Star Wars history is full of fascinating directorial what-ifs; realities that were possible, but never came to be. What if Ron Howard directed Star Wars: The Phantom Menace? What if Lord and Miller finished directing Solo: A Star Wars Story? And what if any number of names approached, from Guillermo del Toro to David Fincher to Brad Bird, directed The Force Awakens? It's compelling to think about how those films might have been different with someone else behind the camera. On the surface, all of those names make sense for a galaxy far, far away, but perhaps the strangest possibility that didn't happen was David Cronenberg directing Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. The director of The Fly and Videodrome actually turned down the opportunity to direct the last of the original trilogy, as he remembered:
I still recall getting a phone call. Somebody said that they were from, I guess it was Lucasfilm, and asked me if I was interested in --- at that point it was called Revenge of the Jedi, actually, until somebody pointed out that it was against Jedi philosophy to think in terms of revenge. But, anyway, I was asked if I would be interested in considering that, and meeting with everybody, and I said, with the arrogance of youth --- relative youth, anyway --- I said, 'Well, I'm not used to doing other people's material.' And there was like a stunned silence and then 'Click' --- hang up. Basically, that was as close as I came to that.
This is definitley a funny story, and I can't imagine the look on the caller's face when David Cronenberg responded in such a way. Star Wars wasn't some unknown quantity at the point of this call; it was a massive cultural phenomenon that you would think any director would jump at the chance to be a part of. So when David Cronenberg equivocated over the fact that he wasn't used to directing someone else's script and wasn't even interested in taking a meeting and considering it, he was met with stunned silence. The caller was apparently either so offended, or so lost for words or some combination of the two, that he or she just hung up on David Cronenberg.
Based on what he told Entertainment Weekly, David Cronenberg does seem to chalk up turning down the then titled Revenge of the Jedi to the arrogance of youth, and not wanting to direct someone else's material. That's not an uncommon sentiment either, just the other day we heard that Bradley Cooper didn't want to direct Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because he couldn't direct something he didn't also write. Cronenberg eventually changed his position on that, and he has directed other people's scripts over the course of his career since then-- but at the time he didn't really do that. The director does seem like he's a bit curious about the what-if of it all, but also expressed that he felt being boxed in to an existing world would have been frustrating creatively.
David Cronenberg isn't the only famous name approached in the search for a director for Return of the Jedi before Richard Marquand got the job. The long-standing rumor is that George Lucas' first choice to direct Return of the Jedi was his friend Steven Spielberg, but Spielberg was unable to do it because of George Lucas quitting the director's guild. While we all would like to see Spielberg take on Star Wars, it might not have been that different. Yet another possible director for the third film in the original trilogy is one that may seem even more wild than David Cronenberg, and that's David Lynch. That's another wild possibility that's hard to imagine. Either way, I don't think that the Ewoks would have fared too well or been nearly as cute and cuddly.
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