‘Star Wars’: Why George Lucas Didn’t Direct ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

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George Lucas became a superstar for directing the original Star Wars, However, he decided not to direct its first sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. He explained why he declined to direct The Empire Strikes Back and how he felt about the film.

Han Solo putting his hand on C-3PO
Han Solo with C-3PO | FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images

How George Lucas feels about directing movies

Lucas told Jean Valley of Rolling Stone he was involved with both the writing and technical aspects of The Empire Strikes Back. In addition, he ultimately felt The Empire Strikes Back was his story. So why did he decline to direct it?

“[Directing is] like fighting a fifteen-round heavyweight bout with a new opponent every day,” Lucas opined. “You go to work knowing just how you want a scene to be, but by the end of the day, you’re usually depressed because you didn’t do a good enough job. When I visited the set in Norway and saw all the problems and the misery that [director Irvin] Kershner was going through, wow, can you imagine being in the Arctic Circle at forty-five below zero? It’s hard enough just to walk through it, let alone direct the actors, move the equipment. It was easy to let go of directing.”

The trailer for The Empire Strikes Back

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Why Irv Kershner got to direct ‘The Empire Strikes Back’

In an interview with StarWars.com, Lucas said he chose Kershner for the project because he met him during his time at the University of Southern California. He liked Kershner as a person and as a director. In the aforementioned Rolling Stone interview, Lucas opined The Empire Strikes Back was truly Kershner’s movie. Afterward, Valley asked how the film would have been different if Lucas directed it.

“Hard to describe, Lucas said. “I look at a scene and think, ‘Gee, I wouldn’t have done it that way.’ A lot of people have told me that The Empire is a better film than Star Wars, so whatever my disagreements were, well, Kershner was right.”

A scene from The Empire Strikes Back

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Where George Lucas’ career as a director went from there

Between 1977 and 1999, Lucas stepped back from the director’s chair. He didn’t direct Return of the Jedi, which was helmed by Richard Marquand. He was heavily involved in other popular movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Captain EO, and Labyrinth in other capacities. Though these films weren’t directed by Lucas, they do have his trademark mix of eye-popping special effects, fantastical elements, and heart.

Eventually, Lucas directed the three prequel films: The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. Since then, Lucas stepped back from the franchise and hasn’t directed any other films. Although Lucas is no longer working as a director, his influence is still plainly visibly on numerous modern blockbusters. Regardless of who directed it, The Empire Strikes Back remains a timeless film whose direction impressed even Lucas.

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