This week, Neil Calloway looks at possible Star Wars films that never quite made it to the big screen…
This week brought us the intriguing news that George Lucas offered Ron Howard the chance to direct The Phantom Menace. It’s an odd choice at first glance; in the late 1990s Howard was directing films like Ransom and Edtv, but Lucas probably chose him because of their past together; Howard had starred in American Graffiti and directed Willow for Lucasfilm, though given the interminable politics of the first Star Wars prequel, maybe Lucas wanted the man who would go on to direct Frost/Nixon at the helm. Howard also revealed that he was Lucas’s third choice to direct the film, after Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. This might suggest that Lucas wasn’t interested in directing again – and the gap between directing the first Star Wars film and The Phantom Menace corroborates this.
A Star Wars film directed by one of those is an interesting concept, and we can only speculate whether it would have been better than Lucas’s film, but it’s not the only potential Star Wars film that never got made.
Perhaps the most famous possibility, in terms of directing at least, in the Star Wars universe came before the final instalment of the original trilogy was made, and Lucas offered the director’s chair to David Lynch. Lynch’s Return of the Jedi is one of the great “what ifs?” in Hollywood history.
There are several other possible Star Wars films that could have been made that never were. It’s well-known that Lucas worked on the original script for years, tweaking things here and there and taking on board suggestions from friends he had given the script to read, and what we know as Star Wars slowly emerged from an outline known as The Journal of the Whills, a “Mace Windy, a revered Jedi-bendu”. You can see almost familiar names making an appearance, and the film focussed not on Luke Skywalker but Annikin Starkiller.
The first possible Star Wars film that never got made was Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first Expanded Universe novel, written by Alan Dean Foster as a possible sequel to the original film to be shot on a low-budget if A New Hope wasn’t a success. Notably, the book does not feature an appearance from Han Solo; as he was frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it makes you wonder what Lucas’, or Harrison Ford’s plans for the character were.
The original draft of The Empire Strikes Back was written by Leigh Brackett, who had made her name writing science fiction in the 1940s, and also worked on the script for the Humphrey Bogart classic The Big Sleep. Similar to the final version (but without Solo being frozen in carbonite), Brackett passed away after handing in her draft, which was reworked by Lawrence Kasdan, who also helped script The Force Awakens. Somewhere along the way the character of Minch has his name changed to the more familiar Yoda.
One live action Star Wars project that was teased, then shelved, and now may be back was Star Wars: Underworld. Set between the prequels and the original trilogy, it was announced in 2005, writers were recruited – Russell T Davies, the man behind the Doctor Who revival, turned down the opportunity to join the writing team, but Matthew Graham, one of the creators of Life on Mars accepted the offer, and it was reported that James Marquand, son of Richard Marquand, director of Return of the Jedi, would helm an episode. Shelved for budgetary reasons in 2010, the idea of a live action Star Wars show has now been revived, with the possible involvement of Netflix. The Marvel TV shows are proof that TV and films in the same universe can work alongside each other, so don’t be surprised if Disney make this a reality.
We’ll have to wait until later this month to see if Mark Hamill’s suggestion, from a 1983 interview, that Luke would be an Obi Wan type character in the Star Wars sequels comes true in The Force Awakens, but it seems a distinct possibility.
There is also a persistent rumour that Lucas originally planned one small but key scene in the first film to be very different, but I think we can dismiss that as nonsense; apparently, when meeting Greedo in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han shot first, but that can’t be true can it?
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.