Can you imagine Jedi as an art-house movie? That might have happened if either of Lucas’ first choices for director had said yes. Lynch, fresh from his typically dreamlike adaptation of The Elephant Man, declined and went on to make his own fascinating and flawed sci-fi epic, an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Cronenberg, the innovative horror director who’d just released the exploding-heads feature Scanners, also said no and went on to make two of his biggest hits, an adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone and a remake of sci-fi/horror classic The Fly.
In retrospect, it seems that everyone involved made the right decision, since both Davids were probably too independent and auteurist to submit to do Lucas’ bidding. Instead, he hired Welsh journeyman Richard Marquand, who’d just made the World War II spy thriller Eye of the Needle. Marquand’s skill with suspense served Jedi well, but otherwise, he didn’t put much of an individual stamp on the movie, perhaps because he had Lucas looking over his shoulder most of the time. (Marquand, who died in 1987, likened the experience to directing King Lear while Shakespeare was in the next room.)
The Davids had turned down what would surely have been the most lucrative smashes in either of their careers, but they got to make the movies they wanted to make. Did they sense something was amiss with the franchise, or did they just realize that Lucas would be the film’s shadow director? At least Lucas had the good sense to hire Marquand; he would direct the next three movies himself, with less than salutary results.