Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back [Updated]

Aug. 12, 2010 | 12:00 p.m.

Here is a longer version of my story on Gary Kurtz that appears in Thursday’s Calendar section.

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“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.”

Empireposter

He added: “The first film and ‘Empire’ were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.”

This weekend, Kurtz steps back into the “Star Wars” galaxy as a special guest at Star Wars Celebration V, a massive convention in Orlando, Fla., organized by Lucasfilm and expected to draw thousands of fans who will come to buy collectibles, attend panels, get cast-member autographs or even visit the event’s themed tattoo parlor or wedding chapel.

Kurtz’s presence speaks to his vital role in the franchise’s history — he is, for instance, the one who came up with the title for “The Empire Strikes Back” — but the Lucasfilm leadership is already fretting about the Jedi galaxy expatriate’s appearance. They may have good reason; during a recent visit to Los Angeles, the filmmaker, who just turned 70, showed a willingness to speak out against the priorities of an old partner.

“The emphasis on the toys, it’s like the cart driving the horse,” Kurtz said. “If it wasn’t for that the films would be done for their own merits. The creative team wouldn’t be looking over their shoulder all the time.”

No fan of conflict, Kurtz has remained relatively quiet through the years but over coffee on a sunny Southern California afternoon he spoke at length about his lightsaber days.

Like many fans, Kurtz — who characterizes his relationship with Lucas as “professional” — was too invested in the “Star Wars” universe to skip the second trilogy: 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” 2002’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones” and 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” (Lucas retitled the three original movies as “Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope,” “Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back” and “Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi.”) But as he sat in the dark with the follow-up “Star Wars” films, he squirmed in his seat.

Anakin

“I don’t like the idea of prequels, they make the filmmakers back in to material they’ve already covered and it boxes in the story,” Kurtz said. “I think they did a pretty good job with them although I have to admit I never liked Hayden Christensen in the role of Anakin Skywalker. I just wished the stories had been stronger and that the dialogue had been stronger. It gets meek. I’m not sure the characters ever felt real like they did in ‘Empire.’”

A spokeswoman for George Lucas said he was unavailable for comment.

Kurtz’s sentiments speak to a churning pop-culture debate about the enduring legacy of Lucas and the trajectory of his still-unfolding “Star Wars” mythology. The first trilogy of films ended in 1983 with “Return of the Jedi” and the second trilogy brought a whole new generation into the universe but also left many fans of the original feeling sour or disengaged. A seventh feature film, an animated movie called “The Clone Wars,” was released in 2008, which, along with video games and toys, speaks to a young 21st century constituency that may be only vaguely aware of the 1977 film.

The same passion pulling fans to Orlando also stokes the debate about Lucas and his creation. Alexandre Philippe is the director of “The People vs. George Lucas,” a documentary that just had its West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. He says that Kurtz has become a figure of integrity to the fans who believe that Lucas has followed the wrong path.

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Philippe said the departure of Kurtz was a major moment in “Star Wars” history and deeply unsettling to all involved. “The cast and crew were crushed when George and Gary went their separate ways,” said Philippe, who added that Mark Hamill, who portrayed Luke Skywalker, later explained it in broken-family terminology. “He said it was like mom and dad getting a divorce. They were both equally loved and respected on the set.”

For Kurtz, the popular notion that “Star Wars” was always planned as a multi-film epic is laughable. He says that he and Lucas, both USC film school grads who met through mutual friend Francis Ford Coppola in the late 1960s, first sought to do a simple adaptation of “Flash Gordon,” the comic-strip hero who had been featured in movie serials that both filmmakers found charming.

“We tried to buy the rights to ‘Flash Gordon’ from King Features but the deal would have been prohibitive,” Kurtz said. “They wanted too much money, too much control, so starting over and creating from scratch was the answer.”

Georgelucas

Lucas came up with a sprawling treatment that pulled from “Flash Gordon,” Arthurian legend, “The Hidden Fortress” and other influences. The document would have required a five-hour film but there was a middle portion that could be carved out as a stand-alone movie. Kurtz championed the project in pitch meetings with studios and worked intensely on casting, scouting locations and finding a way to create a believable alien universe on a tight budget.

“Our plan was to do ‘Star Wars’ and then make ‘Apocalypse Now’ and do a black comedy in the vein of ‘M*A*S*H*,’” Kurtz said. “Fox insisted on a sequel or maybe two [to ‘Star Wars’]. Francis [Ford Coppola] … had bought the [“Apocalypse Now”] rights so George could make it. He eventually got tired of waiting and did it on his own, of course.”

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.

Crystal

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.”

Kurtz went straight over to “The Dark Crystal,” a three-year project with old friend Jim Henson, whom Kurtz had brought in on the creation of Yoda for “Empire.”

After that he shifted into a lower gear as far as his career and, relocating to England, turned to British television productions. He’s now working on a ramping feature-film project called “Panzer 88” that he says will begin filming later this year and will feature visual effects by Weta, the same New Zealand outfit that populated Middle-earth in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The producer said that huge films hold little allure for him now and that he is more interested in smaller, more nimble productions that put an emphasis on “human stories.” That might speak to his alienation from the “Star Wars” universe, but when he talks about Lucas and their shared history the stories are still tinted by nostalgia, admiration and affection.

On casting the 1977 film: “We had a lot of people, hundreds, that we saw. It was quick and dirty. You talk to each person, jot down a note or two. Are they a score of five or higher? Do they deserve a callback? On those lists were a lot of interesting people — John Travolta, Sly Stallone — who were great but just not right. I went to New York to do an interview with Jodie Foster, for instance, but she was just too young for Leia. A lot of it comes down to luck and timing.”

On Harrison Ford, who became a Hollywood icon after “Star Wars” but keeps the fervent fandom at arm’s length: “He’s always been somewhat cynical, since the beginning of his career, about everything. In a way he tried not to take notoriety or the fans too seriously. Movies are movies and real life is his ranch.”

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On the moment he knew that “Star Wars” was becoming a pop-culture sensation: “On opening day I was on the East Coast and I did the morning-show circuit — ‘Good Morning America’ and ‘Today’ … in the afternoon I did a radio call-in show in Washington and this guy, this caller, was really enthusiastic and talking about the movie in really deep detail. I said, ‘You know a lot abut the film.’ He said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen it four times already.’ And that was opening day. I knew something was happening.”

Kurtz isn’t sure what to expect in Orlando but he says that “Empire” may be the shining moment of his career, the confluence of commercial and artistic success. His work as a second-unit director and his hands-on efforts with the visual effects make him especially proud.

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down,” Kurtz said. “ ‘Empire’ was the tree on fire. The first movie was like a comic book, a fantasy, but ‘Empire’ felt darker and more compelling. It’s the one, for me, where everything went right. And it was my goodbye to a big part of my life.”

– Geoff Boucher

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Photos, from top: Gary Kurtz , Credit: Courtesy of Gary Kurtz. “Stars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” poster and Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in “Revenge of the Sith.” Credit: Lucasfilm. Gary Kurtz with Mark Hamill (and Yoda), Credit: Courtesy of Gary Kurtz. George Lucas, Credit: Getty Images.”The Dark Crystal” poster. Credit: Jim Henson/Universal Pictures. Kurtz with “Empire” director Irvin Kershner. Credit: Courtesy of Gary Kurtz.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post implied that “Star Wars” was labeled at “Episode IV” upon its release in 1977. That was added during a re-release of the film a few years later.


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Comments


161 Responses to Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back [Updated]

  1. TeddyKGB says:

    Really interesting; thanks.

