May 1, 2020
Battle of the Nerd Documentaries: Trekkies and The People vs. George Lucas
It goes without saying that Star Trek and Star Wars are the two biggest science fiction franchises ever. Even non-science fiction fans can recognize elements from either franchise, such as “beaming” or “the Force”. So it’s not surprising that numerous books and essays have cropped up over the decades which attempt to explain why these two franchises have such passionate followings.
While there are several books about the topic, perhaps the first such documentary on Star Trek fandom was the 1997 film Trekkies. This film was produced and hosted by Denise Crosby, who played Tasha Yar on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The film largely consists of Trek fans from all walks of life discussing their love for the franchise. We see fans dressed as Klingons ordering food at restaurants. The cashier even tells Crosby that he often serves Klingons. Other fans discuss the technology seen in the Trek shows and how it may not be too far from reality. One such fan even attempts to build a chair similar to the one the crippled Captain Pike occupies in the original Star Trek two-parter “The Menagerie”.
It also has appearances from several of the actors and actresses from the various Trek shows, save Enterprise (the debut of which was still four years away). The actors relate stories of their encounters with Trekkies. For instance, Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Janeway on Voyager, states that people have come to her asking her to marry them.
Yes, the film also addresses the famous “Kirk vs. Picard” debate. Chase Masterson, who played Leeta on Deep Space Nine, chimes in to say that both Kirk and Janeway are studs.
There’s one touching moment where James Doohan, who played Scotty on the original series, talks about a female fan who wrote to him expressing her suicidal thoughts. But he asked her to come to upcoming conventions where he would make appearances. She did so, and some years later, she contacted Doohan again thanking him for his support and gave him the news that she was getting her master’s degree.
One famous Trekkie the film looks at is Barbara Adams, the woman who famously dressed in Starfleet garb during her time as a grand juror in the Whitewater investigation. Adams was later dismissed from the jury, not for her attire, but for disobeying the judge’s order to not give interviews.
Crosby herself takes time to address her own thoughts on the franchise. At one point, she produces fan-made drawings of various Trek characters, including Yar and her half-Romulan daughter Sela (also played by Crosby). Of all the TV actors who have quit their shows, Crosby is the only one I know of who managed to get her best roles on her show after her character was killed off. Crosby even addresses this wonderful irony in the film.
A life-long Trekkie herself, Crosby suggested the idea of the film to director Roger Nygard, who had just directed her in the 1991 TV movie High Strung. He agreed, and filming began at a convention at a Hilton in Los Angeles that was organized by William Campbell, who played Trelane in the original show’s “The Squire of Gothos” and Koloth in “The Trouble With Tribbles” and Deep Space Nine‘s “Blood Oath”.
Trekkies received positive reviews and even spawned a sequel, Trekkies 2, which was released in 2004. The sequel mainly looks at Trek fans outside the United States and even profiles fans from the first film, including Adams. Trekkies itself was given a theatrical release in May 1999. Ironically, the film was released the same weekend as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And speaking of which…
The People vs. George Lucas (2010)
Like Trekkies, this film looks at Star Wars fans and their extreme devotion to the franchise. There’s no specific host in the film, but there are discussions with numerous people linked with the films, including Gary Kurtz, who produced the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, as well as David Prowse, who wore the awesome Darth Vader suit in the original trilogy.
This film also goes into great depth about Star Wars creator George Lucas. Specifically, it goes into how he first inspired the love of millions of people before many of those people became disenchanted with him decades later because of his decisions in how to handle the franchise.
Indeed, a great deal of this documentary centers on how Star Wars is a creation of Lucas’s, but—some argue—also a pop culture juggernaut that belongs to the world.
The film even takes a brief look at Lucas’s other cash cow, the Indiana Jones series. Specifically, it goes into how fans became just as dissatisfied with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and its “nuke the fridge” scene as they had been with the Star Wars prequels (yes, there is a clip of that insufferable South Park episode to drive the point home even more). At one point, film critic Rafik Djoumi talks about how fan dissatisfaction with that film was directed even more at Lucas than its actual director, Steven Spielberg.
Another factor adding fuel to that fire is Lucas’s refusal to allow the original cuts of the first three Star Wars films to be released on Blu-ray. We see fans reacting to his insistence that the revised versions are the only ones in existence by reproducing the original versions on their own.
But the film’s director, Star Wars fan Alexandre Philippe, insisted that the movie isn’t meant to be an anti-Lucas diatribe (although one gets that impression from the title). To his credit, the film does showcase fans who actually love the prequels and even Jar Jar Binks. Philippe also goes into a fair amount of detail about how Lucas began his filmmaking career with his unique works THX-1138 and American Graffiti, and how those two films culminated into the great achievement that was the original Star Wars.
One of the fans interviewed is Jason Nicholl, creator of the blog nukethefridge.com. The film is dedicated to him, as he died prior to its release. A sequel is reportedly in the works, and will focus on the franchise since Lucas sold it to Disney in 2012.
Both Trekkies and The People vs. George Lucas are definitely worth a look for fans of these franchises. They both take a nice hard look at how people can be taken with something to the point of obsession. However, one could say that each film was made for different reasons. Trekkies was meant simply as a look at Trek fans, while The People vs. George Lucas was made because of how the fans’ relationship with the creator of their franchise has changed over the decades.
It must be noted that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry received some criticism from fans, specifically for how he insisted the Star Trek animated series that ran from 1973-1974 be ignored (and it’s still only occasionally mentioned in the annals of Trek lore), as well as the direction he took both Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the first season of The Next Generation. However, Trekkies doesn’t throw much actual criticism in Roddenberry’s direction as People does with Lucas. Perhaps this is because Roddenberry died in 1991, and some say that TNG truly took flight after that (not to mention the debut of all the subsequent Trek shows).
Since these two films were released, their respective franchises have gone in somewhat different directions. The fifth Trek series Enterprise debuted in 2001 but plummeting ratings kept it from enjoying the same seven-season run as its three predecessors, and it was canceled in 2005. At the same time, the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis deservedly flopped, thus bringing the big screen adventures of Picard and his crew to an end.
Seven years after that, Trek got the same reboot treatment as Batman and James Bond. The 2009 Star Trek had the original crew now played by different actors. That film was successful enough to get two sequels, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. But the passing of Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in the reboot series, has left future reboot entries in doubt.
But a new Trek TV series Star Trek: Discovery is set to air on CBS in November. It was co-created by Alex Kurtzman, who co-wrote the first two entries in the Trek reboot series. Like Enterprise, this show takes place before the original Trek series. Here’s hoping that’s all it has in common with Enterprise.
As for Star Wars, Disney has given us a mixed bag so far. While The Force Awakens had more appealing main characters than the prequels, that didn’t change the fact that the film itself just repeated things we saw in the original film while simultaneously going the Alien 3 route of pissing all over the feeling of satisfaction the original movies left us with.
Rogue One, on the other hand, proved overall a better Star Wars prequel than the prequel trilogy. It was also a treat to see the late, great Peter Cushing (well, as close as we could get to him anyway) on the big screen again.
But Carrie Fisher’s passing soon after that film’s release has left a feeling of uncertainty about where to take the franchise next. Her scenes for the upcoming The Last Jedi were reportedly already shot before her death. But time will tell how the following entry in the sequel trilogy will go without her.
Time will also tell if Discovery or any of the many Star Wars films Disney doubtlessly has on the drawing board will do their respective franchises justice. I don’t doubt that Disney will keep squeezing cash out of Star Wars like it has with Marvel. But even if any future films are not embraced as classics, and even if Discovery doesn’t last a single season, they will, at least, remind us of the greatness of their respective original entries.