Gary Kurtz Dies: ‘Star Wars’ & ‘American Graffiti’ Producer Was 78

Lawrence Kim
September 25, 2018

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Producer Gary Kurtz, seen here in this 2007 photo, passed away at age 78.

"A key figure in the history of Star Wars and Lucasfilm, Kurtz's gifts for storytelling can be felt in all his work", Lucasfilm wrote Monday. Kurtz and Lucas went on to establish the Star Wars Corporation together, with Kurtz being named Vice President.

Kurtz seldom shied away from criticizing the path Lucas took with Star Wars, and in recent years poked holes in franchise "myths", including the idea that episodes I-III were planned from the very beginning, and just how much influence Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces had on the original. In the early stages of development on Star Wars he suggested to Lucas that he might give the film a sufficiently universal religion to help to give it more depth. As he had done on the previous installment, Kurtz served as the second-unit director, getting numerous necessary pick-up shots. The film went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all-time, and set the pace for numerous studio blockbusters that followed.

Fallout from the rift between Kurtz and Lucas was far-reaching for the Star Wars saga, with Kurtz growing disenchanted with plans to make the third film Return of the Jedi more toyetic and triumphant. Kurtz had this to say about it in an interview from 2010.

"The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire".

Prior to his work on Star Wars, Gary Kurtz got his start as an assistant director on the low-budget 1966 western Ride in the Whirlwind, which starred a then-unknown Jack Nicholson. He also served as production manager on Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet, and held various jobs on the likes of Beach Ball, Blood Bath and The Shooting. Kurtz left Hollywood for several years starting in 1966 to join the Marines.

Of course, while George Lucas is the main initial architect of the Star Wars franchise, one can not understate the importance that Kurtz played not only on Star Wars, but in Lucas' career. Kurtz returned to produce the 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and hired Irvin Kershner to direct what's widely considered the most beloved chapter in the franchise.

After his split with Lucas, Kurtz went on to produce such films as The Dark Crystal, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Return to Oz, and Slipstream, which reunited him with Mark Hamill. You can check out social media tributes to the iconic producer below.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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