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Why Did George Lucas Stop Directing the Original ‘Star Wars’?

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Disney bought Lucasfilm, everyone was giving mad props to George Lucas for the success of Star Wars. But here’s the thing, he only directed one of the OG trilogy movies – A New Hope. He was still hella involved in all of them, though.

For the prequels, he even stepped back into the director’s chair because everyone else was too scared to take on the task of following up the classics.

Then Disney came in and tried to do their own thing by having a different director for each episode, but that kinda fell apart. I mean, each era of Star Wars has its own vibe depending on who’s running the show, but let’s be real, the OG trilogy is still the most successful.

A New Hope was a freakin’ phenomenon when it came out in ’77. It made bank at the box office, like, seriously.

And get this: Fox was so uninterested in the franchise that Lucas was able to negotiate the rights to make sequels AND merchandising.

The dude passed up a cool half a million dollars in directing fees to make sure he got those rights, which meant he could do sequels his way and rake in all the dough from toys, books, comics, and more.

Why Did Lucas Step Away from Directing ‘The Empire Strikes Back’?

Star Wars prequels

The creator of the Star Wars franchise, George Lucas, has always been a busy man. He was everywhere in the series and besides managing Lucasfilm, there were other thousands of tasks he was trying to hold.

He was managing Lucasfilm and its effects studio ILM, raising money for upcoming films, and ensuring that The Empire Strikes Back didn’t bomb like a fish out of water.

With everything going on, Lucas was aware that he wouldn’t be able to devote the time necessary to the sequel. He was forced to hand over the director’s chair to someone else, which was unthinkable.

To direct Empire, Lucas didn’t just choose anyone. He gave a ton of well-known directors and actors serious consideration, including Francis Ford Coppola, John Badham, and Alan Parker. However, none of them were chosen. Instead, Lucas chose Irvin Kershner, a professor from his time in film school.

Kershner hesitated before accepting the position, and who could blame him? He had to follow up the biggest film in the galaxy with a sequel so excellent that Lucas could continue producing Star Wars films indefinitely.

But Kershner stepped up, and with the assistance of science fiction icon Leigh Brackett (who sadly wrote one draft before she passed away) and Lawrence Kasdan (who continued where Brackett left off), they were able to produce a script that satisfied Lucas’s vision while also adding some witty dialogue for which Kasdan was known.

With Kershner in charge and Kasdan editing the script, Lucas was free to run his empire, encourage the ILM special effects artists to push the limits, and visualize the future of Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back evolved into the darker, more adult sequel that we all know and love as a result of Kershner’s vision.

Empire, the second Star Wars movie, became a worldwide phenomenon and is now regarded as one of the best films ever produced! Additionally, it paved the way for upcoming films, ensuring that everyone will see more Star Wars! It was a bittersweet victory, though, because Irvin Kershner turned down the chance to direct the next movie. So, the hunt for Return of the Jedi’s ideal director began.

Lucas had his sights set on Steven Spielberg, a friend, but he was forced to back off after running into trouble with the Director’s Guild of America. Who could forget the moment he made an attempt to hire David Lynch?

Lucas’s Decision to Direct All Three of the Prequels

The key factor in the success of the first Star Wars trilogy was George Lucas’s creative abilities. He was able to give Lucasfilm and ILM the necessary attention while concentrating on creating plot treatments. But let’s just say that George’s skills in screenwriting and directing aren’t that great. He’s actually a rather average director. Of course, nobody is perfect.

Lucas ran into trouble when it came time to make the prequels. All of Hollywood’s power players, including Spielberg and Zemeckis, were too afraid to accept the challenge of continuing the original trilogy. What did Lucas do then?

He decided to take matters into his own hands and write and direct each of the three episodes. In hindsight, this choice was both brave and honorable.

The fact that Lucas was surrounded by a group of “yes men,” who were hesitant to tell him when his ideas were bad, didn’t help. And let’s face it, some of those concepts were simply awful. Nevertheless, the prequel trilogy did have some positive aspects. Even if the dialogue and direction were awkward, the ideas were brilliant. And Lucas deserves praise for having such a distinct and audacious vision.

Disney Attempting the Original Trilogy Approach

The Disneyfication of Star Wars was a time of great uncertainty for Lucas’s loyal fans. With Disney taking the reins, Lucas’s story treatments were unceremoniously tossed aside, and the sequel trilogy was kicked off with a new director for each episode. JJ Abrams, the guy who rebooted Star Trek, was picked to direct the first episode, followed by Rian Johnson, and Colin Trevorrow was supposed to cap it all off. But, unfortunately for Trevorrow, his previous film was a catastrophic flop, so he was fired from the project.

Then, The Last Jedi was released and it caused a schism in the fandom that is still being felt today. Disney panicked and brought back JJ Abrams to direct the final installment. The Rise of Skywalker, as it was titled, felt more like a sequel to The Force Awakens than a sequel to The Last Jedi. It’s a mess of a movie that tries to do too much and ends up doing nothing well. However, at least the three films are consistent in their lack of coherence and vision.

The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were both directed by guys who had the time to plan and execute their visions. They were unique and felt like their own entities. But The Rise of Skywalker was a disaster that even a Jedi mind trick couldn’t save. Maybe they should have stuck with Lucas’s original ideas.

George Lucas’s decision to relinquish his director’s chair but maintain a heavy presence in every other aspect of the original Star Wars trilogy was the secret ingredient to its success.

It’s fascinating to observe how two different trilogies, one created entirely by a single artist and the other with two-thirds directed by one man, resulted in diverse outcomes. The original trilogy maintained its freshness behind the camera, all driven by the genius of a man who was undeservedly ridiculed in the 2000s.

Let’s hope that as time passes, individuals will overcome their apprehensions about Lucas due to his work on the prequels and recognize his ingenuity and creativity in making the first three Star Wars films, restoring respect for his name. Who knows, maybe he can even inspire some new “Lucas-tic” filmmakers in the future.

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