10 Directors Who Turned Down Star Wars

Barry King / Contributor
Barry King / Contributor

Since the first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, the space opera has become a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. And while working on a Star Wars film would seem to be a boon to any filmmaker's career, several well-known directors have passed on the chance to direct Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and the rest of the gang. Even J.J. Abrams, director of the upcoming The Force Awakens, initially turned down the job because he wanted to stay loyal to the Star Trek franchise.

"There were the very early conversations, and I quickly said that, because of my loyalty to Star Trek and also just being a fan, I wouldn't even want to be involved in the next version of those things," Abrams told Empire magazine. "I declined any involvement very early on. I'd rather be in the audience not knowing what was coming, rather than being involved in the minutiae of making them."

A few weeks later, however, Abrams made a deal with Disney to helm Star Wars: Episode VII. But here are 10 other noted filmmakers who turned down the chance to direct a Star Wars movie. 

1. DAVID LYNCH

In 1980, David Lynch gained commercial and critical acclaim for The Elephant Man, which earned eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Afterwards, George Lucas approached Lynch about directing Return of the Jedi. The filmmaker turned down the offer because he didn’t understand the movie and wasn’t a big fan of the science fiction genre.

“I went to meet George Lucas, who had offered me the third Star Wars to direct, and I’ve never even really liked science fiction,” Lynch said in an interview. “I like elements of it, but it needs to be combined with other genres. And, obviously, Star Wars was totally George’s thing.” Oddly, Lynch ended up turning down Return of the Jedi to helm the film adaptation of Dune in 1984. Return of the Jedi was (unsurprisingly) a huge hit, while Dune was a box office bomb.  

2. STEVEN SPIELBERG

David Lynch wasn't George Lucas’ first choice to direct Return of the Jedi; that honor belongs to Steven Spielberg. But because of a credit dispute with the Directors Guild of America, Spielberg was unable to accept the job because of his clout and membership in the organization. As a result, Lucas left the DGA after they fined him $250,000.

In 2002, Spielberg revealed that he wanted to helm a Star Wars prequel film, but this time around, Lucas turned him down. “I've asked [Lucas]. He won't let me do one. I wanted to do one 15 years ago, and he didn't want me to do it. I understand why—Star Wars is George's baby. It's his cottage industry and it's his fingerprints. He knows I've got Jurassic Park and Raiders. But George has Star Wars and I don't think he feels inclined to share any of it with me."

In addition, when Disney announced its acquisition of Lucasfilm and plans to release Episode VII in 2015, Spielberg once again turned down an opportunity to helm a Star Wars movie. "No! No!,” he told Access Hollywood. “It's not my genre. It's my best friend George's genre."

Fun Fact: Spielberg was uncredited as a second unit director on 2005's Revenge of the Sith. He helped Lucas design a few of the actions sequences during pre-production, namely Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lightsaber duel. He wanted to experience using Industrial Light & Magic’s pre-visualisation software and techniques.

3. GUILLERMO DEL TORO

Horror and fantasy filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is responsible for some of the most creative genre films made in the last 20 years, including The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Hellboy movies. In 2012, Disney and Lucasfilm called del Toro to find out if he was interested in making Episode VII.

"We got one phone call to my agent saying, 'Is Guillermo interested?'" del Toro told The Playlist. "And basically I have so much stuff already of my own." Though he did add that, “it was very nice to be asked, but believe it or not, I'm busy enough."

4. NEILL BLOMKAMP

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium was produced by Simon Kinberg, who has been heavily involved with the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise since Disney acquired the property from Lucasfilm in 2012. Kinberg broached the idea of making a Star Wars movie with Blomkamp, but the filmmaker declined because he wasn't comfortable with the idea of adapting someone else's work, especially as part of such a beloved film series.

5. DAVID CRONENBERG

After the box office and critical success of Scanners in 1981, Lucas approached David Cronenberg to helm Return of the Jedi. "I got a phone call once asking if I was interested in directing one of the Star Wars sequels,” Cronenberg told The Hollywood Reporter. “And instead of saying 'Oh my God, yes!' I said, 'Well, you know, I don't really do other people's material.' Click. I don't know how far it would have gone, but it ended there." 

6. BRAD BIRD

After making such widely popular animated movie as The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007) for Pixar, Lucasfilm reached out to Brad Bird about joining up with the Star Wars franchise to direct Episode VII. He turned them down because of a scheduling conflict with his own project for Disney, Tomorrowland, which he co-wrote with Damon Lindelof.

“I’ve known Kathy [Kennedy] for a while and I know George [Lucas]," Bird explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “And they did come to me. But the problem was, the schedule they had in mind made it impossible to do ... unless I dropped Tomorrowland.”

7. MATTHEW VAUGHN

British filmmaker Matthew Vaughn was in talks to direct Star Wars: Episode VII ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. Allegedly, he left X-Men: Days of Future Past, after making X-Men: First Class in 2011, to direct Episode VII, but a deal with Disney never got as far as initial negotiations. Reports allege that there were "creative differences."

8. DAVID FINCHER

In 2012, Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy spoke with David Fincher about the possibility of directing Episode VII. While the meeting didn’t turn into the job, Fincher revealed what he wanted to do for a Star Wars movie.

"I talked to Kathy about it, but I think that it's a different thing from ... I don't know what Disney-Lucasfilm will be like," Fincher told Total Film. "It's tricky. My favorite is The Empire Strikes Back. If I said, 'I want to do something more like that,' then I'm sure the people paying for it would be like, 'No! You can't do that! We want it like the other one with all the creatures!'" (It's worth noting that one of Fincher's earliest gigs was as an assistant cameraman and matte photographer for Industrial Light & Magic, where he worked on Return of the Jedi.)

