The people vs. their films

The newly-released Good Vibrations has a main character who asserts that the music he helps to promote, rather than belonging to any one person, is the people’s. The documentary The People vs. George Lucas also hits upon this issue. Lucas was a man revered for his work on the original Star Wars films, until he began to take them back.

Though on the surface the film is an insight into the films and the level of fan reaction to the director himself, there’s also a lot more to it. The unique history and almost-unrivalled devotion to the breakthrough films – leading to the existence of the Star Wars subculture that we now all know – is explored in greater detail, and these factors influence things greatly.

The history of the first three films in the late 70s / early 80s with three-year interludes and the prequels following on in the same pattern twenty years later is also one-of-a-kind. But  it’s not merely the bizarre vision and revision of Lucas in his manner of releasing these films that complicates the love-hate affair his fans share with him, but also the complete and utter disparity between the two sets (best characterised by Jar Jar Binks and midi-chlorians) that really evokes such a reaction.

On a deeper level are several other issues that are brought to attention in this stimulating doc: ownership, selling-out, the end of Lucas’ filmmaking career (in effect) and more, surrounding this saga-within-a-saga. Not only does it really carry home the magnitude of the announcement about the new-new films due in 2015 onwards, but it provides an insight into the fanboys of Star Wars and the various bits of discussion and controversy that relate not only to this game-changing film, but to film – or art – in general.

The ultimate Star Wars comparison of this generation would have to be Harry Potter: little else meets the criteria of such a big-scale success story which revitalises a genre and gives such involvement to the fans (from fancy-dress to Pottermore to the studio tour, etc.). It might be assumed that the Potter fans are a lot more forgiving and certainly have less to be angry at J.K. Rowling for (despite some pretty shoddy films which she agreed to), and in fact most of them seem to adore her. However when it comes to fan ownership, opinions can change pretty quickly… as we saw with Lucas.

Much of the fallout in the fans/Lucas divide is specifically to do with his tinkering with the original films in order to release special edition box-sets, though his motivation is claimed to be artistic rather than financial. Lucas modifies certain aspects of the film in order for them to be shown as “originally intended”, though these range from improving the quality of the shots to more drastic measures which, fans argue, changes the whole dynamic of the film. What I’m talking about specifically here is something which I had no knowledge of before watching the doc (hence the recommendation) and is best explained by typing the words ‘Hans shot first’ into Google. Changing action leads to changing characters, and changing characters surely leads to changing the film.

The real question raised by this is whether Lucas is whether Lucas has a right to alter the films in such a way,or should he retain some sort of loyalty to the fans who helped make him who he is? Forget selling-out and the more generic accusations; this is a debate about the preservation of art, history and memory. It would appear to be a black-and-white issue, but it begins to get a little fuzzy.

Let’s take it back to Harry Potter: a generation of fans can’t imagine Harry as anyone other than Daniel. But the cold, hard fact is that money will eventually be made by releasing remakes (or sequels/prequels) in 20 years, or Rowling herself may even write additional books. Whilst seemingly incomprehensible to many, this could – and probably will – happen in the future.

Now if this distorts or upsets the story in the mind of the reader then it could change everything as far as they’re concerned. The anger appears justified, but does this obligation to do what the fans want – rather than the author him/herself prefers – really ring true? Though the outrage is understandable in terms of profits and selling-out, the specific re-writing of history is what appears to really upset the Star Wars fanatics.

Their anger was directed towards Lucas because of his attempts to get his reworked editions to supersede the originals, whereas that should never be the case. As brought up in the doc itself, Terry Gilliam’s 3 different versions of Twelve Monkeys exist in the special edition release, one of which he had no final cut on and denounces completely. The compromise should be proactive choice, otherwise films get lost in the dust. And otherwise the theme that’s been covered in much of art already, from A Tale of Two Cities to last year’s A Royal Affair, in their premonitions of the abuse of power, no doubt comes to fruition.

Lucas has the right to tamper and tinker with even the originals, as disappointing as it is if he should wish to do so. They are, as the author Neil Gaiman points out in the documentary, his films to alter. This is essentially a Director’s Cut. What’s not right is Lucas’ attempts to consign the original-original-Star Wars to be ‘lost in time, like tears in rain’ (to borrow a well-known quote from yet another multiple-versioned film, Blade Runner). Neither is it of the people to demand the loss of a character, however annoying he may be. The vision of the director is very much a two-ways process, required to be respected by both.

As the documentary concludes with… regardless of everything else, there’ll always be Star Wars. And there’ll always be Harry Potter, and Blade Runner, and all of the rest… in whatever version, and format, you so desire.

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