  2. Alboone says:

    This just breaks my heart. It confirms to me that Lucas really is a sellout at heart and very cynical when it comes to film as art. Movies are one thing. Toys are another. But for Lucas to confuse the two is troubling to say the least. He is Vader. If those original story beats to Jedi were kept then there is no doubt in my mind that a) The toys would've have sold regardless, probably even more so because of the emotional value of having a beloved character like Han Solo die for his beliefs. b) the series would've been more emotionally resonant teaching an entire generation of kids that sacrifice for the greater good is not only noble but essential to maintaining balance in a world rifed with greed and chaos. What a dman shame.

    • Jason Creelman says:

      I've heard these rumors before, but to have them confirmed, @#!$!. SW will always be special to me. It will always be my first love, my highschool sweetheart, who ended up selling out to the rich guy and is now divorced, fat, and enjoying every moment of it…

      • peekiri says:

        Besides, the bigger shame is how awful Samuel L. Jackson is in these movies. How did Lucas take a great actor like him and make him sound like he was reading a grocery list. lost from the moment the Ewoks Prilosec dosage enter the picture through maybe the moment Annakin and Obi-Wan start battling on Mustafar (or whatever Arabic-derived name Lucas gave that planet) in Revenge of the Sith.

      • Brent says:

        Samuel L Jackson was in the film for one reason only. He was part of the checklist.
        () Something for really little kids? Jar Jar Binks – check
        () Something for kids? A kid Anakin Skywalker, the Younglings, Baby Boba – check
        () Something for geeks? Lightsabers. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of light sabers
        () Something for the Star Wars trilogy (the real one) fanboys – Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, Ben Kenobi, Yoda… I was really surprised (not disappointed, but surprised) that was didn't see a little kid Han Solo in the prequel… anyways – check
        () Something for people who wanted to see established actors – Christopher Lee, Liam, Samuel – check
        () Something for action movie buffs – Samuel L – check
        () Something for the "black" audience – Samuel L – check
        () Something for women/girls interested in fashion – A completely useless character who is so unimportant to the story save the fact she bears Luke and Leia, Queen/Senator/Boring Amidala – check

        () Good story – eh… we got enough on the checklist

    • Robb says:

      My sentiments exactly. Coarse, it is pretty obvious that Jedi derails right after rescuing Han. And none of this surprises me: Lucas thinks he walks on water. He has all the Traits of a Sith Lord.

    • jjj says:

      Thats BS dude. You buy that nonsense?
      Could it be that his ideas just stunk? Han dying, Luke walking off into the sunset like Clint? Wow. George took the serious approach to the prequels and they bombed. SW came out when I was 14–I understand the movies. It seems many just dont get it. These are for all ages–not just dark minded adults

  3. steve says:

    You can definitely tell the difference after Kurtz left. It was all downhill from there. Granted Return of the Jedi has compelling moments, but overall, it pales in comparison to Empire Strikes Back.
    I can't rail against the toys however. I was a child of Star Wars. I first saw it in 1977 at the age of 3. From them on, I probably had every figure through Return of the Jedi. Now my boys play with the new generation of toys. For us it's a bonding experience.
    I wish Kurtz and Lucas could have continued to collaborate. Who knows what we would have been in store for.

  4. But Mr. Kurtz, what happened to the movie "'77" (originally "5/25/77?") I saw it at Celebration IV and it was wonderful. This needs to be SEEN.

  5. Yargle123 says:

    Thanks for this article. Hilarious.
    Gee I wonder how compelling the Joseph Campbell source material would be if it had to answer to Kenner. This epic Myth brought to you by the makers of Barbie.
    And my little brother could think of a 1000 better adventures for his little plastic Chewbacca.
    Money ruins everything kiddies.

  6. sophie says:

    Thank you for this interview. As a 40-year-old fan of the first two films, I am cheered up that at least someone on the creative team understands why the "old" fans are disgruntled. The first two films and the first half of Return of the Jedi is some of the best filmmaking that's out there. There is an adult "edge" that is completely lost from the moment the Ewoks enter the picture through maybe the moment Annakin and Obi-Wan start battling on Mustafar (or whatever Arabic-derived name Lucas gave that planet) in Revenge of the Sith.

  7. Ed says:

    Stop knocking Hayden Christensen, who was cast in the role before there was any script written. You can only imagine what his response was once he saw the dialogue he was supposed to recite. Besides, the bigger shame is how awful Samuel L. Jackson is in these movies. How did Lucas take a great actor like him and make him sound like he was reading a grocery list?

    • Mike says:

      Hayden was terrible… Mark Hamil was not much of an actor but he became Luke Skywalker and we accepted him. Hayden was a spoiled brat from the beginning, pouting, too emotional when it wasn't called for. Worst character in the entire series of six… ah except the Ewoks and Jar Jar.

      • superunknown says:

        well, maybe it's the fault of the CHARACTER (like you said) and not of the actor. you know what i mean

  8. Jay says:

    I dig how Kurtz always keeps it real about the STAR WARS movies… and doesn't "sugar coat" the actual history of 'em.

  9. Brett Vanderbrook says:

    Fascinating! Reading this article really makes me wish it had been Lucas who had walked away after Empire, and not Kurtz. His vision for Jedi sounds so much richer, and more interesting. Jedi was always the black sheep of the original trilogy, and Geoff Boucher sheds some light on how it went awry.

  10. P. Broeske says:

    About time that Kurtz spoke up — and that the L.A. Times delivered an interview of this calibre! More, please.

  11. nerf says:

    i agree with mr kurtz, after empire the whole story was about teddy bears and stuff….. the prequels were about new cgi toys without story…. but i knew when i first saw star wars in 77, that they were just riffing on the old serials from the fourtys…..

  12. xicanoboy1331 says:

    Curious. I've always felt "Empire" was the weakest and least attractive of the original trilogy.

    • Some Guy says:

      As far as cinematography, story, structure, and characters go, it was unquestionably the best.

      • Davion says:

        Just watched Empire for the first time in years. The first 10minutes of that movie is worth far more than all the prequels combined. I can't believe Kurtz actually said the prequels were 'Ok'. In my opinion they are some of the worst movies ever created.

    • HuckabeeForPrez says:

      'Empire' may- no, IS DEFINITELY- the best in terms of story, character, depth, performances, and emotion, but I lament the fact that Lucas didn't direct it as he had a great visual style then, and you can tell he wasn't behind the camera. Also, the editing on 'Empire' isn't as dazzling as it's predecessor, which is a shame, but not a fatal flaw by any means. I personally think that 'Empire' and 'Jedi' should have been filmed back-to-back and released one year apart (probably 1981/82), with Lucas directing, and with the same editing team as 'Hope', then you probably would've had 'Jedi' as Gary Kurtz preferred it, and it would've been AMAZING! Then hopefully, Lucas would have walked away from 'Star Wars' after that, and left it alone for future generations to enjoy (although a nice digital restoration would've been inevitable), with NO 'special edition' vandalisms and ABSOLUTELY NO prequels…

  13. Scott says:

    I'm glad that the Han Solo character survived "Return of the Jedi," as that movie should be a triumphant-ending movie.
    BUT – I could not stand the Ewoks even then, and felt like those characters were pandering to toy sales and ruining the ending of the trilogy.

  14. Steve I. says:

    That was terrific. The original outline for the third film sounded fantastic. It's a shame Lucas started acting more like a marketing manager than a filmmaker.

  15. hb says:

    "teddy bear luau"
    That sums it up perfectly.
    With all Ewok scenes removed, ROTJ does continue a lot of the best of ESB. The scenes between Vader and Luke are quite poignant.

  16. Laura says:

    “I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down,” Kurtz said. Umm, Kurtzy, getting him down from the tree sounds like a victory on Endor to me. Not letting a main character get killed and the rebellion die in ruins and the main protagonist walk away from it all, giving up.

