After editing over 634 hours of submitted footage and interviewing both insiders and Star Wars apologists, there's one thing The People Versus George Lucas director Alexandre O. Philippe wants from Lucas. Find out the verdict in our exclusive interview.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with The People Versus George Lucas director, plus producers Robert Muratore, Kerry Roy and Vanessa Philippe, to discuss everything they learned on the road while taking George Lucas to the people's court. In the film fans, filmmakers, critics and insiders attack, defend, praise and generally search for some sort of catharsis in their relationship with Star Wars creator George Lucas. What resulted was documentary made up of fan, and non-fan, submitted videos, in person interviews, Star Wars and Indie film recreations and remixes mixed in with a lot of Lucas history.
What was the light bulb moment, when it wasn't just an idea anymore? Where you thought, "we're registering this website, we're making this film happen." Did something happen with George Lucas to inspire this?
Philippe: The lightbulb came thanks to this gentleman right here actually [He gestures toward Robert Muratore]. It's funny because it's just one of those things where I'd had the title in my head for almost two years prior to that. And one day we were in Texas and working on a shoot together and I mentioned it. I said, "I have this idea to make this doc and here's the title..." and he instantly, you know, it was that moment of, "You gotta do it, I'll be your director of photography, I'll be happy to produce it."
For me, it's really serendipitous and a great thing that it happened when it happened. But certainly, you could say the debate was really hot when Episode I came out... No doubt about it. But I think now, there's more of a distance. We can look at it a little more from a cultural standpoint, and see what that [movie] meant. But there's a lot of stuff that's happened since then. There's the release of Indiana Jones 4. There's really what I would call the rise of fandom. Not just fan films, but fan edits. Discoveries like Raiders the Adaptation that came out. And so there's a number of elements that we, you know, Star Wars Uncut, that we are able to add to this film now that would not have been possible several years ago. So it's really great that it sort of came together the way it did, and at the time that it did right now. Because I think it gives a really broad perspective on the cultural phenomenon that is the relationship between George and the fans.
And how fast did you start getting video submissions? When did it really start taking off?
Philippe: The first e-mail that I got was literally 15 minutes after we launched our website, and that was from Australia... Then it really started coming in and it's been constantly. I'm really glad we went down that road of making it participatory, because of the nature of it. I really, really wanted to give the fans a voice, now matter how extreme [their views were], no matter how out there. And that was part of the challenge, because we've received so many different formats, so many different frame-rates. Absolute nightmare for our editors, I can't even begin to tell you. But it's what, I think, gave this film its personality.
You were saying, "no matter how extreme." Fans can be harsh. But we're also very loving and adoring at the same time. I'm curious. I mean, it's not ridiculous if it's someone's opinion. But, what was the one Lucas complaint that made you think "well that's completely out of left field, that's ridiculous."
Philippe: Oh boy.
Kerry Roy: I've got one. I was reviewing one where the person was reviewing the special editions and complaining the wipes not matching the same way as the other editions.
Philippe: You know that's interesting because it really reminded me of, there's a guy, who's actually in the film, whose name is Adywan he's essentially a God among fan-editors. The whole fan edit movement is a whole other thing, but he spent two and a half years working on his recreation of Star Wars the way it should be, according to him. It's just a tremendous amount of work. But you look at some of the stuff he's done, for instance, we actually show a shot, a comparison, between George's version and Adywan's version. In George's version there's maybe five critters [on screen] and Adywan's only has two. And I say, If you had a problem, if you had an issue with those critters, why didn't you just remove them all? But he wanted to keep [two of] them. It's so nit-picky, it's really interesting. That's how passionate they are. They have this vision of Star Wars and they appropriate it and it becomes theirs. And in fact, all of them talk about it in terms of "this is in MY Star Wars." It's a very personal thing.
Do you think you can classify Star Wars fans now? Within all the people that love and hate it, it's not just love and hate, there's so many different variants. Do you think you can almost sort them into categories for instance, this group loves everything, but they just hate Jar Jar Binks and that's it.
Philippe: [Laughs] Sure, that's an interesting way to look at it. I mean there's definitely, for instance, what people refer to as the Star Wars Apologists. People who created the website, the prequel appreciation society.
