It’s been cool to hate on the Star Wars prequels for almost as long as they’ve existed, much as it’s long been cool to do the same to the original trilogy’s Special Editions. (Neither discredits their maker, George Lucas, who’s used his untold riches to become one of the great saviors of film history.) But there’s a chance all of this — or at least The Phantom Menace — could have been avoided. As per IGN, an old Empire interview with Lucas from 1999 is making the rounds, and it finds him admitting that he was warned up and down that making a movie about a 10-year-old Anakin Skywalker might “destroy the franchise.”
Mind you, people weren’t telling Lucas to avoid a young Anakin altogether. They just wanted him to skip to the part where he wasn’t a little whippersnapper whose yen for saying “yippee!” clashes with him growing up to be a genocidal half-robot. In the piece, Lucas talks about how people kept telling him to skip to him being a teenager, devoting the trilogy to his relationship with Natalie Portman’s Amadala. But Lucas held forthwith.
“I kept it as it was originally intended,” Lucas said. “You can’t play too much to the marketplace. It’s the same thing with the fans. The fans’ expectations had gotten way high and they wanted a film that was going to change their lives and be the Second Coming. You know, I can’t do that, it’s just a movie. And I can’t say, now I gotta market it to a whole different audience. I tell the story.”
He does admit it would have been easier to sell…though what’s easier to sell in 1999 than the first Star Wars movie in 16 years. (And Menace was the year’s top box office draw, by a lot.) Still:
“I knew if I’d made Anakin 15 instead of nine, then it would have been more marketable … If I’d made the Queen 18 instead of 14, then it would have been more marketable. But that isn’t the story. It is important that he be young, that he be at an age where leaving his mother is more of a drama than it would have been at 15. So you just have to do what’s right for the movie, not what’s right for the market.”
When Lucas stuck with his guns, Fox execs told him, “You’re going to destroy the franchise, you’re going to destroy everything.” He also remembers how he wound up admitting to colleagues that was “making a movie that nobody wants to see.”
Lucas did what he wanted, though, casting Jake Lloyd as the boy Anakin and, inadvertently, making the poor guy’s life a living hell. Instead, we might have wound up with a bit more Hayden Christensen. But when he sold the property to Disney for a princely sum — a good chunk of which he reportedly donated to charity — fanboys could no longer come after him when a Star Wars turned out to be not very good.