    • Some Guy says:

      Main characters can still get killed bringing the protaganist down from that tree, and the victory on Endor was just ridiculous. They should have made it a real fight, something between the rebels and the empire. A bunch of teddy bears taking down trained soldiers, though, is just stupid. Especially since almost no ewoks seemed to get killed.

    • Brent says:

      First of all, I had a different interpretation of what Kurtz was saying. Han would give the biggest sacrifice. The rebel would have been victorious in defeating the Empire but in a more visual way. A way where you could feel the struggle and the sacrifice made, much like in real war. Leia would be the new queen and leader of the new established government/order, which, of course, wouldn't be easy. Luke would walk off into the sunset to explore his new found Jedi powers. I have also read in other interviews that, although the Empire would be defeated, the Emperor (still at large, and never anything more than a face on a screen) wouldn't actually appear until episode 9.

  17. Horace Austin says:

    Thanks for sharing Kurtz's side of the story.

  18. Heisenberg says:

    "Fans" bemoan anything newly released yet they clamor for it once it is announced. The hypocrisy of it all is astounding.
    Lucas is your master, and you know it. Without him we would have nothing! Give the man his due and be on your feeble way!!
    p.s. Alexandre Philipe is a toad.

    • Some Guy says:

      It's not the fact that it's new that we hate, it's how Lucas tossed everything that was great about the originals in favor of marketing and special effects that were meant to sell toys.

    • Han Solo says:

      Lucas doesn't own me. I was lucky. When I saw the Phantom Menace, the projector broke down for ten minutes, so the cinema gave us free tickets to watch it again, while at the same time, letting us watch the rest of the film. So, like most, I sat there at the end thinking, "What the hell is wrong with me? How could I not enjoy Star Wars. I must have missed something." And I used my free ticket to try and understand what I missed. So, I didn't even pay for that second viewing.

      With that, I can honestly say; since the first viewing of Phantom Menace, every single cent I've spent anywhere, I've always made sure that none of it went to Lucas. Part 2 and 3 I was fortunate enough to be doing business in China so it was easy to get an illegal copy. No toys, no t-shirts, no nothing.

      The same goes for episode 7. Unless it gets stellar reviews, and I mean stellar and not just crap about action and special effects, that it has a real story… I'll wait for a copy to land in my lap. I will not partake in giving one cent to the Star Wars universe

  19. Really fantastic article, Geoff, great even for you. Brings up a lot of things we've all been wondering about for years. How much better would it have been if it all went according to plan they had Wookiees directed by Steven Spielberg instead!
    Damn shame. Goddamn shame.

  20. Shelly says:

    Laura, you don't have to get them down from the tree alive. They can fall out, too.

  21. Grag says:

    Laura, I agree up to a point. Star Wars had such an upbeat ending that a less soaring one for Jedi would have been a huge letdown. But killing Solo might have worked if it had had a strong purpose in the plot and if it helped give a more adult tone to the storytellng. Either way, the maturity of the series definitely blackslid in the third film, in both feeling and plot. (Vader set a trap for Luke backwards through time in Empire, but in Jedi he couldn't figure out that the whole gang would race to Tatooine to rescue Solo, where he could've attacked all of them?) And the characters stopped being fun, spontaneous people you could care about, a trend that really accelerated in the prequels. A shame.

  22. Rachel says:

    It's naive to assume younger generations are looking at the Clone Wars with no background knowledge of IV-VI. Star Wars is huge and is not bound by generations.

    • Kevin says:

      Actually, it's not naive at all. Back in 2008 when McDonald's fast food chains were selling the Star Wars bobbleheads in their Happy Meals, my wife and I ran across quite a few cashiers (ranging roughly between 18-24 years old) who had no idea who any of the characters were! Even if you've never seen the movie…how do you not know Darth Vader?

      So, it's entirely possible that there are some people viewing Clone Wars as the "beginning" of the franchise without even knowing there were six live-action movies which predated it.

  23. Keith says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for this article. I am 44 years old on yesterday. I loved the Empire and ROJ was terrible disappointment. I always wondered what happened …the missing link in why everything turned so awful and gimmicky. Now, I know. Kurtz was let go. So sad. What started well could have ended well.

  24. ykw says:

    One thing glossed over: which of the two men is responsible for the HOLIDAY SPECIAL?

  25. This article only serves to confirm once and for all that George Lucas was never really an artist. He was just an ad man, a pitch man, a corporate goon who got lucky and struck gold. When he found out his little rip off was a humongous moneymaker, the whole art of storytelling went down the river. Shame, shame, shame how he hob knobs with real artists like Spielberg and Coppola.

    • Anthony Alexander says:

      real artists
      Spielberg and Coppola.

      pick one

    • Wm Brian MacLean says:

      I must disagree. Many sellouts begin as high-minded, authentic mavericks. Watch (the original, pre-CGI) THX1138 if you have any doubt that young Lucas was all about the art & craft of film & storytelling… once upon a time in a mindset far, far away. Money corrupts, & he was given a boatload of it.

      Mr. Kurtz needs to write a book.

    • Mike says:

      I disagree… George is a very good story teller and responsible for so much of what 'worked' in Star Wars but George also hated having to deal with the financial and FX constraints of the 1970's film world and basically decided a decent film would make him more money which would allow for more opportunities. I would never defend Lucas' destruction of two thirds of the series but without him there would not be that great one third. He had a winning formula, had he known what Star Wars would evolve into perhaps he wouldn't have worried about making money and made better films. Or maybe he is more greedy than artistic? Obi Wan, Dooku, and the Emperor are the only saving grace of the final three films… Anakin was terrible, his lines, his acting, and his look… all wrong. And Jake Lloyd was too young to be interesting, just cute, but not interesting. Without better scripts though, it probably wouldn't make much difference. The beauty of the first three films was it's casting the breakdown in the last three films was it's casting (also scripting and some of the circular political story that is never clearly explained). Empire was awesome! and what was with the death of Boba Fett… feared, resourceful, and tough… turned into a gag??? Jango would have been so disappointed.

  26. Echo says:

    Wow. Its seems like he was a little harsh to George Lucas. He says it was all about the toys, but maybe it was just a different vision of how the story should be told Personally, I think killing off Hans Solo would have been a terrible move, and I'm glad Lucas won that battle.
    But Return of the Jedi was my favorite movie of the original trilogy, and Empire Strikes Back was my least favorite, so I guess I'm biased too.

  27. Mr Boofink says:

    Empire IS the best of all of them.
    the characters mature and experience disappointment. Even vader loses.
    Lucas botched a lot. His ego got in the way.
    But I have to tell you, once I found out that Lucas gave free reign to Seth Green and Co to do the send ups they have on Robot Chicken, AND they got acceess to all that is star wars at the presidio, well I think he doesn't take the material too seriously.
    The only thing I can think of that compare is William Shatner on Saturday night live talking to the trekkie fans.

  28. boethius says:

    Well, having worked hard to get enough proofs-of-purchase to get the little stand to hold all 28 (30?) original Kenner Star Wars action figures when I was 8 years-old I am a bit more reticent to slam the gross and kitschy commercialization that will inevitably be associated with the vast Lucasfilm empire. As a kid in 1977, the toys were almost as much a part of the Star Wars enterprise as the movies were. Little did we know how easily we had succumbed to a whole new era of product tie-ins. A lot of good things have come out of that empire – ILM, Skywalker Ranch, and Lucasarts, for example. And, indeed, a lot of bad. Working now a mile from George's home in San Anselmo I harbor a private fantasy that I will be walking down the streets of San Rafael on my lunch hour and see George drive past to get on the 101. Anyway… there is little question that George has been on the ranch too long. I don't think it's just the inevitable failure to compete with nostalgia that makes the prequels so bad – they're just terrible all on their own. Once I saw – and, God help me, heard the brain-grating alien jive – Jar Jar and the kid with the Adam Rich haircut as Anakin I knew George had long ago lost his mojo. It was a commercial vehicle, primed for toy tie-ins, another engine in his cash machine, an artistic wasteland. In short: A total disaster. Nothing more. That no heart and soul is evident in the prequel enterprise is to overstate the obvious. And the acting? – the worst, ever. George Lucas has never been an actor's director but the prequels had the feel of very bad B-movie actors with an A-list budget. I am not sure if there is much hope for him now, a billionaire with all the capabilities to do anything he wants but none of the vision to make a truly great movie again – and "A New Hope," whatever its faults, was truly a great movie. TESB is the series' benchmark no question but "Star Wars" is still a film classic from a young director with precocious skill as a filmmaker. It really is sad that that now appears to be lost.