9. PAUL VERHOEVEN

Before Irvin Kershner landed in the director's chair for The Empire Strikes Back, producers were interested in bringing on Paul Verhoeven, as they were fans of his Golden Globe-nominated World War II picture Soldier of Orange and felt he could take on The Empire Strikes Back as his next project. After Verhoeven showed producers his follow-up film, the highly controversial Spetters, he never heard back from Lucasfilm again.

10. IRVIN KERSHNER

Although Irvin Kershner directed The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, he turned down the opportunity to direct its follow up, Return of the Jedi. Despite the critical and commercial success of Episode V, Kershner felt that he had spent enough time in the Star Wars universe.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Kershner explained, “After working for two years and nine months doing Empire, and having it take so much out of my life and having given me so much, I felt that it was a complete experience and it was time to move on.”

BONUS: QUENTIN TARANTINO

While Lucasfilm never actually asked Quentin Tarantino to helm a Star Wars movie, the director expressed some very strong feelings about Disney when Entertainment Weekly asked him if he’d ever be interested in the job. “I could so care less,” he said. “No, sorry. Especially if Disney’s going to do it. I’m not interested in the Simon West version of Star Wars.”

Celebrate Season 2 of The Mandalorian With These 10 Products

LEGO/Amazon
LEGO/Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The second season of The Mandalorian is here, and that means a tidal wave of new merchandise is already on store shelves for eager fans to devour. And, of course, when we're talking about Mandalorian merch, we're really talking about anything with Baby Yoda's face printed onto it. And there's plenty of that available for the series' sophomore season on Disney+, whether you want to invest hours in a new LEGO set or just want to kick back and have a drink out of a Baby Yoda-shaped tiki mug. Check out some of our favorite products below.

1. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Polaroid Camera; $140

Polaroid/Amazon

Polaroid cameras are as classic as Star Wars itself, so this collaboration feels natural. The instant camera has The Mandalorian logo etched onto it, and the unique i-Type film prints photos with little Baby Yoda illustrations decorating the borders.

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2. Amazon 3rd Generation Echo Dot The Child Stand; $25

Otterbox/Amazon

Amazon Echo Dots have become so popular, it seems most homes have a couple lying around. With this Baby Yoda stand, you can make sure you'll always know which one is yours. The iconically elongated ears will brighten up any Star Wars fan’s room and get them ready for the new season of the show.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars: The Mandalorian Marshmallow Cereal; $11

General Mills/Amazon

It feels like cereal hasn’t changed too much over the past couple of years, which is why this Mandalorian cereal is a real treat. It's not just that Baby Yoda's grinning on the box; the cereal itself also has marshmallow pieces shaped like the character.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Baby Yoda Socks; $11

Disney

Even your feet can join in on the Mandalorian hype with this set of Baby Yoda socks from Disney.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Stanley Mandalorian Insulated Mugs; $30-$35

Stanley/Amazon

The famous thermos mug brand, Stanley, has teamed up with Disney to create three exclusive bottles featuring imagery from The Mandalorian. The models include a vacuum bottle with The Mandalorian logo, a trigger-action mug showcasing The Child, and an insulated tumbler with Mando's helmet on it. And since these are from Stanley, you know your drinks will be kept at just the right temperature for up to 24 hours.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Mandalorian-Themed Monopoly; $30

Hasbro

The world of intergalactic bounty hunting makes a seamless transition into Hasbro’s classic game of property management and armchair capitalism in this special edition of Monopoly. Here, staples like Park Place and Baltic Avenue are replaced by the Armorer’s Workshop and a Jawa Camp, with boot and thimble tokens making way for Mando, Baby Yoda, and Moff Gideon pieces.

Buy it: Amazon

7. LEGO Razor Crest Ship; $130

LEGO/Amazon

Mando’s bulky star cruiser is one of the most memorable additions to the Star Wars ship library since the Disney acquisition. This 1023-piece LEGO set allows you to recreate the vessel brick by brick. The Razor Crest set even opens up to reveal a cargo hold, cockpit, and an escape pod—which are all the perfect size to fit the minifigures of Mando, Greef Karga, and Baby Yoda that come along with it.

Buy it: Amazon

8. 10-Inch Chrome Mandalorian Funko Pop!; $40

Funko/Amazon

If any duo deserved an extra-large Funko Pop!, it’s this one. Here, the Mandalorian, real name Din Djarin, is decked out in a special chrome helmet variant meant to resemble his fancy beskar armor. In his clutches is Baby Yoda, and the pair strikes a pose that's perfect for displaying on a desk or bookshelf.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baby Yoda Tiki Mug; $27

Geeki Tiki/Toynk

This tiki mug is firmly in the “at this point, why not?” category of Baby Yoda merchandise. At 16 ounces, it’s an adorable vessel for your favorite island drink, ensuring that even your beverages are on brand while you binge the latest season of The Mandalorian.

Buy it: Toynk

10. Baby Yoda 39-Inch Area Rug; $50

Robe Factory LLC/Amazon

For floors that have a distinct lack of Baby Yoda, this 39-inch area rug sports a vivid illustration of everyone’s favorite pint-sized Force wielder sitting in his adorable floating bassinet. Made of 100 percent polyester, this rug would be right at home in your bathroom, kitchen, or bedroom.

Buy it: Toynk

Related: 11 Great Gifts for Star Wars Fans

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.