When I was at university, I wasn’t afraid of voicing occasionally unpopular opinions, mainly because I’d rarely thought them through first. These opinions ranged from “I can do that death slide if I get top this pint up with whisky” (which caused me to have some form of hallucinatory episode before running four miles away) and “red wine is shit because it all tastes the same” (during a discussion on why my landlord and his good friend had joined the university wine society). Said landlord, who took me in on a month’s trial and kept me on after I nearly burned his house down three weeks in with a cooking oil fire, and who was consequently one of the finest and most upstanding men I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, was also of the view that Timothy Dalton was the best James Bond. So I wasn’t the only one had unpopular opinions. Oh wait, I thought it was Roger Moore.
You may have already read my Movie Memories blog on The Spy Who Loved Me, and in particular the childhood highlight that occurred about an hour and ten minutes in. But The Spy Who Loved Me was for me the quintessential Bond film when I was a child, and watching it again in the context of the other nine Bonds to come before it, I was relieved to see that it still stands up pretty well. No Bond since Goldfinger has had such a ready supply of iconic moments, from the Union Jack parachuting ski jump to the giant man with metal gnashers, and with some of Ken Adam’s best work on the series (of his five Oscar nominations, this was his only one for a Bond film), TSWLM doesn’t skimp on spectacle but also does much to further the archetypes of the series. Nonetheless, there are still a few fresh concepts that the tenth Bond outing manages to add to the already burgeoning formula.
The Review: I was born at just the wrong time. I’ve already written before how it took a while for the cultural impact of Star Wars to take over my life. I had the toys when I was younger, but I had my first lightsaber fight at university after The Phantom Menace came out, and I bought the gorgeous artwork and making of books of Revenge of the Sith, so I knew the story before I even saw the movie. There’s a part of me that would like to think these were as good as the originals, but deep down I know the truth and I was probably overcompensating for a misbegotten childhood (in all the wrong ways). But there’s no denying that Star Wars changed the direction of movies and popular culture permanently and irrevocably when it landed; that said, the legacy today is more ire of what has come in the last 15 years than fond remembrance of what was there before.
The People vs. George Lucas is an attempt to understand that paradigm shift in the cultural impact of George Lucas’ most prominent creation (although there is also some reference to his second most, Indiana Jones). Few movies before or since Star Wars have fundamentally changed the perceptions and ideals of those watching, but in doing so some sense of intellectual property seemed to pass into the audience. So when George started to make improvements to the originals, and then took a new trilogy in the directions he wanted, then that audience wasn’t happy. If anything, they wanted blood, or revenge (at least until they got Revenge), but they’d probably have been happy for it just to stop…
Director Alexandre O. Philippe uses a very loose and slightly neglected courtroom framework to construct his narrative, but this is a largely linear wander through the most famous missteps of George Lucas post-Howard The Duck, using a combination of talking heads and fan-made films submitted via the web. Particular attention is given to the special edition re-releases and the subsequent sequestering of the original versions, and indeed to the most controversial alterations to them (don’t mention Greedo – I mentioned him once, but I think I got away with it), and the sheer level of ill feeling summoned up by the prequels, the fourth Indiana Jones movie and the continuing evolution of George as a hate figure for those who once adored him.
What feels like polemic about a third of the way through and almost a call to arms for oppressed Jedi across the galaxy by half way actually takes a much more balanced view by the end. Of course, no one who wasn’t in love with the originals could have conceived this, and while the view may be balanced, there’s no attempt made to justify Lucas’ actions over the period, or indeed to suggest right or wrong. What it does work as, very effectively, is a primer for those looking to understand how not to keep a legacy going, and indeed to start a debate whether any event will have the same impact again, or whether its creators would even want that legacy and the pressure that comes with it.
I know what you really want to know, though – what’s my view? Because everyone must have one who’s lived through this. Although I don’t love any of the last / first three Star Wars movies as much as the originals, Phantom Menace has the best music track (Duel of the Fates) and the best lightsaber fight of all six and the first twenty minutes of Revenge of the Sith were what I used to illustrate to my wife, who’s never seen Star Wars (sigh) what a Star Wars movie should be like. I was more crushingly disappointed by the fourth Indiana Jones movie than any of the prequels, and Spielberg must be as much to blame for that. In fact, when did he last make a truly great movie? Ten years ago? Fifteen? Has George ever descended into mawkish sentiment and unbelievability with quite as much regularity as Steven? Next case, The People vs Steven Spielberg, if you please.
Why see it at the cinema: Everything and anything about Star Wars should be seen in a cinema, and since this is better than the prequels themselves, and you saw those there, you should be seeing this there. Simple.
The Score: 8/10