  29. tomsamson says:

    Great article. I´m not sure it would have been that much better if Han Solo had died.
    Emotional yes, but then again i dislike it equally when things have to end bad because it would be >more emotionally touching and "mature"wacky wacky weacky!!<.
    And being focussed around kids of course most parts that should been serious in the first two new movies automatically had that "ay, isn´t it cute" feel to it, too, at best.
    But what made the newer movies really feel even more pale in comparison to the older ones was that everything felt way less believable even despite trying to explain way more with "factual" backgrounds.
    Some examples would be that all the cg in the new movies obviously wasn´t made at all with the idea to make it feel real and used, whereas in the old movies, maybe also thanks to many props of course being handmade, everything had a feel of real and used, very important to make the world believable.
    Regarding trying to make things seem more real by giving them factual backgrounds and failing miserably there are many examples for that in the new movies like the whole plot part about the big political happenings that lead to the big war in first place. Or, the biggest failure of them all: giving way more detail about the force and the metachlorians than anyone should ever hear.

    • Trpy says:

      The metachlorian thing was a disaster! He took what was supposed to be a mystic power of unknown orgin, with few being able to tap into it, and turned it into a side effect brought on by beneficial parasites! SO many things were wrong! The Jar Jar disaster pretty much speaks for itself. I never quite understood why the trade federation and other pants were revolting in the first place, or even if they were actually the good guys or not. Even the idea that there's only supposed to be two sith at any one time! I'm so hoping I misunderstood that part! 2 Sith against thousands of Jedi? If that's all it has ever taken to give the Jedi trouble of the centuries, then the idea of which side is strongs with the Force is pretty much answered! I honestly think George Lucas is arrogant to the point where he isn't concerned with what his fans or even co-directors and producers are telling him. It's a shame, since I rather like George, not least because of Star Wars, but the fact that he had the courage and racial understanding to make Red Tails!

  30. Joey says:

    There is a reason that Empire Strikes Back and New Hope were the best reviewed movies of the Series. They both were darker and smarter then the rest of the movies. You will never see a Star Wars movie with 4 after those two movies.
    Return of the Jedi was a great movie but was hit with stupid stuff like Ewoks. If it weren't for the great battle at the end of Return of the Jedi, it would have been epic fail.
    Revenge of the Sith at least got close to the feel of being a decent movie. My favorites in order: SW New Hope, SW Empire Strikes back, Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith and Attack of the Clones. I didn't like Phantom Menace except for Darth Maul.

  31. FredH says:

    “Star Wars” opened with a title sequence that announced it as “Episode IV” as a winking nod to the old serials, not a film franchise underway, Kurtz said.
    Except, it didn't. The "Episode IV" subtitle didn't appear until the film's re-release around the time The Empire Strikes Back came out–at which time, Lucas was already openly stating in Time magazine that nine films were planned.

  32. marcj says:

    It's sad to see the vision of the first three ruined by the prequels. So much money spent on CGI, with so little thought given to pure storytelling. But in the end it was Lucas's baby, and if he wanted to ruin it, it was his to do to as he please. What can you do? It's his imaginary world, we're just along for the ride.

  33. Eric Tan says:

    Empire's still the best of the Star Wars movies, and the new Clone Wars animated series is absolute rubbish, in my opinion. The writing's atrocious, and the stories too. If the Jedi had the kind of military strategies depicted in the animated series, it's no wonder they lost to the Empire. I admire Mr Kurtz for what he has done, as the two Star Wars movies he worked are now true classics. For his vision, we fans are indebted to him. I'm a big fan, yet I do find all the toy-making opportunities a bit ridiculous. After all, expensive collector's figures of characters that only appear in the background for two seconds do exist, for no real purpose but to make money.

  34. James, Arlington VA says:

    Too bad he wasn't on Jedi…we would have had the greatest Trilogy of all time…and Jedi wouldn't have been a bunch of Muppets.

  35. Mason says:

    You people are insane. The gist of this article is "Star Wars is awesome. BUT, it could have been more awesome of George Lucas wasn't a jerk." That's absolutely moronic. Star Wars IS awesome, so who are you to complain that it wasn't MORE awesome while looking through your 20/20 rose-colored hindsight?
    As for the toy aspect, Star Wars toys were ALSO awesome, and I'm happy George protected them with a feel-good story. Frankly, the ending Kurtz had in mind sounds terrible.
    As for the prequels, has anyone watched them since they were in theatres? They're not that bad. You were just THAT pissed about Jar Jar Binks.

  36. Melanie says:

    I’ve always thought that Lucas was a ‘vessel’ through which something magical was transmitted. Like Mozart was reportedly a pretty crude man who made glorious music-so did Lucas have the cosmic luck to have something much larger, and better than himself come through him with Star Wars.
    Unlike Mozart, however, Lucas stopped channeling SW and started infecting it with his own smaller, and more juvenile, taste.
    It is very telling that the quality and mythology of the original idea decreased in direct proportion to Lucas’s personal success and wealth. I recall a quote from way back that said he believed “…the special effects are not the story, the story is the story.” The prequel films prove that he no longer believes that. If he ever did. Poverty and lack of power-on his part- may have been what saved SW in the beginning. He NEEDED people, he needed to cooperate and compromise. The more Lucas got into the films the less SW ‘feel’ we got.
    The Luke scenes were all that I value in ROTJ. I saw it cold in 1983, having avoided the other films as ‘trekkie type sci-fi’, which I loathed. I saw ROTJ as what it was- a great plot embedded in a commercial – and I ignored the Ewoks and everything else just as I would a commercial in a good TV program. It was very like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’, getting his decoder ring only to find out the ‘secret message’ was an Ovaltine commercial. That’s what SW is to Lucas now- a lure for his real business, a commercial for toys and marketing.
    Ironically, having forgotten that the MOVIE and story is supposed to drive the marketing, not the other way around,has left LFL licensees unwanted junk from EP1-3 . His moneymakers were, and still are, the ORIGINAL trilogy collectibles.
    But then, Lucas doesn’t want his original fans anymore- we ask too many questions and have too many expectations…like logical continuity. He just wants our credit card numbers.
    Lucas can’t change what SW means to me. It’s not just his anymore. He’s like a graffitti punk, defacing a beautiful monument. And the ‘its his’ bs doesn’t fly either. What ‘artist’ could deface his work after he has sold it to the public?
    Lucas started out wanting to make a modern myth with SW. He did. Now he want’s to reduce it to ‘kiddie fluff’. Sorry George, a myth becomes part of the culture and becomes important to people.
    That’s what the original SW is to the world and you, with all your money and power and CGI and mega-marketing machine can’t change that.
    How very sad that, in the end, the storyteller decided to pimp his own ‘child’.

