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Remember that time when David Cronenberg almost directed ‘Return of the Jedi?’

Will Perkins
Wide Screen
November 23, 2012

With all of the rumours and rampant speculation surrounding potential directors for the upcoming "Star Wars" sequels, it's important to remember that this has happened before. During the reign of the original "Star Wars" trilogy, several now-high-profile directors were considered for the job of directing the 1980s sci-fi sequels.

After the massive success of the first "Star Wars" movie in 1977, series creator George Lucas opted not to direct the hotly anticipated 1980 sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back." The financial freedom afforded by "A New Hope" meant that Lucas could take a back seat creative role and leave the difficult job of directing to someone else (and his near mental and physical breakdown during the production of the first movie probably factored into that decision).

See also: Disney recruits two more 'Star Wars' scribes

Lucas chose his University of Southern California film professor Irvin Kershner to succeed him on "Empire," but just who would direct the third film -- which was, at that time, called "Revenge of the Jedi"  -- was still an open question. Welsh director Richard Marquand eventually won the gig, but two other very interesting filmmakers were also considered for the job: Canadian horror-meister David Cronenberg and American surrealist David Lynch.

While promoting the home video release of "Cosmopolis" in the U.K. this month, the Toronto-born Cronenberg talked about his brief brush with the "Star Wars" saga for the first time.

"I was approached by Lucasfilm about that," Cronenberg told Digital Spy. "It didn't take them long to realize that maybe that wasn't a good idea."

At that point in his career, the Canadian director was mostly known for blood-soaked horror movies like "Shivers," "The Brood," and "Scanners." However, despite those films making waves, it's very possible that George Lucas didn't even look at the groundbreaking horror work when he considered Cronenberg for "Jedi." Instead, Lucas likely considered the 1979 film "Fast Company," a B-grade action movie about drag racers that is a completely out of sorts with the director's other work. Lucas is famous for his love of fast cars and drag racing (as exemplified by his semi-autobiographical debut "American Graffiti"), so perhaps he imagined Cronenberg (who also explored his own rather disturbing love for automobiles in 1996's"Crash") was a kindred speed demon.

See also: What will 'Star Wars Episode 7' be about?

"I got a phone call. I was in my kitchen and it was one of the producers. He said, 'What would you think of doing "Star Wars"?'" Cronenberg told MTV a few years ago. "I said, 'Well, I don't usually do other people's material.' And then there was a kind of click. I wasn't enthusiastic enough obviously. I didn't get a chance to think about whether it was a good idea or not. I blew it right away."

Whether Cronenberg "blew it," as he said, or if Lucas and company were just scared off by a quick look at the director's other movies may never be clear.

As for the other David considered for "Return of the Jedi," Lynch maintains to this day that he had "next door to zero interest" in the directing job. Lucas was a big fan of Lynch's work on "Eraserhead" and "The Elephant Man," and invited the filmmaker to Northern California for a meeting. At a Q & A session a few years ago, Lynch recounted that first meeting with Lucas, saying that while he admired the "Star Wars" creator for doing what he loved, he thought the franchise just wasn't for him. Lynch joked that during the meeting he really started to get a headache when Lucas showed him his "Wookies."

See also: What went wrong with 'The Phantom Menace'?

Anyone familiar with the subsequent work of the two Davids knows that either one of them would have made one hell of a "Star Wars" movie, although likely an extremely weird one. However, if either Cronenberg or Lynch had taken the job, the world might have been deprived of the movies the two made around the same time "Return of the Jedi" was in production:  the quintessential Cronenberg film "Videodrome" and Lynch's ill-fated sci-fi disasterpiece "Dune."

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