Ron Howard’s new kinda-sorta Moby Dick movie In the Heart of the Sea opens on December 11, and the director is doing the rounds to get the word out before it inevitably gets swallowed up by Star Wars a week later.
As such, Howard visited the Happy Sad Confused podcast hosted by Josh Horowitz and talked everything from the early days on The Andy Griffith Show to the ostensibly happy days on Happy Days. But it’s around the midway point in their conversation that Howard lets slip a great tidbit of information about his colleague and mentor George Lucas’ apathy towards the much maligned prequel trilogy starter The Phantom Menace.
Lucas and Howard have a long history of collaboration: Howard appeared as one of the lead characters in Lucas’ second film American Graffiti, and then went on to direct the 1988 fantasy film Willow, which was financed and conceived by Lucas. Throughout the 1990s Howard made a name for himself helming such classics like Apollo 13, and that expertise piqued the interest of Lucas again when he thought up the bright idea of bringing Star Wars back to the big-screen.
It turns out Howard was offered the chance to direct The Phantom Menace, the first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, but wasn’t up for taking on that momentous challenge. And Howard wasn’t even the first person Lucas asked to take the gig.
“He didn’t necessarily want to direct them,” Howard explains on the podcast. “He told me that he had talked to [Robert] Zemeckis, he talked to me, he talked to Steven Spielberg. I was the third one he spoke to. They all said the same thing: ‘George, you should just do it!’ I don’t think anybody wanted to follow-up that act at the time. It was an honor, but it would’ve been just too daunting.”
It was three strikes for Lucas, who then reluctantly stepped behind the camera to direct The Phantom Menace much to nearly everybody’s chagrin. But Howard is still reverent towards Lucas, telling Horowitz “
“He’s been probably the directorial mentor [to me],” Howard said. “From a standpoint of my growing and understanding of the power of the medium and what else it could do besides offer great acting opportunities, that really came from George.”
So it was thanks but no thanks from Howard, whose comments typify the controversial nature of George Lucas as a filmmaker. Lucas has done so much to change the landscape of the art of film, and yet he’s hung out to dry by so many people just because of three movies he did 10 years ago.
We’ll see if J.J. Abrams is added to the list of controversial Star Wars figures when The Force Awakens opens on December 18.