  37. Mike says:

    Eh, George was and is allowed to do whatever he wants with Star Wars. It's his picture and his story. Sure the new films don't stand up as well as the old ones because the old ones were something brand new and couldn't be campy or stupid if they wanted to succeed in the 70's/80's. I still think episode 4 is a boring movie and that their greatness didn't emerge until episode 5 + 6. Episode 3 was great though I would put episode 2 on the same level as episode 4. Return of the Jedi is still my favorite of the bunch. This guy sounds a little bitter to me, he should be proud of the work he did and not bash the new ones because they're different. Star Wars remains one of the most imaginative works of fiction that has spawned countless great books, video games and movies. I can't see the justice in being forced to stop after 6 just because it was the right thing to do. Ultimately if you don't like the new movies, you can ignore them.

  38. Star Wars dad says:

    I love Empire and think it was the best of the series, but reading Kurtz's comments today I'm glad left. His vision of the Return of the Jedi sounds horrible. I credit Lucas for making entertaining films that can be enjoyed by kids and adults. Ask anyone under 10 and their favorite Star Wars films are Attack of the Clones, Return of the Jedi, or the Clone Wars TV series. Some older fans may consider these projects sacrilege, but there is nothing wrong with appealing to a younger audience.
    I was 10 when the first Star Wars trilogy began. I didn't enjoy the second trilogy as much, but in part it was because I wasn't 10 any more.

  39. Luis J. Villanueva says:

    This is very important to be said. It was kinda weird hearing Lucas saying, more like complaining, that he could not do the original movies as he wanted. He is lucky he didn't get his way! Otherwise, history may have forgotten them by now and he would not be as filthy rich as he is right now. (How much money do you need?!)
    On the Han Solo death, it would have been epic! A rough mercenary, living for himself, not afraid to kill (Greedo did not shot first!), who turned his life around for the greater good that was the Alliance and then die for it… It is really sad this never happened.
    And if you think killing main characters is a bad idea, read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, no one is safe from death and it works as a story.

  40. Edward says:

    I'm 41 and I remember walking out of the theater after Return of the Jedi trying to convince myself it was great. Because I was a fan of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back I watched it many times on home video when it was released and I remember coming to a sad realization and saying to my brother, "man this isn't that good." Perspective was everything. I have seen it a couple times since then and I really can't stand that movie. I always laugh at people who were disappointed by the prequels because due to Jedi the writing was on the wall that they would not be very good either. There were so many letdowns in RotJ: 1) Ewoks 2) Bobba Fett – hey turns out that supposed badass was just clumsy and stumbled 3) Death Star 2: Electric Bugaloo 4) Lame direction – the whole thing seemed so flat. 5) Bad acting – well let’s face it, the acting was never that great to begin with but I remember everyone seemed to have a “let’s just get this thing over with” aura about their performances 5) Did I mention Ewoks?

  41. Edward says:

    Oh one more thing: 6) the freaking Muppets!!! How could I forget?!?! After creating puppetry that was so amazing in the form of Yoda we got these ridiculous looking fake Muppety-type characters that really jarred me out of the "believability" of the universe.
    All that said though, I'm glad Han didn't die in Jedi. :)

  42. Melanie says:

    If anyone doubts the arrogance and dismissive attitude of Lucas toward the 'fans' that made him, and the fans who continue to be his surefire bank in the collectibles market- witness the recent pic of GL wearing a 'Han Shot First' t-shirt.
    Now THAT is irony! HE is the man who changed the scene, making it more 'pc' and 'fair'! HE retroactively wants to insert current politics into the GFFA- and the whole genius of the first film was that it was black-and-white, good beats evil, in a grey, 70's world.
    The whole point of SW was ANTI-CYNICISM.
    Now a cynical Lucas wants to repaint it with his grey brush.
    Well- as fans( and I was an adult when I saw ROTJ first) he can't do it. He can't get into our heads and hearts and change what SW has meant to so many . It's ours- its personal. He owns the legal rights, the technology that allows him to change HIS version ad-infinitum. He can surgically alter and botox it till its unrecognizable in the 'latest' version. But the myth has a separate life of its own now-and he'll NEVER be able to make it all, only, his again.
    He sold it to the world. It's ours now.
    I can ignore his mutilated versions on film just as I ignore the hackwork novels he authorized.

  43. Scott Pandich says:

    There's been a lot of pretentious mythology built up about the Star Wars franchise, in particular, this notion that Lucas had it all thought out from the beginning, and this is just another proof that that's a load of bull. The first proof I had was the novelization of Star Wars, written by Lucas, from 1977, where certain characters are definitely not what they would later be.

  44. john h says:

    "It may be Lucas' empire, but the fans paid for it." Excellent quote from a disheartened Original Trilogy fan on another website board.
    I don't know anyone of my age (early 40's) who grew up on the original three films that liked ANYTHING about the prequels. They were bad films in every way. Sure, they LOOKED cool. But so what?
    I think Han's death in "Jedi" would have been acceptable had it been handled well. If he sacrificed himself to save his friends, for example. It has been done in countless movies before, and done well. Heck, think of Gene Hackman's character in "The Poseidon Adventure", not that I'm saying TPA and ROTJ are that similar.
    Kurtz is right — George sacrificed his artistic integrity on the altar of commerce. Lucas is just a man and is fallible as anyone else. He created some movie magic up until 1980 (or 1981, if you count his involvement in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). But then the well dried up. He started coasting and churning out movies as product instead of telling a good story.
    Worst of all, though, was his blatant disregard and lack of respect for the fans of the original trilogy. There is absolutely NOTHING special about the "Special Editions". Some of the effects may have been made tidier, but they didn't improve the movies one bit. In fact, I think they detracted from the movies. The new effects were superfluous and called attention to themselves, EXACTLY what special effects are NOT supposed to do.

  45. Bradd says:

    I honestly believe that Lucas needs to redeem this franchise for it's fans. A new truly original one to two film continuation of Return of the Jedi that will blow everyone's minds. Luke's fall to the dark side and Leia's struggle to get him back. It could be the ending to the Star Wars franchise that everyone has always hoped for. It would be wonderful.

  46. JohnH says:

    The original, 1977 release of Star Wars was never referred to as "Episode IV" — that part, along with the title "A New Hope" was added later when it was re-released the summer before ROTJ… so there was no "winking nod" to serials, at least not in the original release.

  47. Orme says:

    I'm surprised he didn't mention the rift in Jedi over weather or not the Ewoks should have been Wookies as originally intended. All of this is kind of not surprising and in some ways known. The Han Solo death part especially. Yeah Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, Irvin Kershner, Leigh Brackett, and Alan Ladd Jr were a lot of the reasons why the Original trilogy and specifically Empire are so good. Its sad to see the Emperor has no clothes, but then I think many of us have known that clearly since the Special Edition Release. Well at least GL has promised to give half his fortune away thanks to Bill Gates, at least some good will come out it.
    If you interested in knowing more about the secret parents of Star Wars check this out.
    http://dedulysses.wordpress.com/2006/07/15/galact

    • reviewreviewer1 says:

      Uh why Alan, he was justthe head of Fox who made a deal to fund Lucas, but he wan`t invoolvedd in production at all, in fact he made the deal with Lucas that he would have complete creative dcomntrol andd owe the films thereby ensuring his full control. Also even back then Lucas was a control freak, who never allowed input from others so Gary Kurtz would have been fired or told toshut up. So IV was truely hisf film, he controlled Kurtz, and Alan wasn`t involved. Kasdan and Bracket onnly co-wrote half the screnplay together and ost of their atributions wetr smalland based on Lucas story and under his supervision. Kirshner was only co-director and under strong control of Luca also, again Lucas owned the film, and held a stronng grip and acted as a controlfreak.

  48. ynot4tony2 says:

    I think Kurtz messed up his history just a little.
    The (original) theatrical release of Star Wars did not have "Episode IV" or "A New Hope" anywhere in it. This was added to the movie later.