Which, you know, it's really funny — because it really doesn't matter what George does, they will find, they will have to find a rationale for it. Even if it's the most illogical piece of storytelling, the most blatant plot of all, they will find a connection. They'll say, "Well, he did it because of this, because of that." I think my generation, what I call the Star Wars generation, when you were just a kid watching Star Wars. We've traveled the world. We've done interviews everywhere, with so many people. And I would say, almost unanimously, the people that I've talked to from my generation have that very very profound love [for Star Wars], and an extreme frustration towards what George has done subsequently with the films. And it's unanimous. And it's also a shared childhood, we've had the exact same childhood experiences that effected us profoundly the same way and we were all let down in the same way.
Are you talking about when he remastered them and added more, or are you talking about just the prequels?
Philippe: Well that's really two things. It's a double set of events that I think go hand in hand. But it's one thing to go and change a film and tinker with a film. I mean, it's his film, he's entitled to do that, that's fine. Every director does that. Every director releases a certain number of versions of the film. The problem with George is that he continually refuses to restore and release the films that originally came out in the theaters, the way that we saw it, the way that we want, that we still want...you know we want to have them for posterity's sake. It's our cultural heritage.
There's the example of the originaltrilogy.com website who petitioned to put out the original edition, and within the first few weeks you had 78,000 confirmed signatures. So the excuse that it costs too much money to restore those films, with all due respect to Lucasfilm, it's baloney. Of course the fans would buy it and of course they would make their money back. George has made it very very clear that he does not want these original films to be seen. I've received e-mails from theaters saying "We tried! We wanted to do a retrospective on the great films of the 20th century and we contacted Lucas Film. We assumed we could get a print of the original Star Wars, we were denied that right."
I mean, this is truly unique in history, and I'm sorry, it's not okay. Especially coming from a guy who testified before Congress against the colorization of black-and-white films. The guy, more than anybody else, understands the value, the importance of our cultural heritage. That's where George is a mystery to me because surely he must understand what this means to us.
Is there anybody you spoke to an the time, who said this might happen, they may release it. Do you have any glimmer of hope for it in the future?
Philippe: It's tough to say. On the record, I'll say that I really don't believe we're going to see it for a while.
Were there a lot of people who were afraid to go on the record? I have a feeling plenty of people probably e-mailed you but couldn't talk about it. Lucasfilm is a very powerful force.
Philippe: Yeah it's a challenge. The challenge we had with this film from the get-go was our title. Because of our title I think there was a lot of people who unfortunately, and I know for a fact, really wanted to participate wanted to, were really excited about seeing the film. But they did not dare talk to us and I think that's unfortunate. As one of our interviewees in the film says "it's not Rwanda." We're just talking about a filmmaker. And frankly as a culture, I think we're entitled to talk about these things.
You know, it's something that's been around for so long now that there's no reason we shouldn't be openly able to have this discussion. There's no reason why we shouldn't be able to openly have a discussion like this with George, and asking those questions. Which I think are really simple, fundamental, fair questions. And so when you get that letter, that PR response from Lucasfilm, in response to the fans requesting the original trilogy the way they saw it in the theaters, it's not acceptable. So, again, I mean it was a challenge for us because there were a lot of people who would not participate because they were afraid. And I mean that's fine it's their prerogative, I think it's unfortunate.
What does that say when you have people like Neil Gaiman and the original Darth Vader who are more than willing to talk? What does that say to you as a filmmaker, and as a fan when those icons come forward?
Philippe: Ahh! I mean it's a breath of fresh air, it's like "Finally." These people — you know, Gary Kurtz was obviously great. I think the most amazing one we had was Dale Pollock. There's maybe two and a half minutes of him in the film. That was a four and a half hour interview. That's a DVD extra that I absolutely want to make available, because here's a guy who's spent more time one on one with George Lucas deconstructing his mind, understanding his motivations, he knows him better than anybody else. I think he has 70 hours of recorded interviews with George.
When we walked out of that interview, my mind was spinning with all this amazing information. It's great that a number of people saw that we were trying to approach this from a cultural perspective. I'm not against George. I love the guy, how can you not be grateful for what he's given us? I really feel that it's an important cultural document. And the relationship between George and the fans is an important one, if you care about film history.
An example I like to use is, if you care about Hitchcock then understanding the relationship and dynamic between Hitchcock and David O. Selznick makes you understand movies and look at films like Rebecca and Rope in a very different way. So understanding the dynamic between George and the fans gives you a completely understanding of those movies, I think. It's a boarder since maybe it's possibly why he's behaving the way he's behaving.
