United Artists’ Rejection of Star Wars: Where Are They Now

August 22, 2014 – We have all made terrible decisions in our lives (relationships gone awry, missed opportunities, taking a job or project we should have declined). For the most part, however, we soldier on and often even thrive.

Marcia Nasatir
One of the unfortunate decisions in movie-making history was United Artists’ rejection of George Lucas’ offer to produce the first Star Wars film. In a fascinating memorandum dated October 13, 1975, Marcia Nasatir (b. May 8, 1926) wrote a complimentary-sounding description of “The Star Wars” proposal and its potential strengths and weaknesses: “I like this very much. The innocence of the story, plus the sophistication of the world he will depict makes for the best kind of motion picture…It is a fantasy world that has obviously been well thought out by its creator George Lucas. The production design at the screenplay’s end is impressive and imaginative.”

The memo then turns a critical and wary eye on the proposal: “But there is no metaphysical message that 2001 contained, no salvation offered for the youths of today in the future…if the simple story and heroics sag in any way you are going to have a costly bomb on your hands.”

Marcia Nasatir was prescient in predicting the high expense and the movie’s potential success: “If Lucas makes it properly exciting and fantastic, keeping you on the edge of your seat so that the adventures completely engulf you, then he will have a hit. But…I do not see how this picture can be inexpensively made.”

Ultimately, she recommended: “There seems to be too much cost involved for this kind of juvenile story…A risky project — one I would not do. “ (You can read the full memo here.)

The 1975 memo was addressed to Mike Medavoy (b. January 21, 1941), who was head of production for United Artists (1974–1978). He and the board of United Artists Corporation voted down George Lucas’s offer. If UA had invested in George Lucas and funded “The Star Wars” project, UA would have avoided decline in the 1980’s and 1990’s, which I wrote about here.

SO WHERE ARE THEY NOW
As the opening paragraph of this article notes, we all make decisions we have come to regret. But as with most things in life, we still survive and sometimes even thrive.

At UA, Marcia Nasatir was one of the first women to become Vice-President at a major studio. This was no small feat back in the male-dominated culture of the 1970’s. During her run at UA, the studio released a number of Oscar winners, including Rocky, Coming Home and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Nasatir left UA and persuaded Columbia Pictures to support The Big Chill (she was the Executive Producer). She also independently produced Ironweed ( starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep) and the Vietnam War film, Hamburger Hill.

In a December, 2013, interview with The Hollywood Reporter, her only lament was, “If I had been born 20 years later, I would have been the head of a studio, which I would have liked. But I’m content with how things turned out for me and happy to see other women carry the torch even further.” Marcia Nasatir is now 88 years old and still working on two movie projects.

Mike Medavoy is the current chairman and CEO of Phoenix Pictures. He, too, has done exceptionally well. In 2013, he and his wife purchased a 9,000-square-foot mansion for $8.2 million in California. Situated on a 1.7 acre lot, the Medavoy residence includes a five-car garage in the gated area of Beverly Crest. It also boasts ocean views and rolling lawns that overlook canyons. Not bad for the man who rejected George Lucas’s Star Wars offer almost 40 years ago.

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