  49. I am glad I found this..it really sums up a lot of the feelings I had about this wonderful story !!

  50. Mike Wilson says:

    Those of us who've paid attention over the years know that there was no "grand design" for the saga… it's mythology that Lucas created. We all do that in our lives. We all create stories around what happens that are more compelling than the boring reality. We've watched the DVD extras and we knew that the original plotline of Jedi involve Han's death. We knew that the prequels were created from whole cloth (and most of us agree and accept that they were created with video games and action figures in mind).
    Near the end of the "Empire of Dreams" doc, George reveals something that we've all come to accept, and that I think we're mostly saddened by – in the same way that you'd be saddened by ultimate knowledge of the drug addict who finally says "hey, I'm a drug addict and I've screwed my life up, but I've had a great time, and I'm not changing anything" – that he has become the very thing he tried to rail against in the first flick. He's become the Emperor, who's driven by politics and ambition, rather than the hero who weighs the morality and makes the right choices. He gave us a derivative of what he thought we wanted, rather than following the beauty and honesty of his heart. We all know it. We mostly accept it. And we still buy the toys for our children.
    Michael Wilson
    Writer/Producer/Director, "Michael Moore Hates America"

  51. Peter C. Krieger says:

    Great to hear 'what might have been….'
    The Ewoks were annoying, despite having hit their target market.
    If I remember correctly, at one point, Lucas wanted to have a battle on the Wookies' home planet of Kashyyk (or however your spell it).
    If someone in the marketing department had said "Hey, instead of these little teddy bear creatures, lets just use Wookies," and then Lucas listened to him, you'd have had a much better ROTJ, and the toys would have sold in equal or greater volume.
    All in all, I loved the original (IV thru VI) despite being a little underwhelmed by ROTJ and I found the new series (I thru III) entertaining but certainly lacking the impact of the ANH and ESB. I even found Jar Jar tolerable, and did not mind Han not shooting 1st.

  52. Curtis G. says:

    Thank you for a fascinating article. The timing is great, because I just discovered the fan edit "Star Wars Revisited." It's amazing. It's everything the special editions should have been. I hope Lucas is taking notes.

  53. Jim O'Kane says:

    I'm trying to understand how this got past a basic editorial fact-check :
    =========
    “Star Wars” opened with a title sequence that announced it as “Episode IV” as a winking nod to the old serials, not a film franchise underway, Kurtz said.
    =========
    As others have noted, the "episode" numbering was retrofitted onto the first Star Wars movie after Emprie Strikes back was released.

  54. Curtis G. says:

    @Scott Pandich The Star Wars novelization was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster.

  55. Michael says:

    Not to be a killjoy but you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through the gaps of self-serving revisionist history in this article. In production, Empire Strikes Back was constantly behind schedule and way over budget. It was a very stressful time for Lucas who blamed Kurtz. Also, at the time of release, the much darker Empire did not play nearly as well with audiences than the original and earned about 40% less at the box office.
    In 1980, Kurtz walked away with $50M — about $141 million in today's money. Ignoring the old Hollywood producers' maxim to only gamble with other people's money, he promptly sank every dime he had into two "dark" projects — Dark Crystal and Return to Oz. Both tanked and Kurtz has spent the past 24 years essentially broke and in the wilderness as a producer.
    There may be lessons to be learned from the evolution of Star Wars but the cautionary tale is with Kurtz.

    • Jorge says:

      Lets say one were to put all the star wars movies in a pile and throw in dark crystal and return to oz. In 10 more years which movies are still watchable? I submit the ones that Kurtz worked on will all hold up much better than the ones he didn't work on. I'd love to watch Dark Crystal right now… Episode 1 -2 -3? no thank you.

  56. Look See says:

    " He's become the Emperor, who's driven by politics and ambition, rather than the hero who weighs the morality and makes the right choices. He gave us a derivative of what he thought we wanted, rather than following the beauty and honesty of his heart…
    Michael Wilson
    Writer/Producer/Director, "Michael Moore Hates America"
    ^ Bwahahahahaha !

  57. seedoubleyou says:

    (Short preface: I'm one of those crazy people who likes ALL of the SW movies.)
    I'm not sure why Kurtz is so unhappy with how Star Wars developed. After all of his years in the movie industry he must realize that films go through a strange, circuitous, often nonsensical path to be made. The fact that any of them ever get completed seems like a miracle. So, the ending of ROTJ was influenced by toy sales? At least that's a response to the fans of the films. And it's infinitely better than by some studio exec who doesn't know anything about the story but still demands a fight with giant mechanical spider at the end.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superman_(film_serie
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Wild_West

  58. Sam Sharp says:

    Star Wars,
    What Sat. morning childlish crap. Most people would call it science fantasy (it should never be mentioned as science fiction). I would say that it it is even lower than science fantasy by a lot. It is pathetic and the fact that it has made millions shows how retarded the human race really is. No wonder religion (the ultimate fairy tale) is so big in our warped twilight zone world where sports figures and rock stars make millions and true science researches make a tiny fraction of that.

  59. Jelperman says:

    I call BS on this part:
    “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.”
    Here's what Howard Kazanjian (who produced Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi) said on the subject of Han Solo:
    "When George signed the three actors for Star Wars, Mark and Carrie signed for three pictures. Harrison would only sign for two. I do not believe he knew what would be happening in Jedi at the time. I'm not sure George even knew what the Han Solo character would be doing that far down the line. I've been told since Harrison didn't sign, that is why he was placed in carbon freezing. After working with Harrison on Raiders, I asked George why we don't bring him back for Jedi. He said Harrison just wouldn't do it. "What if he said yes", I asked. George replied, "Ask him. If he says yes, we will un-freeze him."
    Funny how Kurtz claims he had Han Solo's role all planned out, but Harrison Ford didn't agree to appear in a third movie until after they had filmed Raiders of the Lost Ark, which would have been mid-1980 when Kurtz was no longer involved with the series.

  60. Frank says:

    Sorry to fans, but Star Wars was always a toy story to my generation. In 1972 it was the movie my friends' little brothers went to see while us Big Guys were still trying to make sense out of 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (some of us still are…)
    Up until then, in my opinion, Sci-Fi was still defined by books and our own imaginations to enrich them. But looking back, at that moment, 1972, Star Wars seems to mark a turning point towards defining the genre by film – for better or worse.

  61. slkmcnvb says:

    Lucas strangled his baby for $$$. I guess everyone has his price.

  62. AlmostJoinedTheDarkS says:

    I echo the comments of several readers who said "This broke my heart". The veracity of the exact details aren't that key; it's the trajectory of a pop culture phenomenon that is so crushing.
    I shouldn't post this but what the hell: I interviewed recently for a very high-level position at Lucasfilm. Based on what I learned, touring the San Francisco offices, and talking with executives there, it's clear that the Lucas empire is a licensing engine, not a creative company. It's a mint, printing money daily off of the legal control of its IP. The power center of the company is the licensing group and *everything* revolves around sustaining that center.
    The company's president is a health-industry finance executive. There are actually very few "creatives", to use industry parlance, employed there. Everyone is fat and happy there.
    The irony is that Lucas had a legitimate suspicion of Hollywood power and accounting practices and thus built his business to defend himself against that (including the ground-breaking toy licensing percentage deal structure), but over time, his company has become less innovative, less creative, and more controlling than Hollywood.
    Or, to employ a diegetic analogy: Anakin started out so full of promise and wonder ("Yippee!") and untapped power, but in fighting the power-hungry and controlling bad guys, he ended up greedy, myopic, and cynical himself.

  63. Ken R says:

    May the Force of Consumerism be with you.

  64. Sal Magana says:

    Dear Mr. Lucas. I hear Crapisodes I II & III thru Episodes IV V & VI are being released on Blu-Ray. I'll strongly consider buying it if you please remove that god awful dance scene in Jabba's palace. I mean what was that, Solid Gold in space!? And please delete that stupid plant creature coming out of that monster pit from the desert of Tatooine because it's not supposed to be a plant creature its supposed to be how you originally intended, just a plain desert pit monster with ugly teeth and gums with some nasty tentacles coming from it. Otherwise all the "new" special effects came out cool especially the city in the clouds scenes.

