Instead of trying to use Apollo-era designs, how about using something that is designed specifically to fly itself down? The Shuttle and DreamChaser addressed this problem quite well. Piloting a can doesn't work too well when you're going downwards.
When sanity prevails and Shuttle-like designs come back, perhaps space travel will improve. Until then, it's 1960's rehashes all around.
No production first stage has every landed propulsively, so they are not going backward to something that was done before. The Shuttle was more "refurbished" then reused. The main fuel tank was discarded. The booster cases were fished out of the water (how modern) and basically rebuilt. The main engines were removed after each flight and rebuilt. The tiles painstakingly inspected and repaired. It was a technological marvel but a financial disaster. The Dream Chaser is just the payload, not launch system. They planned to launch on an expendable rocket. So your examples are all non-sequitors, not "how to do it right."
"Flying back" is not really an option for a first stage booster. You'd need to add wings (more weight and drag, or complex mechanisms) and you'd need to add some sort of heat shield (more weight.) Propulsive landing requires more fuel (weight). The reentry burn itself acts as the primary thermal protection system (counterintuitive, but true.) It's a very elegant solution for recovering the entire first stage for reuse. And it's ridiculous that no major aerospace company was willing to pursue it. (There was the DC-X experimental rocket, but that was a government funded experiment which McDonnell Douglas dropped as soon as the "cost plus" gravy train left the station.)
Now if you love wings, then the right way to do that is probably something like Skylon, but it's a long way from flying and SpaceX is already forcing launch prices lower.