Documentary traces George Lucas’ guide to a galaxy far, far away

by Mark Burger

Dale Pollock. (courtesy photo)

The People vs. George Lucas , which will be screened at the a/perture cinemas in Winston-Salem Sept. 12, is an amusing, engrossing and awardwinning documentary about a topic foremost on many minds: filmmaker George Lucas’ seemingly limitless penchant for revisiting and reworking the Star Wars franchise that he created in 1977.

Star Wars, for those who don’t know (which is well nigh inconceivable), changed film forever and inspired a global following unlike anything before or since. Aficionados of “Star Trek” or James Bond may disagree, but Star Wars has gone beyond mere phenomenon to become its own culture.

The documentary, directed by Alexandre O. Philippe, is poised to both praise Lucas and bury him. It’s a tribute not so much to the films, but to the fans — who have been increasingly outspoken in their devotion to, and their complaints about, the Star Wars franchise.

Among those scheduled to be in attendance at the screening is Dale Pollock, former dean of the UNCSA School of Filmmaking (1999-2006) and currently a faculty member, and the author of Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, published in 1984 and considered by many to be a definitive Lucas biography.

“There have been other books about him, but I do believe mine was the first authoritative work about his career,” said Pollock.

Although Lucas cooperated with Pollock while he was researching and writing the book, since its publication he has criticized it heavily. The two haven’t been in touch since shortly after its initial publication. “He won’t speak to me,” said Pollock. “He won’t communicate with me.”

Just last week the internet was abuzz with reactions to the disclosure that Lucas has retooled certain scenes for an upcoming Bluray release of Return of the Jedi. Fan reaction was swift and negative. Even Pollock is baffled as to why Lucas would even bother to go back and “adjust” a movie that was a huge boxoffice success and is nearly 30 years old.

“Who does that?” Pollock asked rhetorically.

“It’s not the same thing, but did Picasso go back and re-do his paintings years after he’d finished them?” The tide first seemed to turn against Lucas in the late 1990s, when he re-released the original Star Wars films to theaters with additional footage and special effects. Although all did big box-office, some fans groused that there was nothing wrong with the films as they were originally released. Lucas, obviously, disagreed — and had every right to, as he made them. With Star Wars, he created his own billion-dollar “Empire,” one he maintains strict control over.

The makers of The People vs. George Lucas spent nearly eight hours interviewing Pollock, of which approximately three minutes appears in the film. He laughs: “That’s documentary filmmaking!” If Pollock comes off as one of the more serious, scholarly interviews in the film, that was how he understood the film would be presented. When he first saw the film, at the 2011 SilverDocs Documentary Film Festival in Washington DC, he was surprised at its light tone.

“It was much funnier than I expected it to be,” he said. “If I’d known funny was the way they were going, I would have been funnier! The funnier you are, the more screen time you get.”

When asked if he enjoyed the three most recent Star Wars films, Pollock is succinct: “No — and neither did a lot of the fans, as this film makes clear.”

Indeed, The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) were all the biggest boxoffice hits of their respective years, critics and audiences (including the most fervent Star Wars devotees) didn’t embrace them as they did the first trilogy.

Although Skywalking was well-reviewed and sold well (and was reissued with a new epilogue penned by Pollock in the late ’90s), it remains the author’s only book to date. At the time, however, Pollock and wife Suzie had three young children and Pollock would soon embark on his own filmmaking career, producing more than a dozen feature films including The Mighty Quinn (1989) starring Denzel Washington; Blaze (also ‘89) starring Paul Newman; and the controversial Set It Off (1995). Now, he’s currently working on a historical novel about a legendary murder trial that took place in Boston.

And yet, nearly 35 years since the release of Star Wars and nearly 30 since the release of the book, Pollock admitted that he and Lucas are inextricably linked “in a weird way.”

The People vs. George Lucas will be screened 8 p.m. Monday (Sept. 12) at a/perture cinemas (311 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem) as part of the ongoing Cineclub screening series. Tickets are $10, $6 for a/v club members. For ticket reservations or more information, call 336.722.8148 or visit In addition, The People vs. George Lucas will be released on DVD ($27.98 retail) on Sept. 27 from LionsGate Home Entertainment.