  65. Carma Dillon says:

    Great article! Thank you! I love all of the STAR WARS movies, definitely the first two are the best. It was really with EMPIRE STRIKES BACK that I became a Sci-Fi fan. I didn't really like STAR TREK (except for Spock) growing up, and I've never read a Sci-Fi novel, but that movie – EMPIRE – really chilled me to the bone and I've seen it many times, enjoyably. Perfection, really. I hope Mr. Kurtz takes a look at my screenplay and chooses to make SAARDU. It's mind-blowing, that someone that big actually has a copy of my script in his inbox, thanks to a friend of a friend who has a working relationship with him. I hope he has time to see what UCLA Screenwriting Chairman, Professor Richard Walter, has to say about SAARDU, his official letter of recommendation is at my web site. CHEERS to all the dream-chasers out there!

  66. Jeremy says:

    Great interview, thanks. It really shows what happens to a story when the storyteller leaves. Everything becomes derivative and dull, there's no spark to the characters.
    At least we have the star wars books. After reading those, seeing the struggles of Leia with the New Republic, fragments of the Empire and the rise of even greater threats. Even the reason for the Empire in the first place. Luke with his Jedi students and his failures and tragedies. His struggles in finding a place for the terribly few fragile Jedi in the New Republic. Such poignant moments, Chewie screaming his defiance at a Yuuzong Vong asteriod as he gives his life to save the Solo kids. And the aftermath as Han loses his way in trying to cope with the loss.
    Great character development over the decades of the rise and stumbles of the New Republic.
    Lucas may have just opened up SW to books to make a bit more money out of the franchise, but it's where the story can live on in the hands of great storytellers.
    I just wish we could do a star wars series from some of the books. We'd just need to tie up Lucas to get him out of the way or there'd be ewoks or JarJars everywhere ;)

  67. Jim says:

    I see a lot of people here holding Kurtz up to be a hero while bashing Lucas. Yet Kurtz's POV is only one side of the story.
    I really don't like Kurtz's ideas for ROTJ, as described in this article. Han killed off in the middle of the movie? The Rebel Alliance left in tatters? Leia "grappling" with her new duties? Luke walking off alone? The Ewoks were far from perfect, but I'd rather have them than what I read about here.
    For all those talking about how "dark" the original Star Wars was, it wasn't. Bad stuff happened in it, like Luke's aunt and uncle being killed, or Alderaan being destroyed. But the movie didn't focus on that stuff, and quickly resumed its fun and upbeat tone. Star Wars was a fun action adventure for adults and children alike.
    So Kurtz can say that he split off because Lucas was getting too much into "toys," but I think Lucas's ending for ROTJ stuck more to the spirit of the original movie.

  68. James Laurante says:

    I think it's a bit unfair to categorise ROTJ as being shallow. Sure the Ewok characters do give credence to Mr Kurtz' account, I would conjecture that there were many engaging elements within the story, the final confrontations notwithstanding. Maybe it's just because I grew up with the movies, but ROTJ was always my favourite.
    My personal feeling (as a professional musician now) is that it is the music score which really brings these movies to life. Without it, the movies would be of far lesser stature IMO. The music in ROTS is some of the best in the series (IMO) and although the dialogue is stilted and the plotting incongruous, I still quite enjoy the movie. The first two prequels I wouldn't even bother with.

  69. hansolo says:

    One mercanary ( Han Solo) that was meant to die didnt, and instead of self-sacrifice the real mercenary ( Lucas) built his empire?
    Must've been the moment that Lucas became Darth Lucas. His choice i suppose. I hear his wife got a nice chunk too.
    Oh Han…why didnt you just snuff it?

  70. Brent says:

    Why, you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders! Get over yourselves! Without George Lucas, there never would have been a "Star Wars" in the first place. It was his story to do with as he pleased.
    I thought there was still plenty to like in the prequels (particularly in "Revenge of the Sith"), despite the flaws that people have pointed out ad infinitum. Unfortunately, too many of the fans of the original trilogy "grew up" and became cynical snobs who obviously lost their childlike sense of wonder.
    As for the marketing side of the films, I, for one, received many, many hours of joy from the toys, books and video games. I can't imagine "Star Wars" without them.

  71. […] Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back [Updated] | Hero Complex – …. […]

  72. robert the bruce says:

    As anyone would… you are all monday morning quarterbacks detailing what u coulda shoulda woulda … done in making the ultimate STAR WARS movies. Kurtz. Nice guy. I liked him. He looks like an amish farmer. However. Whatever George Lucas decided to do with the movies is George Lucas’ business. Like them or hate them or become indifferent. They’re his. Kurtz came up with RETURN TO OZ with Fairuza Balk. Have you seen it? I have. The tin man rusts from his tears over that piece of celluloid effluviant material. Mr Kurtz is a sincere person but he is just a producer. Lucas got the films made. Again for better or worse. Get up off your own arses and make your own cinema history. Not for nothing but I get tired of reading the tear stained missives of cry baby losers who can’t produce anything of substance yet critique others. Shut up. Until you make something of significance you can shut your pieholes you twits.

  73. Anthony says:

    I was born in 1980 and it wasn't until maybe 1990 that I understood that there were 3 movies. I like all sci fi, but there's something markedly synthetic about starwars canon when compared to star trek or stargate. The biggest problem for me was always that jedi cannot fly, seriously, why wouldnt that be the first jedi trick, and the jedi duels.. sigh.. i really like star trek

  74. […] films because he felt that Lucas had shifted away from the epic tale he had begun and more towards the franchise as a product. And Jedi seemed to prove that out. It also had greater implications for the movie industry in […]

  75. […] Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story?I admit to being quite a Star Wars nerd, the Han shot first kind who pretends Episode I-III never happened and who actually sat through the entire Holiday special. If you are remotely like me, this article providing some insider information by Gary Kurtz will be quite an interesting read. […]

  76. lucas fan says:

    ROTJ had slave Leia at least…

  77. […] Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back [Updated] | Hero Complex – … (tags: movie review history biography sciencefiction) […]

  78. […] often think back to an article I read, Did ‘Star Wars’ become a toy story? Producer Gary Kurtz looks back [Updated] | Hero Comp… about the producer who parted ways with George Lucas after The Empire Strikes Back. He claimed […]

  79. wewa says:

    Maybe like how Facebook got Betty White to be on SNL and now other events, we can get Kurtz to make the 'star wars' he envisioned. Of course he can't use the franchise name, but we'll all know what he's doing and what we're about to experience!

    Just like Cameron and the Terminator series. It all went downhill after the first movie. :(
    Even I could come up with a screenplay for the 2nd and 3rd films better than what has transpired.

    Thanks for this interview/article.

    And I'm not even a SW fan. I have only seen 2 of the 6 films.

  80. […] ‘Star Wars’ producer: Toy profits took Lucas to dark side […]

  81. […] much a foregone conclusion. Not least of which the fact that, according to producer Gary Kurtz, the Star Wars saga wasn’t planned as one giant story: Lucas came up with a sprawling treatment that pulled from Flash Gordon, Arthurian legend, The […]

  82. […] and watch Return of the Jedi. All that stuff was there – it just wasn’t magnified. A recent interview with Gary Kurtz shows that by the time Jedi rolled around, Lucas was much more interested in toy sales than […]

  83. IG-88 says:

    To the people that are saying the planned ending is bleak, frankly you don't get it. They would still destroy the Death Star, but instead of partying like everything was instantly A-OK, they would ackowledge that there's still a LOT of work to do to fix the galaxy.

