And why not give them the one thing they’ve asked for repeatedly? Does it really cost too much money to properly restore those films, George? Seriously? You mean, you don’t think you’d make your money back? Should we speculate on the profits of a pristine Criterion Collection release of the original theatrical Star Wars trilogy?
GD: Did you make a conscious decision not to interview Lucas for this documentary? If you could speak about “film revisionism” with him, what major points would you make? Do you think Lucas would consider undoing the Blu-ray changes because of the outcry from the Star Wars fan base?
AOF: No, the original intent was to interview George; but I certainly didn’t count on it ever happening. I repeatedly contacted Steve Sansweet, and his response has always been the same: “We welcome the debate, but we don’t think it would be appropriate for us to participate.” By “us”, he meant George and anyone working at Lucasfilm Limited, of course. So making this film was an uphill battle for us, on so many levels– starting with the perception, in some circles, that The People vs. George Lucas was going to be a George Lucas bashing film. I think anyone who’s seen the film now realizes that it’s a very objective doc, and a respectful and loving portrait of “Uncle George.” As much as I would have enjoyed interviewing George, I’m glad things turned out the way they did. The archival footage brings an aura of mystery to his presence throughout the film.
I could talk about film revisionism for hours– and I have done just that with audiences. It’s an endlessly fascinating topic. But I’ll just say this: I think any filmmaker has the right to revisit and change his or her work. But when several versions of the same film can happily co-exist on a single Blu-ray disc, is there a good reason to deny those multiple versions to the fans– especially when you know that you’d make a profit? Just look at the Amazon listing of the Star Wars Blu-ray box. Why does it have a 2 1/2 star rating? People love those films with a passion. They’re just frustrated that George keeps tinkering with them, and still refuses to give them what they want. But what do they do? They purchase the box set anyway. They give it a one star rating, and they put it in their basket. So this is also a huge part of the problem. Why would George care, when the message that the fans send him is that they’ll buy anything he releases– even if they don’t like it? This is why I don’t believe George will ever consider undoing anything because of the outcry of his fanbase. I just think that restoring the original trilogy (or the Original Original Trilogy [OOT], as it’s now referred to) would send one strong message out there: that what his original fans want actually means something to him. And that’s the one thing, to coin one of his many iconic lines, that would “bring balance to The Force”– in this particular case, heal the wounds of this unnecessarily dysfunctional power play.
May the Force (unaltered version) be with you.