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What might have been: Three directors were offered Star Wars: Episode I before George Lucas stepped up

November 26th, 2015 by Matt Gault Comments

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Although we don’t hate it, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was something of a disappointment. You may think The Force Awakens is the most-hyped film of all time, but, once upon a time, fans eagerly awaited the release of the prequels, 16 years after last seeing Star Wars on the big screen.

The Phantom Menace was directed by Star Wars creator George Lucas and, although the film surpassed the $1 billion mark at the global box office, it was met with lukewarm reviews by critics. Lucas didn’t write or direct The Empire Strikes Back, the franchise’s masterpiece and a creative zenith, but he assumed supreme command for the prequels and the results were increasingly disappointing. The Attack of the Clones was a disaster.

But it almost wasn’t. It could have been oh so different. In a recent appearance on Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast, filmmaker Ron Howard revealed that he and at least two other filmmakers were approached to direct The Phantom Menace by Lucas himself:

[“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 honour, but it would’ve been too daunting,” Howard said via Squareyed.

Daunting indeed. So daunting that Lucas pretty much bottled it, being irreparably scarred by the backlash that he recently swore off directing theatrical films for good. But these recent revelations trigger our imaginations — can you think about how a Star Wars film would look if it was directed by the filmmaking mastermind that is Steven Spielberg!? Or what about Zemeckis, whose skill behind the camera has brought us some of the most effortlessly re-watchable tales in cinematic history like Forrest Gump.

How would history be different if Zemeckis, Spielberg or Howard had directed Episode I? Not only would it have been an entirely different film, the prequel trilogy could have been great! Would we have been spared Jar Jar Binks and the horribly wooden Hayden Christensen? We’ll never know, unfortunately.

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Matt Gault is a sports writer and film fanatic. He is a fully-qualified journalist and has worked for BBCNI, Sunday Life and has been published on The Guardian's website. He interns at REDNI, sub-editing for the Belfast Telegraph. He studied at Queen's University pretending to like history and literature and then University of Ulster Coleraine, where he slacked off enormously for a year and somehow got away with it. He also enjoys Captain Morgans, The Sopranos, Led Zeppelin and Hunter S. Thompson which makes him a remarkably uninteresting person.

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