    Kurtz's vision for Jedi was amazing: no Death Star, Han dies, Leia's terrified of what lies ahead, Luke dedicates his life to the Force. Add in Ewoks instead of Wookiees, while you're at it. Oh, and if Spielberg got to direct THAT movie? It could have been better than Empire. What could have been, eh?

  84. […] Billy Wilder once explained a three-act story like this: in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and […]

  85. radii says:

    Again, I have to agree, with all who care enough to post, By the time your ready to roll out MM compatible with DW5, Adobe will be beta’ing DW6, and you’ll be holding up the release date for that version.

  86. Artemis says:

    Actually Han dying would have done a lot for the other characters. If done correctly, it could have strengthened Luke’s character arc considerably. He would have matured in Solo’s and our eyes from the naive farm boy of the first film to legitimate leader of the Rebellion. But it would have been hard to start the film with Han’s rescue from an already death-like state in carbonite and then really kill him off 60 minutes later. Han really should have died for real in Empire and then you lose the savior of the first act going into the third act. First Ben, then Han, who’s next? Everyone is mortal at that point. The heroes are desperate, wounded and really find out what they’re made of and what they’re fighting for in the third film.

  87. […] “Empire” producer: Toy sales turned Lucas to dark side […]

  88. H Berger says:

    I've never seen the second three (eps 1-3). After the Ewoks, I was completely turned off to the series. But I'm in the minority. Who cares? Me, maybe. But I'll never forget how completely enthralled I was by the first film (Star Wars, "A New Hope.")

  89. Sablicious says:

    Lucas' involvement MULTIPLIED BY his wealth are DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to the DECLINE of his two noteworty franchises, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

    Kurtz should be credited with the Star Wars legacy. Lucas, the toys and anything malappropriately saccharin an infantile associated with thus movies.

  90. […] out. Well, Gary Kurtz (who produced The Empire Strikes Back) says different. In an interview at the LA Times website he vehemently refutes the idea: For Kurtz, the popular notion that “Star Wars” was always […]

  91. L. Thompson says:

    Kurtz was let go because he couldn't handle the production duties on EMPIRE. He'd never been involved with a production like EMPIRE. Howard Kazanjian and Robert Watts took over, because Kurtz was in over his head. Empire was over budget and over schedule and also Kurtz wasn't very good at dealing with people – something which a producer HAS to be. People love to put this guy on a pedestal and worship him like some kind of messianic film god, but if Kurtz is such genius as people claim, why hasn't he been involved with something as influential and as great as Star Wars? You see, the key ingredient to the success of Star Wars is George Lucas. No Lucas – no Star Wars. Fact and end of story!

  92. […] firmly believe that his project, along with the criticisms of Red Letter Media, and the recent release of an interview with Star Wars and Empire producer Gary Kurtz, is the beginning of a reformation. A reformation by […]

  93. Jolnir says:

    Imagine what will happen to the Star Wars franchise in thirty years, when some enterprising Chinese director in the world's new political hegemon/economy, decides to "re-image" the classic trilogy… HOWLS OF LAUGHTER!!!

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  96. Thank you for the above article. Honestly, this is something I’ve seen done often and most of us

  97. I will be teaching an entrepreneurship class this fall at the HS level and will incorporate your post,

  98. jon says:

    lucas cannot write dialog,nor direct traffic………………….

  99. gil gonzalez says:

    1. I remember being a 7 year old boy and reading 'episode 4' during the crawl. That was in 77', not a year before ESB. I distinctly remember that. 2. I love Kurtz' vision for the ending of ROTJ. The teddy bear dance at the end is godawful. Having luke walk away, han solo sacrificed, wow, that would have been incredible. 3. Substituting wookies for ewoks might have done the trick. 4. The prequel's….oh, where to begin. 5. Having said that, thanks George for getting this whole thing started. Episodes 4 and 5 are classics!!

  100. […] Morning America’ and ‘Today,’” Gary Kurtz, the producer of “Star Wars,” told Hero Complex last year. “In the afternoon I did a radio call-in show in Washington and this guy, this caller, was […]

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  104. Empire-Fan says:

    In my eyes was Gary Kurtz one of the main reasons why the first two movies were so extremly good. After he left the project, Star Wars started to suck. Return of the Jedi had an interesting beginning (with Jabba the hutt), but failed after the whole Endor-story began. From that moment on, the original Star Wars was dead. Lucas made three other very bad Prequels.

  105. Sircole says:

    Did you not see Toy Story 3..? That s*** was dark!

  106. Flanger says:

    Gary Kurtz is not responsible for the awesomeness that is the Star Wars saga. We have Lucas to thank for that. Glad he left so he couldn't end the story on a pathetic down note. Ewoks FTW!

    • dg101 says:

      No, we have Kurtz to thank for telling Lucas "Kyber Crystal? No, that's retarded, we're not doing that." and reigning in Lucas's stupidity and giving us the best possible version of his ideas.

  107. Steve says:

    Ford confirms Lucas' focus on toy-sales as a reason for not killing Han Solo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpaR3KDt_no&fe

  108. DRush76 says:

    If Gary Kurtz kept his mouth shut for all of these years, why on earth did he decided to open it? I don't care about his views on the STAR WARS movies he didn't work on. What on earth made him and the L.A. TIMES think I do care? I have my own views on the six movies. I don't need anyone tell me how I should feel about them.

  109. i think Star Wars VII is gonna be cool i’m a han solo fan and hope he’ll be in the 7th film i also hope he doesn’t get killed i would cry it would be cool if han and leia’s wedding happened in the movie if it was animated then the characters would look the same and sound the same you really wouldn’t know the difference but then again there’s nothing like seeing the real thing! Go HAN SOLO!!!

  110. devindennis says:

    this is really nice blog thank uh so much for sharing this i really enjoyed to read this………

  111. Lucas made much money from this franchise but I would like to see it only real movie.. they are killing its myth with new versions.

  112. Kevin says:

    The only regret I have is not being able to see Revenge of the Jedi. It could have been such a cool movie if they did it the way they had planned it. Han dies in the middle and Luke rides off into the sunset.

  113. Jack Gordon says:

    I didn't see Episode 3 in theaters. I don't even watch movies any more. After years of reading, I realized how evil and messed up American movies are. Without Jesus, everything's about money in America.

  114. William Matteson says:

    You know, as a kid I loved Jedi, but as as I got older all the goofiness of it finally ruined it for me. There are no less than three burp gags in the first hour of the film, Chewie gives a Tarzan yell swinging from a vine(?!), lots of whacky ewok idiocy – there's just way too much juvenile humor that separates the film from the first two, unfortunately. Of course, years later we would learn that this is par for the course when Lucas is left to his own devices.
    Thank you, Mr. Kurtz, for helping to make A New Hope and Empire what they are. (Or were, until "special" editions. Uhg.)

  115. RorshachLives! says:

    Yes, it is a cat-and-mouse chase between Vader and the Millennium Falcon for most of 'Empire', but we found out exactly WHY later – Han and Leia were just bait to lure Luke into the trap – and I don't think it was killing time, it was character development. I used to think that way too, Ray, but 'Empire' is a more mature 'Star Wars' movie than it's predecessor or successor, and the results speak for themselves.

    The hard part of making 'Empire' is that it was the middle chapter of a three-chapter epic, thus it had no real beginning and no real conclusion, but rather deepened the characters and the overall tapestry of the story from the first part, whilst setting the stage for the conclusive third part, and personally speaking, it really is the 'Star Wars' movie that's like a fine wine, it's okay at first, but the older you get, the better and more satisfying it tastes… I would like it a whole lot more if Luca$ had left 'Star Wars' alone after finishing the Trilogy, not to mention if he would treat fans with respect and release the original theatrical versions in remastered and anamorphic DVD and Blu rays!

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