Look, it’s no secret that George Lucas has always been all about the money; the man is a marketing genius and he’s made billions of dollars from his films’ many different toys, collectibles, and various merchandising strategies. Many fans of his movies have even gone on to become foes, livid at the obvious evisceration of some of his properties in order to make a little (OK, a whole hell of a lot of) extra money.
If that weren’t all enough, what if I were to tell you that the entire Star Wars saga was outlined and mapped out with a storyline that ended much differently than you’ve always known it? And what if I added to that that the reason these paths were altered was for the sake of future merchandising and toy sales?
Deep breathes now. Take a seat and gather your senses for a few moments, then click on over to read the full details from the mouth of producer Gary Kurtz.
While in the neighborhood for Star Wars Celebration V, Kurtz had a great chat with the LA Times and didn’t hold back when it came to his thoughts on where the Star Wars franchise went.
The producer and second-unit director on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back first talked about how the duo were sitting around their office while working on American Graffiti when they started tossing around an idea for an old school sci-fi movie in the same vein as Flash Gordon. This was the moment of conception for one of…if not the greatest franchises of all time, but Kurtz admits they had “no idea what we were starting.”
But before it could all wrap up with Return of the Jedi, Kurtz saw something he didn’t like at all, forcing him to part ways with his longtime partner.
I could see where things were headed. 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. The first film and ‘Empire’ were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.
The emphasis on the toys, it’s like the cart driving the horse. 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.
They then went on to talk about how they were going to do Star Wars and then move on to Apocalypse Now with Francis Ford Coppola, but Fox wanted some sequels to their big new sci-fi franchise. So work on the sequels began, Coppola eventually decided to make his war epic by himself, and this is where things started to spiral out of control. See, the pair had a solid outline in place for the storyline, but by they time Empire had come and gone, toy sales were taking off and Lucas decided to change it all.
We had an outline and George changed everything in it. 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.
Kurtz then spoke about how much he hated their being a second Death Star; how it was just too similar to the first movie. And how his vision for the trilogy’s end would have seen the rebel forces defeated, Princess Leia trying to figure out how to handle her new responsibilities as queen, and Luke Skywalker walking off by himself, like “Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns.” Huge changes that would have made for interesting third chapter, and alas, the point where Lucas and Kurtz decided to part ways, which actor Mark Hamill then compared to “mom and dad getting a divorce.”
Though against the infamous prequel movies, Kurtz did see them, and his opinions of them very much mirror that of the majority of fans.
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. 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.’
Kurtz closed his chat with some advice he received from legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder about how to properly construct a story, and it’s good advice for anyone with interest in movies.
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. ‘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.
Once again, you can read the whole piece by heading over to LA Times.
What do you think of Kurtz’s vision for the Star Wars saga, and where Lucas decided to take it instead?