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LA Times: Did 'Star Wars' become a toy story?

By Louis Trapani - Posted on 13 August 2010

Hoth scene recreation

This may be old hat for long time, die-hard Star Wars fans such as myself, but Star Wars today spans several generations and you may be at different level of fandom.

Today, The LA Times ran this piece about Gary Kurtz, the producer of Star Wars: A New Hope(affiliate link) and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back(affiliate link). He parted ways with George Lucas after TESB and many would argue that Star Wars: Return of the Jedi(affiliate link) would had been a very different film if the team stayed together.

This is not the first time that Gary Kurtz has spoken openly about how things were envisioned differently initially when he was involved.

Did 'Star Wars' become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times: "‘Star Wars’ was born a long time ago, but not all that far, far away. In 1972, filmmakers George Lucas and Gary Kurtz were toiling on ‘American Graffiti’ in their San Rafael office when they began daydreaming about a throwback sci-fi adventure that channeled the old ‘Flash Gordon’ serials as opposed to the bleak ‘message’ movies that had taken over the genre.

‘We had no idea what we were starting,’ said Kurtz, who was the producer of the first two ‘Star Wars’ films and also a second-unit director. ‘That simple concept changed Hollywood in a way....’ There was a bittersweet tinge to Kurtz’s voice, and it’s no surprise. This year is the 30th anniversary of ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ the ‘Star Wars’ sequel that many fans consider the pinnacle moment in a franchise that has pulled in $16 billion in box office and merchandising. But 1980 was also the year that Kurtz and Lucas realized the Jedi universe wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

‘I could see where things were headed,’ Kurtz said. ‘The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.’ He added: ‘The first film and ‘Empire’ were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.’"

The team of Lucas and Kurtz would not hold together during their own journey through the jungles of collaborative filmmaking. Kurtz chooses his words carefully on the topic of their split.

After the release of “Empire” (which was shaped by material left over from that first Lucas treatment), talk turned to a third film and after a decade and a half the partners could no longer find a middle ground.

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it," Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.”

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.

He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”

(Via Did 'Star Wars' become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back | Hero Complex | Los Angeles Times. ☚ Read the entire article.)


Many long time fans point to the sequels/prequels losing the flavor of the original series, but it can be argued that it actually started with Return of the Jedi. I, myself enjoy the prequel movies, although I enjoy them on a different level than the original trilogy, but it is a different trilogy after all.

It is somewhat surprising that Lucasfilm has invited Kurtz to Star Wars Celebration V taking place this coming weekend in Florida. I am glad they did though. I never met him myself yet, it would be interesting to see Kurtz (who recently turned 70) at the convention. Unfortunately, although this Celebration is on the East coast (the first to my memory), it is not in the Northeast which pretty much rules it out for me at this time. (Nothing against Florida, but it would be more inviting to escape the winter season of the Northeast there as opposed to the middle of August - though this is not the reason for my absence).

(Top photo: Back in the day, I took the opportunity to recreate a Hoth scene from The Empire Strikes Back after some fresh snowfall using action figures and toys from Kenner at the time.)

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