Hating George Lucas can sometimes seem like a national sport.
Over the years, there have been many reasons for rage: “Star Wars” killed American cinema and made us all blockbuster-watching morons! Then he refurbished his movies and raped everyone’s childhood! And he invented marketing! And he made terrible sequels! Every time George Lucas does anything, the amount of angry exclamation points on the internet increases exponentially.
At least one of those things seems to be considered universally annoying — cleaning up the effects on the first “Star Wars” trilogy and making the original versions inaccessible for years — but the rest is a little overheated. Here’s how the arguments all go: once Lucas was a talented, diverse filmmaker with a trilogy of films (“THX 1138,” “American Graffiti” and “Star Wars”) with nothing in common besides his preternatural, out-of-the-gate skill. Then he became a cynical special-effects god, more interested in playing with his toys than anything else.
This argument, I’d guess, will be best encapsulated by “The People vs. George Lucas,” a documentary premiering at SXSW that’s about exactly what you think it’s about. The trailer’s here, and it looks fun and self-aware about the subject in a way that most people aren’t.
I’m not the biggest fan of the new trilogy, but I probably like it more than most reasonable people. “Episode II” is nothing more than an excuse to parade out 500 meticulously designed aliens, which is pretty entertaining, and there are none of those damn Ewoks. What’s worth noting about the much-reviled prequel trilogy is that it has tons of what avant-garde types would call “plastic qualities” — a purposeful digital sheen that doesn’t seem inadvertent. Lucas’ background is in the avant-garde: his misspent youth includes infatuations with the likes of montage theorist Slavko Vorkapich and Norman McLaren.
No one, then, should accuse Lucas of being untrue to himself with the post-“Star Wars” trilogy that’s about as impersonal as filmmaking gets. From this angle, in a strange way, he’s the most expensive avant-garde filmmaker of all time.
More importantly (especially with his cracked background) Lucas has no responsibility to anyone. He does what he wants, regardless of how the public feels. That’s abstractly admirable.
[Photos: “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” 20th Century Fox, 2002]