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>   You don't need to do that.  If you define LUA_VERSION as an environment
> variable, make will use that instead of the built-in value.

Yes, in op's case, but not in yours, AFAIRC.

// anyway, I patch your makefile for:

34 ›   ›   -e 's@^(prefix).*@\1=/usr@' \
35 ›   ›   -e 's@(.*LUA_DIR.*/lua/.*shell )lua( -e "print.*)@\1${LUA_IMPL}\2@'
(i.e. to call proper lua$ver instead lua) ;)

> 	make LUA_VERSION="6.1" DESTDIR=/tmp/foo install

Nope. It is not "defining environment variables". It is passing arguments to 
`make` (which are force values over environment variables and vaues from 
makefile itself).

While "?=", and, AFAIRC, ":=" too — allows to use exactly environment