In this article, Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back producer Gary Kurtz spoke of his work with Star Wars creator George Lucas, and how they parted ways after Empire. Kurtz mentions how, before Star Wars, Lucas was considered as a director for the nascent film Apocalypse Now, before Francis Ford Coppola got the job -- a famously difficult one, of course. yendi said
And as an aside, can you imagine if Lucas had done Apocalypse Now? And what the inevitable special edition would have changed?I replied:
I'd heard of that detail years ago, so the concept of "George Lucas being considered to direct Apocalypse Now" has been known to me for a while. And my reply: probably no "special edition."
Here's the thing: Star Wars is the big exception to this, but generally when he's the big guy in charge (he's often a very hands-on producer, as most of the people who've worked with him have attested), George Lucas hasn't repeated himself. There are the Star Wars special editions, the adding of "Episode IV" to the front of the original film, the prequels, and the special edition of THX-1138...and that's it. Not as much as one would think, based on Lucas's reputation.
He did sort of go back to Willow, via those books where Chris Claremont fleshed out the concepts Lucas (and screenwriter Bob Dolman) had come up with, but I don't know A) how involved Lucas was in the books, credits aside, and B) it was a different medium, one that Lucas hasn't gone to nearly as often as film. (By the way, don't worry, I know Alan Dean Foster really wrote the Star Wars novelization.) There were the Star Wars cartoons in the mid-80s, though I doubt he was much involved in those. The two different Clone Wars animated series, the first of which I really liked and the second of which I found bad and frustrating (though I know it has its fans, and I hope it's gotten better), take the same basic set-up and go in much different directions.
I'm not sure if the Indiana Jones films counter this idea or support it, as you also have Spielberg's giant influence over them. The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which are definitely Lucas's baby, were basically historical travelogues through a bunch of the early 20th century; much quieter and sometimes almost anti-adventure, compared to the (of course) far larger budgeted films. But Lucas wanted to tell Indiana Jones stories that took advantage of TV's strengths (more time to cover more ground and tell more stories, and more easily show years, even decades, in Indy's life), and turned TV's limitations into advantages. (I liked some of those when they aired, mainly the "teenage/twentysomething Indy" ones, though I have no idea if they hold up.)
But when he produced More American Graffiti, he went in an almost experimental direction, and it's a much different experience than the original: practically four different films edited into one. His productions Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Willow, Howard the Duck (and yes, I know how bad it is, I've seen it), Radioland Murders (which my brother thought was fun; he's a fan of 30s/40s radio), Labyrinth, The Land Before Time -- all much different works. (The films Lucas mainly just paid for were Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Paul Schrader’s Mishima, and Godfrey Reggio’s Powaqqatsi: movies he wanted to help get made, by greatly distinctive filmmakers. I respect that he did that. I wish he'd done that more, supporting the making of more films that could have less studio influence.) He's stretched the filmmaking envelope on his films, that's pretty consistent, but he's always liked trying out new toys. That has less to do with the sorts of stories he's felt compelled to tell.
This might explain part of the revisiting: Star Wars and THX-1138 both come from this weird, personal space in Lucas's mind. Apocalypse Now wouldn't have. He'd have been closer to being a director-for-hire, one with definite thoughts on how Vietnam shaped our psyche but not inventing different worlds in which to consider that via film. I do wonder if his version would've been rated R; I hope it would've been. R-rated Lucas work is an interesting concept. He's rarely done that.
Lucas had a famously hard time birthing Star Wars -- I've seen that photo of him, looking miserable, at his writing notebook -- but at some level he had to get that world out, warts and all (and I try not to be blind to the weaknesses of the original films, as much as I love them -- weaknesses often magnified in the prequels). Same with THX-1138, done as a short, then a feature, then the 2004 special edition: it feels like him trying to say something and trying to be sure he has said it. (I'll add I was impressed with THX-1138; I've seen both of the feature film versions.) Obviously the Star Wars films being among the biggest moneymakers in movie history almost certainly added to the attraction of revisiting Star Wars -- they'd be as close to guaranteed hits as Hollywood can get -- but there's no way he redid THX-1138 with the intent of making much money. Or made it in the first place to make much money. It's not all about the money. Even with Star Wars.
A Lucas-made, then -remade, Apocalypse Now? It could've happened -- after all, even Coppola revisited the film -- but I guess I'm so glad the potential "JAR JAR KURTZ LOL" jokes over this didn‘t materialize when that article ran. Feels far too easy. Also feels far too easy to dismiss Lucas. Be frustrated with him, OK; question his writing choices, certainly; but I hope people don't assume Apocalypse Now a la Lucas would've been "Star Wars in Laos," or something.