AUSTIN – On Tuesday, I took in a triple bill at the Paramount Theatre, my home away from home so far this week. And of the three films I saw, the first was easily the best.
The People vs. George Lucas is an engrossing, in-depth and laugh-out-loud look at fanboys’ obession with the Star Wars universe. That insane reverence for the movies has been the subject of other docs and books. What makes The People vs. George Lucas unique is the way that it also captures many of the fans’ utter disgust with the man who made them who they are. At the heart of the film is a basic question: When a movie is released to the world, is it owned by its creator or by the people who love it?
Among many bones the fans have to pick with Lucas is his tinkering with the original film before re-releasing it into theaters in 1997. Lucas says he wanted to fix some things here, embellish some things there so that the film fit his vision of what it should have been. But some of those changes crossed the line with the Star Wars obsessed, none more than a scene early in the film in which Han Solo and Greedo are sitting in a bar discussing a debt.
In the 1977 original, Han Solo shoots Greedo under the table and walks away. In the 1997 version, Greedo shoots at Solo and misses before being wasted by Han. It’s a subtle change, but as they say, the devil’s in the details. Fans decried that that tiny addition completely changed their understanding of each character. The original scene paints Han Solo as a swaggering, shoot first, ask questions later tough guy. The new version has him simply reacting to being shot at. Not only that, but Greedo sinks way down on the film’s list of baddies after he misses from two feet away.
And if that tinkering weren’t enough, Lucas claims that the changes are permanent and that we won’t ever see the original version on DVD or in theaters again. For the hardcore fan, it’s as if they were given the best toy in the world for 20 years and then a bully took it a way, tore it all up and gave it back to them.
That’s just one of the many, many beefs these fanboys (and girls) have with Lucas. The endless merchandising, the so-bad-it’s-good 1977 Christmas Special and, of course, Jar Jar Binx also draw their ire. For anyone who’s lived through the Star Wars phenomenon over the past 30 years, this is a film that puts that phenomenon into perspective. Director Alexandre Philippe said after the screening that distribution for his film is still being worked out, so it’s too early to say when you’ll have a chance to see it. My guess is the Star Wars fans will find a way to track it down – they always do.
In a side note, a really fun short called Star Wars: Retold played before The People Vs. George Lucas. It was created by a SXSW staffer who asked a friend of his to guide him through the plot. Let’s just say her summary is not quite true to the original, either. Enjoy: