×

‘Star Wars’ Producer Gary Kurtz Dies at 78

Star Wars” producer Gary Kurtz died of cancer on Sunday, his family said in a statement. He was 78.

In addition to helping bring the Skywalker stories to the big screen, Kurtz produced “American Graffiti” and “The Dark Crystal.” His career was closely aligned with that of George Lucas, but the two parted ways after the troubled production of “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Kurtz had championed “Star Wars” through multiple drafts and helped Lucas navigate 20th Century Fox’s lack of enthusiasm for a movie they dismissed as a B-picture. After “Star Wars” stunned everyone by turning into a massive hit, Lucas and Kurtz sat about crafting a sequel. Lucas handed the reins over to director Irvin Kershner, but production went over schedule and Lucas was forced to dip into his own pocket to complete the movie. Kurtz stepped in to direct second-unit work on the film. When it came time to make “Return of the Jedi,” Kurtz was replaced by Howard Kazanjian as producer. Mark Hamill likened the split to “Mom and Dad getting a divorce.” It appeared to rankle Kurtz.

Mark Hamill was among those paying tribute to Kurtz,  writing, “I’ve lost a lifelong friend.”

Gary Kurtz George Lucas

In a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kurtz said the movies became too motivated by merchandising.

“The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire,” he said. “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.”

Kurtz got his start as an assistant director on Monte Hellman’s “Ride in the Whirlwind,” a low-budget 1966 Western that starred a then-unknown Jack Nicholson. During the decade, he served as a production manager and assistant director on a number of genre pictures, including “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” and “Beach Ball.” He also left Hollywood from 1966 to 1969 to serve in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

“Gary was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, and mentor, whose work and talent spanned filmmaking, photography, music, and cinema history,” his family’s statement reads. “He was a Marine, a world traveller, an outdoorsman, and a kind, compassionate human being. … Gary was a magnificent man, who will be hugely missed. His whole family thanks you for your loving thoughts.”

“Gary was a wonderful man whose deep love and knowledge of film, story and character led him to connect and collaborate with filmmakers on ideas, large and small, around the world,” said producer Julian Alcantara, a friend and business partner of Kurtz for more than 10 years.

RELATED CONTENT:

More Film

  • Disney Music Group Launches 'For Score'

    Disney Music Group Launches Composer Podcast Series

    Disney Music Group, in association with Treefort Media, will debut “For Scores,” a new podcast series featuring interviews with film and television composers from Disney, Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. Set to launch this week, the podcast is hosted by Variety contributor Jon Burlingame and “will give voice to award-winning visionary composers, exploring [...]

  • Johnny Flynn Stardust

    Johnny Flynn is David Bowie in First Look at 'Stardust'

    Salon Pictures has unveiled a first look image of Johnny Flynn as David Bowie in its upcoming feature “Stardust.” Rising star Flynn, who recently starred in Michael Pearce’s BAFTA-winning debut feature “Beast” and co-starred in the ITV and Amazon Studio’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair,” stars as the music icon as he embarks [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    Dan Stevens Joins Netflix Comedy 'Eurovision'

    “Legion” star Dan Stevens has joined the cast of Netflix feature “Eurovision,” alongside Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan. The British actor, who made his name in “Downton Abbey” and recently finished a three-year run on FX’s “X-Men” spin-off “Legion” from Noah Hawley, will play Alexander Lemtov, a Russian contestant taking part in the [...]

  • THE-SONG-OF-NAMES

    Tim Roth, Clive Owen-Starrer 'The Song Of Names' To Close San Sebastian

    Starring Clive Owen and Tim Roth, Canadian François Girard’s historical drama “The Song of Names” will close the 67th San Sebastian Festival on Sept. 28. World premiering at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival as a Gala Presentation, “The Song of Names” will play out of competition at what will be its international premiere. Hanway Films [...]

  • Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Doc

    Dogwoof Boards Venice-Bound Imelda Marcos Documentary ‘The Kingmaker’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Dogwoof has boarded Lauren Greenfield’s “The Kingmaker,” about Imelda Marcos, the former first lady of the Philippines. The hotly anticipated feature doc delves into the disturbing legacy of the Marcos regime and Imelda’s attempts to aid her son’s political career. It will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then screen at [...]

  • Yao Chen in “Send Me to

    Cheng Cheng Films Nabs North American Rights to China's 'Send Me to the Clouds'

    New York-based distributor Cheng Cheng Films has acquired North American rights to first-time Chinese director Teng Congcong’s comedy drama “Send Me to the Clouds,” starring and produced by A-list actress Yao Chen. The company is planning a theatrical release for fall 2019. “Cheng Cheng has always championed films with strong female leads,” the firm said [...]

  • A White White Day

    Film Movement Brings ‘A White, White Day’ to the U.S. (EXCLUSIVE)

    OSLO  —  New-York based distributor Film Movement has acquired U.S. rights to critically-lauded Icelandic drama “A White, White Day,” today’s opening film at New Nordic Films in Haugesund. In a separate deal, sales agent New Europe Film Sales has closed French-speaking Canada with Funfilm and English-speaking Canada with Game Theory. Hlynur Pálmason’s sophomore pic, “A [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content