Countless Star Wars fans have imagined a world with no Jar Jar Binks. But the more interesting thought experiment is to imagine Jar Jar Binks in a movie that George Lucas didn’t direct.
It nearly happened. As noted in the VICE documentary series Icons Unearthed: Star Wars, when George Lucas decided to do the Star Wars prequels he didn’t especially want to direct them himself. And, if some different decisions had been made during the production process, the prequels could have been very different movies. Thanks to some fascinating revelations in the final two episodes of Icons Unearthed, here are five big ways the Star Wars prequels might have ended up better than what we got.
5. Different directors were considered
While George Lucas infamously took the helm for The Phantom Menace, he hadn’t wanted to direct any of the prequels. In fact, the primary reason he hired other directors for the classic trilogy was because the stress of directing A New Hope hospitalized him.
Two decades later, Lucas had made a ton of money on the “Special Edition” re-release of the classic trilogy and planned to use some of the profit to hire talented directors for the prequels. As revealed in Icons Unearthed:
“With nearly limitless cash, Lucas went straight to Hollywood’s A-lits directors, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, and Ron Howard. All three declined and encouraged George to take the helm.”
What would have happened had any of those people directed the prequels? Ron Howard eventually directed a Star Wars movie in the form of Solo, but the notion that Lucas would have collaborated with someone like Spielberg or Zemeckis on the prequels creates a tantalizing alternate universe.
4. Someone could have told Lucas “no”
Jar Jar Binks, Nute Gunray, and Watto were all accused of embodying racial and anti-Semitic stereotypes. In speaking about The Phantom Menace Howard Kazanjian, a producer on the original Star Wars, says:
“There’s a little bit of regret there. If I was there I know the prequels would have been better. And I think part of that problem is he [George Lucas] had yes men around him.”
According to former Lucasfilm archivist, David West Reynolds, one of those “yes men” was prequel producer Rick McCallum. “This is what makes George Lucas comfortable with the idea of directing again, because he sees Rick McCallum as this bulldog who will solve any production problem.”
Had George Lucas been told “no” on some creative decisions, especially those related to Jar Jar, could the prequels have been better? It’s hard to imagine the prequels without Lucas in total control, yet the compromises of the classic Star Wars trilogy are partially why those movies are so good.
3. Morgan Freeman as Qui-Gon Jinn?
As sci-fi historian Maria Jose Tenuto points out in Icons Unearthed, different incarnations of Qui-Gon Jinn were planned, and all of them sound a little more exciting than Liam Neeson’s version.
“They also considered this character having a mohawk... they considered Denzel Washington, Kurt Russell, and Morgan Freeman.”
Although The Phantom Menace has a bit more diversity than the original Star Wars, it’s still disappointing to learn that we could have seen Morgan Freeman instead. Qui-Gon Jinn is arguably the main character of The Phantom Menace, which is both great and a bit boring. Could a mohawked Denzel Washington have changed The Phantom Menace for the better? Maybe!
2. Benicio del Toro could have been Darth Maul
While Benicio del Toro made a memorable mark on Star Wars as DJ in The Last Jedi, it’s incredible to imagine him as Darth Maul. According to Icons Unearthed, del Toro stopped considering the role when he realized how little dialogue he would have.
Combine a different director with Benicio del Toro as Darth Maul fighting Denzel Washington or Kurt Russell, and suddenly The Phantom Menace is a movie so different from what we know that it’s difficult to picture.
1. We almost got a touching C-3PO scene
Throughout Icons Unearthed, C-3P0 actor Anthony Daniels isn’t shy about voicing his frustrations with the prequel scripts and George Lucas in general. By the time Attack of the Clones rolled around, Daniels felt that “C-3PO hadn’t had much ability to share his humanity.”
One moment would have changed that. In a scene that was filmed but cut, the previously “naked” C-3PO would have had his “skin” put on by Padmé (Natalie Portman). Icons Unearthed gives us a glimpse of this tender scene, which could have made Attack of the Clones a little more heartfelt.
George Lucas changed sci-fi with the technological ambitions of the prequels, but they lack warm moments of human connection that force even the most loyal prequel-defender to admit they’re a bit cold. Could a small C-3PO scene with Padmé have made a big difference? For Star Wars fans who love getting into the nitty-gritty, every grain of sand counts.
How to watch Icons Unearthed: Star Wars
Icons Unearthed: Star Wars is available on VICE TV, which requires either a cable subscription, or a subscription to Sling TV or Hulu with their respective Live TV add-ons.
The first episode, about the making of A New Hope, is free on YouTube.