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What Would Be Your Verdict in 'The People vs. George Lucas'?

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Apr 29, 2012 | 9:35pm EDT

Star WarsAs the summer movie season begins, with all its highly anticipated movies in tow, I can’t help but remember a crucial moment from my cinephile past. It was May of 1999, and a fifteen-year-old version of me was beside himself with excitement as the lights dimmed and the iconic words once again graced the theater screen: “A Long Time Ago, In A Galaxy Far, Far Away…

I was about to actually see a brand new Star Wars film, how could anything spoil so magical an event? Easy: the new Star Wars movie. The long walk out of that theater is forever burned into my memory as the first time I ever started thinking critically about film. I didn’t have the words to identify all of the films sundry missteps; I just knew something wasn’t right and that it left me feeling cold. How could this have been a culled from the same brain that gave us the legendary original trilogy?

If you’ve read the Internet for even five minutes over the last fifteen years, you’re aware of the vitriol this once universally beloved filmmaker has engendered among Star Wars fans. His constant tinkering with the classic trilogy, his stubbornness toward releasing the versions we love, and the abysmal prequels have lit the fires of contempt in many zealous geeks. A documentary cataloguing this contentious relationship with fans, titled The People vs. George Lucas, has just hit Netflix Instant. My own feelings on this matter have put this article at risk of abject fanboy bias. Therefore, in addition to strongly encouragingly you to watch the documentary for yourself, I will merely present a few lesser-known arguments the film makes in condemnation of the man once affectionately known as The Creator. I leave it to you to make your own decision and cast your guilty/not guilty vote in the case of The People vs. George Lucas.

Singing A Different Cantina Tune

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One of the biggest perceived affronts to his fans committed by Lucas was the altering of Episodes IV-VI for the 1997 “special editions.” Suddenly extra creatures were present at Mos Eisley, the order of shots fired delineated from established canon, and Jabba’s palace now boasted entire musical numbers. Though his justification stemmed from his repeated assertion that the new versions were how he’d always envisioned the films would look, his added digital bells and CGI whistles were received as unforgivable defacement by most fans.

The documentary points out that George’s tinkering with Star Wars in the '90s is in direct opposition to his stance against Ted Turner’s 1988 campaign to colorize several classic black-and-white films. George actually testified before Congress in the landmark case that ended up creating the National Film Registry. These were his exact words…

“Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.”

You Need A Probe Droid To Find The Untainted Versions

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For the longest time, those apathetic toward the Star Wars controversy have contended that those making a fuss about the tainted versions of the film should simply satisfy themselves with the original, unaltered versions and cease their bellyaching. This would be a apt prescription, if it were at all an easy task to obtain the unaltered versions. Unless you still have a working VCR, and a pre-1997 VHS release of the trilogy, the only way to own the original versions is to spend upwards of $200 for a copy of the out-of-print 2006 DVD release that offers them as a special feature in the incorrect aspect ratio. Lucas’ apparent contempt for his original masterpiece has largely prevented their seeing the light of day.

The documentary actually goes a step further in this regard by providing evidence that at one time, via his PR department, Lucas was actually claiming that the original negatives of the first three Star Wars films had been forever altered during the 1997 “restoration” and would never be released again. They conclude that he has become a strange sort of history revisionist out to convince the world that naught but the tampered-with versions exist…or ever existed. Their position is that, no matter the film, these actions are antithetical to the integrity of film as an art form.

Have Adult Fans Merely Been Corrupted By The Dark Side?

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It’s no secret that a large contingency of Star Wars fans can barely refrain from spitting upon the ground whenever the subject of the prequels is raised. Many of the new trilogy’s issues are investigated within the doc, both objectively and with jaded fanaticism. Also investigated are the counterarguments to the disdain for the prequels. One possible explanation offered for the bitter hatred fans have toward, say, The Phantom Menace is that many of them saw the original trilogy as children and have lost the ability to recognize the wonderment these films always possessed. In other words, The Phantom Menace was always intended for kids. The documentary asks you to consider however the amount of enjoyment the average child would deride from a plot centering on trade disputes and intergalactic embargoes. They also offer that no character in the history of the franchise was as tiresomely moronic as Jar-Jar Binks.

In closing arguments, in spite of the filmmakers’ clear position against Lucas’ actions since the mid-90s, they somewhat defend the accused by also offering plenty of reverence for the man. Fans, even jilted fans, really do harbor a love/hate relationship with the man who, in spite of his supposed crimes, did create something that has touched and changed so many lives across the planet. Also fascinating is the wide array of recreations of Star Wars scenes from several short filmmakers in a variety of different film mediums. These recreations are interwoven into the documentary to impress upon the viewer how indelible the Star Wars legacy truly is.

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