STAR WARS and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK Producer Gary Kurtz Speaks Bluntly about George Lucas, RETURN OF THE JEDI, and More

     August 13, 2010

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In a fascinating interview, Gary Kurtz, who produced Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, spoke bluntly on a variety Star Wars-related topics.  Kurtz talked about the original plot for Return of the Jedi and how selling toys twisted it into something else, his thoughts on the prequel, and what was his relationship with George Lucas was like before Star Wars changed everything.

Kurtz has so many great things to say, especially if you’re like me and love hearing about movies that never were or how they were originally set up to be.  Hit the jump for quotes that are a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Star Wars.

return_of_the_jedi_movie_poster_01What I found most interesting about the interview is what Kurtz had to say about Return of the Jedi [all quotes via Hero Complex]:

“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.

[Matt’s note: that sounds totally bad-ass]

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.”

As to his thoughts on the prequels:

“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.’”

And to what life was like pre-Star Wars:

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.”

“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.

“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. [Coppola] eventually got tired of waiting and did it on his own, of course.”

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