"I hate directing." George Lucas
used these words in an interview with Rolling Stone
in 1980 and, at times, it shows. In fact, since the original Star Wars
was released in 1977 Lucas has directed a total of three movies.
We are ranking Lucas' best five and worst five movies in honor of next month's release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
. In our rankings we are including not only the movies he directed but also the movies he produced and created the story treatment for.
5. Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones
We originally wanted to save the fifth spot of George Lucas' worst movies list for films such as Willow
or Return of the Jedi
. They are not by definition bad but rather disappointing based on expectations. Unfortunately, logic would then dictate that both of these movies were not as good as "Attack of the Clones." To even imply that would be an abomination.
4. Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace
This is one of those rare films that get worse with each additional viewing. Most of the displeasure is knowing what it could have been. The story involving political gain achieved by false fear is actually not that bad because Lucas does have a considerable talent for basic story treatments. The problem occurs in the script, casting, and direction - all of which Lucas was directly responsible for. Just imagine for a moment a Sixth Sense
era Haley Joel Osment
in the role of young Anakin Skywalker instead of Jake Lloyd. Well, Lucas had his chance but decided against Osment and instead chose the "Yippee" screaming Lloyd while Osment received his Academy Award nomination. Then again, if Ewan McGregor
and Liam Neeson
could not save this movie from the likes of Jar Jar Binks, Osment probably had little chance
3. More American Graffiti
What is quite fascinating about this eventual train wreck of a film is that almost the entire cast from the original film - sans Richard Dreyfuss
- returned. Even Harrison Ford
came back for a cameo. Lucas thought his prized possession was in good hands with Bill L. Norton writing and directing. This turned out to be anything but the case. Instead of being set on one night like the original, Norton decided to have the sequel take place on four consecutive New Year's Eves...shown at the same time! What made the original great - the simplicity and innocence of the story - was completely lost in this ill-begotten 1979 sequel. (Though we would learn in the following year that some George Lucas sequels could, in fact, be quite good.)
2. Radioland Murders
Lucas had the plot for a "slapstick radio drama" floating around his head since the 1970s. There was some talk that this was going to be his follow up to "Star Wars." Since Lucas wisely negotiated the rights to all "Star Wars" sequels, but only if production began within two years of the release of the original "Star Wars," the second "Star Wars" film took precedence. Unfortunately, he eventually made this film anyway, casting Brian Benben in the lead role. At the time Benben was best known for playing the lead in the raunchy HBO series "Dream On," hardly a resume that would lead one to think he could carry a major motion picture. It turned out he could not.
1. Howard the Duck
When thinking about the large array of characters available in the Marvel Comics universe, it is hard to fathom that Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, Daredevil and Iron Man were all passed over for the first theatrical release of a Marvel character...for Howard the Duck. Not just considered the worst film to come from Lucasfilm, but it's often cited among the overall worst films of all time. To this day there is not a North American DVD release, as George Lucas has disowned this film. Lucas seems to have a habit of disowning material. (Remember the "Star Wars" Christmas special?) Also telling is that director Willard Huyck never directed again.
5. THX 1138
It is ironic that a movie about government suppressing the emotions of its population would be directed by a guy that, in recent years, has been accused of suppressing the emotions of his cast. Be that as it may, "THX 1138" is a marvel of a film that hints of the possibilities that were to come soon for this first time director with the release of...
4. American Graffiti
George Lucas has gone on record many times stating he does not care about dialogue or the emotions of characters, just moving the plot along as quickly as possible. If just the "Star Wars" prequels are collected as evidence than Lucas may very well be convicted of the crimes to which he has confessed. Our question then would be - if what he said is true, who directed "American Graffiti?"
Set in 1962 Modesto, California, the plot follows around a group of teenagers the night before a few of them leave for college. This film was such a huge box office success because audiences cared about these characters. The dialogue, acting and yes, the directing, was good. In fact, it was so good that it went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, eventually losing to The Sting
. Lucas stated after the completion of "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" that he wanted to be involved in smaller films. He only need look at "American Graffiti" to hopefully rediscover his writing and directing talent.
3. Star Wars
We're referring to the version of the movie that does not include a cameo by Jabba the Hut but does include Han Solo shooting Greedo in cold blood. People forget how good the original "Star Wars," directed by George Lucas, is as a stand-alone film as opposed to the entire saga. It is a simple story told on the grandest of scales. A boy who grew up on a farm leaves his home to fight evil and avenge the death of his unnamed father who he learned was murdered by (the way it was written at the time) galactic thug Darth Vader (who amazingly has less than ten minutes of screen time in this first film).
The plot twists would come (and be conceived) in later films. This one still stands alone as good versus evil where good, of course, wins in the end (as opposed to later films, see our number one pick.) After much scrutiny, Lucas' idea for this film was vindicated, even collecting an Academy Award nomination for best picture before being defeated by Annie Hall
. But the directing process left Lucas so exhausted he would not direct a movie again until 1999.
2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steven Spielberg was tapped to direct Lucas' story of a 1930's era archeologist trying to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazi's do. What Lucas intended "Star Wars" to be - a throwback to the action serials that he loved as a child before it became a dark family drama - Raiders achieved. The basic story idea for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" - good and evil both searching for the same MacGuffin - had been floating around in Lucas' head for some time. In fact, the original sequel to "Star Wars" ("Splinter of the Mind's Eye," which was released as a novel but was abandoned when "Star Wars" became a blockbuster and could afford a more expansive budget for its next film) had a very similar plot to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The script was written by Lawrence Kasdan, who once he finished the first draft was immediately recruited to write the final draft of...
1. The Empire Strikes Back
It may be telling that Lucas' best film is one that he may have had the least to do with. In fact, Lucas has stated on many occasions this is his least favorite of the "Star Wars" movies because it wound up being Irvin Kershner's vision instead of his. Leigh Brackett wrote the first draft of the script but unfortunately passed away before any rewrites could be accomplished. Lucas was not pleased with Brackett's original draft and began the task of rewriting it himself. It was at this moment in time (no matter what Lucas may say now) Lucas made an alteration to the back-story of Luke Skwalker's genealogy that would forever change the definition of "shocking" in popular cinema. Lawrence Kasdan - fresh off of writing the first draft of the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" script - wrote the final script; and Irvin Kershner expanded on all the dark themes of this film, got the most out of his actors, and directed a movie masterpiece.
Story by Mike Ryan
Starpulse contributing writer