George Lucas and the Ownership of Art

by Lauren Flanagan

Technically The People vs. George Lucas is about the direction the Star Wars franchise has taken over the years and how the fans (or former fans in many cases) feel about it. Essentially it consists of a whole bunch of talking heads (Star Wars fans of the most rabid variety) discussing how George Lucas, the man who helped define the childhoods of an entire generation with the Star Wars Trilogy, could be the same George Lucas who devastated so many with the seemingly unnecessary changes made to the originals, and the general crappiness of the prequels (Dear God, the prequels).

The movie presents a couple of arguments. On the one hand, the stories belong to George and he can do whatever he wants with them. On the other, it’s the fans who are responsible for the massive success of the franchise and because of that he owes them a certain amount of loyalty. The movie uses mostly interviews and an amusing assortment of fan made tributes to explore the issue.

On the surface The People vs. George Lucas is about whether or not George Lucas is a douchebag, but there’s actually a much deeper and more pressing question posed: who really owns a piece of art? Once it’s been released to the public does it belong to the creator or the audience? As far as Star Wars goes, does it still belong to George or did he sign his rights away a long, long time ago? When it comes to a piece of art (cinematic or otherwise) who owns it and does anyone have the right to change it?

Many artists will tell you that a piece of work is never truly finished. It’s constantly evolving and will, to a certain extent, always be a work in progress. But can the same be said for a film? It’s still art (at least I believe it is. There are some who would disagree.). A film has an end date. A point where it’s decided that it’s finished and it gets released to audiences. Should that be the end of the story? Does the creator wash his or her hands of it at this point?

If it’s true that the creator gives up ownership, at what point does it happen? In the case of George was it when he cashed the first check, when the first movie hit theaters, or did it happen later based on the overwhelmingly positive fan reaction? If Star Wars hadn’t become the phenomenon it did we probably wouldn’t be discussing this. No one would care if Han Solo fired first or not. Does rabid fandom equal transfer of ownership?

There are a lot of zealous fans featured in the movie who feel strongly that George Lucas had no business waltzing in and changing that which they deemed perfect. But what does their opinion matter? If it’s not the way the creator wants it, then it isn’t finished (or so one side of the argument goes).

The movie never really comes up with an answer to any of these questions. How could it? Few people in the movie defend him, making it mostly a one-sided debate. It’s a shame the man himself didn’t want to participate. The viewpoint of the artist could have made this a far more engaging documentary. That said, it certainly makes for an entertaining movie.

So the question remains: does George Lucas have the right to do whatever he wants with his movies? In my opinion, absolutely. Does it make him a bit of a dick for changing something people love so much and no longer giving them access to the original versions? Absolutely.

What do you think?

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