Despite making a lot of money (like a LOT of money), it’s pretty much roundly accepted that Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace is total butt. I confess to loving it when it came out in 1999 (I was a Star Wars-obsessed 14-year-old), but I watched it recently and in the words of Pete Campbell, it’s not great, Bob. Most people believe George Lucas was way out of his element stepping back into the director’s chair after a 22-year gap, but a new interview suggests he agreed with us for a time because he was trying to find someone else to do it.
Director Ron Howard—you know, the dude that made Willow and Apollo 13?—was apparently on the shortlist for people Lucas tried to coax into directing Phantom Menace, according to an interview with Howard on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused Podcast. The direct quote is the following:
“[George Lucas] 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.”
So we could have had the same creative eyes that made Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, or A Beautiful Mind in charge of at least one of the Star Wars movies. The story goes that Lucas wanted Spielberg to direct Return of the Jedi back in 1983, but a falling out with the Director’s Guild over the lack of opening credits made that impossible.
Lucas famously tinkered with the script that eventually became A New Hope several times, and the film was edited and re-edited ad nauseum to make it the classic it is today. Lucas didn’t write more than the story for the following two films. The prequels, on the other hand, are all Lucas, written, directed, and produced independently so as to be his exact vision writ large on screen. The mind boggles at what a Zemeckis or a Howard could have done with such a universe, or maybe, as Howard suggests, it was all too daunting a prospect.
Of those three directors, who do you think could have best salvaged the polished turd of Episode I? Let us know in the comments below!
Image: Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!