While George Lucas was the man behind Star Wars from the beginning, he only directed the first film in the original trilogy. The task of directing the next two went to others. When it came time for the prequel trilogy however, Lucas famously, or infamously depending on your perspective, directed all three of the films. The results... varied. It turns out that he did try to find others to take the director’s chair for those films, though, but everybody turned him down.
The news comes from one of the directors who said no. According to Ron Howard, Lucas tried to get him to direct the film, after both Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis turned him down.
He didn’t necessarily want to direct them. He told me he had talked to Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and me. I was the third one he spoke to. They all said the same thing: ‘George, you should do it’ I don’t think anybody wanted to follow-up that act at the time. It was an honor, but it would’ve been too daunting.
Howard’s revelation came on MTV’s Happy Sad Confused podcast. It’s understandable that other directors would be apprehensive about taking on such a major property. While the original Star Wars films were certainly big blockbuster movies in their day, they hadn’t yet become the generation-defining epics that they eventually became. By the late 90’s the idea of getting involved in the franchise had to be a simultaneously thrilling and terrifying concept.
At the same time, one has to wonder what might have been? Lucas became very focused on the technical side of movie making in the 1990’s with the Special Edition of the original trilogy followed by the prequels. This has led many, including some who were in the films, to say that they ended up losing much of the emotional weight that the first films had. Perhaps if one of these great directors, or somebody else at least, had said yes, we would have ended up with much better films.
Let’s be honest, part of the reason so many people are excited again for new Star Wars movies isn’t simply that the films are coming, but also because Lucas is not directly involved. If he had written the screenplay and directed The Force Awakens we’d all be preparing ourselves for another round of prequels. One of the most exciting things about the plans for all these new movies are the number of new screenwriters and directors who will be able to put their own stamp on the Star Wars universe.
On the one hand, I guess we can’t all blame Lucas. He did try to get some other people involved. How much a different director would have truly changed things is impossible to know for sure anyway. What do you think? Would a Spielberg, Zemeckis, or Howard-led prequel have been a radically different film?