Director Alexandre Philippe is enjoying the fruits, bitter and sweet, that come with three years of intensive work on a loaded subject – George Lucas and the handling of his 'Star Wars' legacy. Phillippe's documentary, 'The People vs. George Lucas', examines the relationship between the creator of the sci-fi universe and its devout disciples, many of whom believe the brand has been mismanaged. When documenting one of pop culture's most enduring subjects, the film has instant appeal to millions of fans, but one must be delicate as to not aggravate such a fearsome beast. We spoke to Phillippe at the Toronto Hot Docs Documentary Festival, where his film is screening to rabid audiences. img hspace="4" border="1" vspace="4" alt="" id="vimage_2955839" src="http://www.blogcdn.com/blog.moviefone.com/media/2010/05/georgelucas438.jpg" />
Director Alexandre Philippe is enjoying the fruits, bitter and sweet, that come with three years of intensive work on a loaded subject – George Lucas and the handling of his 'Star Wars' legacy. Phillippe's documentary, 'The People vs. George Lucas', examines the relationship between the creator of the sci-fi universe and its devout disciples, many of whom believe the brand has been mismanaged. When documenting one of pop culture's most enduring subjects, the film has instant appeal to millions of fans, but one must be delicate as to not aggravate such a fearsome beast. We spoke to Phillippe at the Toronto Hot Docs Documentary Festival, where his film is screening to rabid audiences.
At the Toronto Hot Docs screening, the crowd seemed tailor-made for your movie, laughing and groaning in all the right spots. Has that been your experience so far on the Festival circuit?
We just started in March at SXSW, so it's still a very young film. It was very interesting for me to see that audiences in Toronto have just about the exact same reactions as audiences in Texas had. I am definitely curious to see the film in front of foreign audiences as well. What I find most gratifying right now is that I have had a number of people, both in Austin and Toronto, who were not really 'Star Wars' or George Lucas fans, who felt they had a good time and learned a lot watching the film. The intent was always to do something that would go beyond the Star Wars fan-base.
Did you feel a responsibility, using the Lucas/'Star Wars' label, to have a high-end product?
It was never our intent to make a fan-film. There have been so many fan films and fan documentaries. This was always going to be a high-end documentary. Obviously we have put a lot of resources into it, just in terms of post-production. It's tough because you are going to be criticized no matter what, and you are going to get death threats, which we did. I am very well aware as a filmmaker that you are never going to please everybody, but I have enough of an understanding of the fans that we tried really hard to treat this with as much respect towards the fans and towards George as possible. People will make their verdict, but so far the great majority of the reviews have been really positive. So that's a good sign.
Do you worry that some people get lost in the jargon? Midi-Clorians and Jedi Counsels aren't everyone's bag...
There's definitely a bit of geekiness, but we tried very hard to make the film as accessible to those who are not familiar with the phenomenon. When you start getting into 'Han shot first' and little nit-picky moments like this, I am sure for someone who has no understanding of 'Star Wars', it will feel geeky.
During the Q&A at the screening you said you are ready to move on from 'Star Wars', but how did you slip into a role like this?
I am that generation, and it had a profound effect on my life as a little kid, and influenced me to become a filmmaker. First and foremost I am a filmmaker, and while I may be a fan-boy at heart, I wasn't interested in approaching this project from that perspective. As much as I can be passionate about it, I am really interested in this ongoing debate and dysfunctional relationship between the creator and his fans, from a cultural perspective.
There's really nothing quite like it in popular culture. For a set of movies to become the focus of so much debate over such a long period of time, not only is it not going away, it keeps growing larger all the time. It's not like anything else in film history.
During the first 30 minutes of the film, there is a serious discussion about Lucas' tampering with the original trilogy and the unavailability of the original cuts. Lucas did a lengthy campaign, basically saying 'This is it, this is your last chance to get these movies before I change them forever'. I was surprised this didn't come up in the movie.
It's one thing to warn people and say they won't be available, but first you have to make them available in an appropriate format. We live in an age of Blu-Ray and HD and every major movie is getting a release. In a few years from now, every major movie will have had a proper HD restoration and transfer except 'Star Wars'. Is that OK in terms of film history? It's a really big question.
Fundamentally the question is: Does the movie belong to George Lucas and only to George Lucas? Legally, if you look at it from the copywriters, there is no doubt about it. But it has been more than 30 years now, and the movie has been inducted into the National Film Registry. There is clearly an argument to be made that this is now larger than George Lucas – it belongs to culture, history and is part of our international heritage.
Is it OK for Lucas to say you will never see these films again? Obviously the fans don't think so because when the film is put out illegally online, as one critic points out in my film, they are preserving our cultural heritage.
Lucas appears in the film because of interviews he has done with other media. Was there any attempt to get a hold of George Lucas and interview him for the film?
Yes, we were very open from day one. The moment we launched our website back in 2007 we've always said, "We want you to participate." The response has always been pretty standard – "We welcome the debate, but we don't feel like it is appropriate for us to participate." I respect that, I think it's fine. I do hope that one day he will see the film. I would love to have a chat with him.
Was that ultimate goal, to get Lucas to witness the frustration of his fans?
My ultimate goal was to tell the story, which I really believe needed to be told. Of course it would be great to show him the film. If someone at the Lucas Ranch calls me tomorrow and says "We want to screen the film, come on down," we're there, there's no doubt about it.
Your film assumes that most people agree that the 'Star Wars' prequel trilogy is sub-par to the originals. What that your position from the beginning?
The original generation of fans feels very strongly that way. I can tell you from travelling the world for three years and interviewing the original fan base, there are very few people who feel otherwise. But we do look at the generational conflict, and that kids don't seem to feel the same way – that is, the younger people who didn't experience the original 'Star Wars' when it came out in theatres. It was a unique experience and I think part of the reason why the original generation feels that way is because of what 'Star Wars' meant to us when it came out.
It's hard to explain what that was like. It's hard to explain the impact those movies had on us when we were kids, and that is why we are so emotional. That's why when George Lucas comes back 16 or 17 years later and gives us essentially some very different films, in terms of tone, in terms of storytelling, the types of characters he adds to the films and the types of humour, it's very difficult for the older generation to accept that because these movies were already more than just movies.
Who was your favorite character in the series?
It would have to go with Darth Vader, and I am talking about the original Darth Vader, before we started knowing about the whiny little Anakin. I just don't relate. I am not buying it, and this isn't Darth Vader to me. Darth Vader was such an iconic, perfect villain, so mysterious. I think the mystery about those films was the thing that got our imaginations going. I fail to understand this need to explain things. We live now in an age of prequels, origin stories... some of them are fine, but its dangerous ground in terms of storytelling. I am curious about the 'Alien' prequel trilogy that's going to be released, but at the same time I am very worried. Every fanboy out there has the same feeling. "Oh it's going to be fantastic and so much fun," but what if they mess it up? What if it doesn't fit my vision?
Fanboys, it becomes their movie. They appropriate the film, so it's difficult to please. It's all subjective. That's the thing with 'Star Wars'. I will not hesitate to say that 90 to 95 percent of the fan base has been massively disappointed by those movies. I can count the people from my generation that I have met, on one hand, who like the new movies. In fact, there are two people.
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