Now, say what you will about how Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace turned out – and we sure do all seem to have strong opinions on that one way or the other – but in the lead up to its release, it gave off the distinct impression of being the most eagerly anticipated movie of all time. Fans lined up for days to see it first, merchandise – including Jar Jars – sold by the bucket-load, and over-excitement reigned supreme.
That raging sense of infectious enthusiasm didn't, however, extend to absolutely everyone. Y'see, as it turns out, George Lucas didn't actually want to direct Episode I at all. The reason he ultimately did?
A Whole Lot of Legendary Directors Turned Down the Chance to Direct 'Episode I'
Lucas, it seems, had hoped to persuade one of his friends to direct the prequels for him – which, as Ron Howard himself recently revealed to the Happy Sad Confused podcast, meant approaching some of the most acclaimed directors in Hollywood. The only problem? They said no. As Howard put it:
"[Lucas] didn't necessarily want to direct [the prequels]. He told me that he had talked to [Robert] Zemeckis, he talked to me, he talked to Steven Spielberg, and I was the third one he spoke to, and we all said the same thing: 'George, you should just do it.' Nobody wanted to follow that act, I don't think, at that point. That was an honor, but it would have been just too daunting."
Which... actually makes sense, from both sides.
For Lucas, Spielberg, Howard and Zemeckis would have all been logical choices (he'd worked closely with Spielberg and Howard before – on the Indiana Jones movies and Willow, respectively – and Zemeckis was very much the go-to guy for pioneering special effects work at that point) – and would have all done a solid job of directing a big-budget sci-fi movie.
For the directors, though, turning the job down would have made sense for multiple reasons. For one thing, they'd have inevitably been forced to play second fiddle to Lucas's vision for the movies, while being set up to receive the majority of the blame should something have gone wrong. With the films being so widely loved, it's perhaps not too surprising that the benefits of taking on the role – the challenge, the financial compensation – were outweighed by the risks – humiliation, fan hatred, working tension with a friend.
Would Things Have Been Different if One of Them Had Directed 'Episode I,' Though?
Well, perhaps – there's certainly the chance that a more experienced director than Lucas would have altered some of the elements of The Phantom Menace that fans have long struggled with – from the balancing of comic-relief to the casting of certain small children as the future Darth Vader, with everything Gungan in between. That being said, a whole lot of the movie will likely have been set in stone by that point – meaning many of the changes would likely have been cosmetic.
It may have been a better movie – and it may have been a worse one – but it's unlikely that it would have been the drastically different approach to the saga that many fans have long been calling for.
For that, we're just going to have to wait until December 18, and The Force Awakens – keeping our fingers crossed all the while...
What do you think, though?