The People vs. George Lucas takes aim at the creator of Star Wars—perhaps the most enduring pop culture myth of the past 50 years, and a story that taught many of us how to play, with the help of those ubiquitous action figures of the late 1970s. This documentary might be called “democratic” cinema, drawing from hundreds of online video submissions by fans angry at how Lucas re-edited the original Star Wars trilogy for re-release—ironically, submissions created with technology that people like Lucas helped develop.
You’ve got to hand it to Lucas—Star Wars changed cinema, helped make “spirituality talk” acceptable in polite company, and truly brought some magic into the lives of a generation. Many people today between the ages of 30 and 50 will happily admit to their childhood imaginations being limited only by the boundaries of a galaxy far, far away. But when some disgruntled fans in The People vs. George Lucas start accusing Lucas of “raping” their childhood (by changing movies they consider nearly sacred), it’s a step too far. The metaphor is not just offensive and dehumanizing; it betrays the prevalent lack of cultural imagination.
Our age is marked by anxiety that constantly threatens to break into our fragile sense of confidence. Even our memories are subject to colonization by the cultural noise that tells us to always be vigilant, that the threat was always there, we just didn’t know it, and ultimately, that there were no “good old days.” This, too, is a powerful myth, and we have to resist it.
For a start, we need to understand ourselves as storytellers. We tell our own story, and our memories are the blueprint for how we imagine the future. If we experience our memories only as representations of what has happened to us, in which we remember no agency on our part, then we will tend to think of ourselves as victims. And when we tend to see ourselves as victims, we can easily slip into seeing everyone else (including film directors) as a threat. What if instead we take a long, careful, and empathetic look at the circumstances we remember, and ask: What exactly was happening? What role was I playing (unwitting or otherwise)? What were the other parties doing?
It would be better if the disgruntled fans in The People vs. George Lucas could invest their energy in telling new stories, rather than complaining about an old one. George Lucas may indeed have had a role in my childhood. But I need to let him off the hook: It’s not up to him to tell my story for me.
Gareth Higgins is a Sojourners contributing editor and executive director of the Wild Goose Festival. Originally from Northern Ireland, he lives in Carrboro, North Carolina.