What was the one thing you learned about George Lucas, while making this film, that you didn't know?
There were a couple of discoveries that I thought was amazing. There was an interview with George that resurfaced recently from 1971 where he says, "I like to think of myself as a toy maker who makes films." 1971! It gives you the chills...
We can only speculate, nobody has a clue what it's like to be George, it's got to be so hard to be George on some levels. There's a tragic story there too. Maybe we made him feel like we could do nothing but Star Wars. Maybe the ultimate tragedy is Star Wars took over his life where he was never able to make a personal film again. Not that Star Wars wasn't a personal film, Star Wars is an extremely personal film. I somehow doubt, very much, that Episodes I, II and III were personal films the way that the original Star Wars, THX and Graffiti were. That's all I'm saying. He's expressed so many times even prior to Revenge of the Sith that "finally I'm going to make the personal experimental films I've always wanted to make." And where are they? In fact recently I heard him say for the first time, you know I'm just having too much fun doing Star Wars, and television is so good now." For the first time you get the feeling that he's given up on that dream. That breaks my heart. Because the fans would love to see Lucas do one more thing, even trying and failing. Just trying. As fans we want to see him be that young idealistic filmmaker who took risks. It's not even about the product it's about the spirit, and that's what people embraced. '
This documentary really explores the social contract between artist and audience, what did you learn about this contract, what has it become today because of the internet? Has it changed?
This is a difficult question because you can approach this question legally or morally. I'll approach it from a moral perspective. I think we live in a age where culture is rising. The fans are rising in a powerful way, perhaps also in some dangerous ways. But also in ways that reflect where culture is now. In recent years the fans have been expressing this sense that George these are not just your movies, these are also our movies. They belong to our culture. The fan editing movement as a whole is an embodiment of that. Henry Jenkins talks about Alice In Wonderland and how Lewis Carroll, by [the author] giving it to the people made and allowing them to remix it, allowing people to play in that sandbox, was precisely what made Alice one of the most popular texts around. Even considering the resistance that Lucas Film has had, the fans have remixed made fan films it and continue to play with it. It's a shared thing. I understand that there is legal ramifications and copyright laws and that is all fair. But when something, like Star Wars transcends, it's not just a story it's something that touches most of us in a very profound way. It's a reflection of culture, of our own selves. Therefore I believe that culture is entitled to it. I feel very strongly about this, that the fans are entitled to a restored, pristine trilogy the way we saw it.
Clearly George is not in this film. Would you ever meet with George Lucas?
Certainly. I think about what this film would have been like if George said, "Come on down." Would I really have challenged him on things like cultural heritage? It would have been a lot tougher... I would be thrilled beyond belief, but I would be shaking in my boots. I think it would be an incredibly cool thing to do to say come on down. We'd love for him to recognize that it's a fair film, and it's loving. I would love to sit at a table with him and ask why? Frankly if he convinces me I'd go back and change the film. That would be a good enough reason for a second film, George Talks Back. I have nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for the guy. This is not a George bashing film, what would be the point? That's not interesting. People are surprised how balanced it is.
Did you find any closure as a fan making this film?
There's no closure. I've come to realize that if George is trapped by Star Wars, we the fans are trapped big time. Because whether we like to admit it or not he is a surrogate father of sorts. He is Uncle George. He's part of the family. Maybe we didn't have parents that read bed time stories to us, this is the equivalent to it. Star Wars was our bedtime story. We obsessed over it, thought about it all the time. He is the storyteller for us, he's a Dad of sorts. How do you ever get over the internal conflicts of it?
There really isn't a resolution at the end of the documentary, which is understandable because many fans still need closure on this issue, while others are just fine with the Lucas course of events. What is the one thing that George Lucas could do to heal the open wounds some fans feel they have? What could he do to fix your open wound?
[Laughs] He'd have to do like Tiger Woods did. I'm kidding, I'm kidding... I think releasing the original versions is what it would take. It's a matter of respect towards the fans. Yes he made that story and he deserves every success he's had, but, yes, we put him up there. As you can see the opening credits of the movie the fans lifted him up and put him on the hill, and put a crown on his head.
Trailer for the People Versus George Lucas: