The Classic Vietnam War Epic George Lucas Almost Made Before Star Wars

By Zack Zagranis | Updated

These days, it’s hard to think of George Lucas as an auteur. Outside of Star Wars, the man’s biggest legacy is his contribution to the toyification of cinema. Once upon a time, however, George Lucas was a young, experimental filmmaker, and Apocalypse Now was almost one of his experiments.

Apocalypse Now is the movie in which Robert Duvall declared that a.m. napalm was his favorite fragrance. The movie had a production so tumultuous it almost killed Francis Ford Copolla. That Apocalypse Now was almost helmed by the father of the Ewoks, George Lucas.

George Lucas Was The Original Director Of Apocalypse Now

In the ’60s and ’70s, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, and Apocalypse Now writer John Milius were part of the New Hollywood era of cinema. As such, it wasn’t unusual for the three friends to collaborate together on projects. That’s how the notorious warmonger Milius came to ask relative Peacenik Lucas in 1969 to direct a little Vietnam movie he wrote.

Scouting Shooting Locations In Vietnam

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George Lucas and John Milius originally planned to shoot Apocalypse Now in Vietnam while the war was still going on. George even sent another friend—Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz—to scout locations in the war-torn country. Lucas reportedly wanted to film the movie with a 16 mm camera in a cinéma vérité style, as if it were a documentary.

Put On The Back Burner Due To The Real War

George Lucas planned to make Apocalypse Now right after his first movie, THX-1138. According to Milius, the only thing that stopped George was a studio exec who quipped, “Why are we sending those hippies over there? They’re a bunch of nuts. Some of them will be killed. There’s a real war over there!” As a result, Lucas would make American Graffiti his second film and put Apocalypse Now on the back burner.

Unfortunately, Lucas would never return to the film. The reason for his abandonment of the project differs depending on who you ask. According to George Lucas, studios thought Apocalypse Now, as he envisioned it, was too risky. As a result, he was unable to secure funding for the movie.

Coppola Stepped In

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Meanwhile, Coppola and Milius have a different story to tell. In an interview on the Apocalypse Now Blu-ray, Coppola blames Lucas’s sudden disinterest in the project on American Graffiti‘s success. According to the Godfather director, George Lucas abandoned Apocalypse Now “once he had a taste of success and he got rich.”

The George Lucas Version Would Have Been Very Different

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Milius added that his friend was reluctant to travel to a country with “poisonous insects” and “tigers.” However, considering the location Lucas would choose for his next film, it’s hard to take Milius’s statement seriously. The Tunisian desert in Africa, where much of Star Wars was filmed, isn’t exactly the place for someone afraid of harsh climates.

Whatever the reason, George Lucas dropped Apocalypse Now, and Francis Ford Coppola picked it up. The rest is history.

So, would a George Lucas-directed Apocalypse Now have been any good? It’s hard to say. Most of Lucas’s critics will point to the Star Wars prequel trilogy as proof that he can’t direct. Red Letter Media practically made a career out of it.

Two Directors With Different Styles

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On the other hand, THX-1138 is a bleak, dystopian sci-fi gem. American Graffiti is nothing to sneeze at, either. A semi-autobiographical masterpiece, the movie was one of the first blockbusters and helped to lead the ’50s nostalgia boom of the 1970s.

In other words, early Lucas and Phantom Menace Lucas are two different directors. There’s no doubt that George Lucas’s Apocalypse Now would have been a different film than Coppolas because the directors have vastly different styles. That doesn’t mean the movie would have been worse, though.

Unfortunately, until someone perfects multiverse travel in real life, we’ll never know just what kind of movie George Lucas’s Apocalypse Now would have been.

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