Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz has died at 78. Kurtz died on Sunday after a battle with cancer. His family released a statement about his passing earlier today. Kurtz was integral to the production of the original Star Wars movies, and worked closely with George Lucas in the 1970s.
The statement said that “Gary was a beloved husband father, grandfather, friend, colleague, and mentor, whose work and talent spanned film-making, photography, music, and cinema history.” Kurtz began his movie career during the mid-1960s where he worked in various roles including assistant director on Ride in the Whirlwind and production manager on Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. He served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
Gary Kurtz helped produce Lucas’ earlier film American Graffiti, which released in 1973. That movie introduced longtime Lucas collaborator Harrison Ford to moviegoers everywhere. Their collaboration on American Graffiti solidified a partnership that would upend the movie industry just a few years later. Star Wars was ushered through pre-production by Kurtz, as he and Lucas fought with 20th Century Fox over the production. Ultimately Star Wars was released to massive commercial success, and became a dominant force at the Academy Awards in 1978.
Lucas and Kurtz would continue working together on The Empire Strikes Back which released in 1980. The sequel to Star Wars was mired by production problems, and ended the collaboration between the two filmmakers. Kurtz helped direct the film’s second unit because the film was over budget and out of time. He had moved to London during the production of The Empire Strikes Back and remained there until his passing.
After parting ways with Lucas, Kurtz produced the Jim Henson and Frank Oz directed film The Dark Crystal. The high-fantasy film released in 1982 and performed modestly at the box office. It was also Kurtz’s second time working with Henson and Oz, who performed the character Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. He would later produce Return to Oz and Slipstream to name a few.
Peter Mayhew, Mark Hamill, and others who had worked with Kurtz expressed sympathies and reminisced about their time working with the producer. Hamill called Kurtz “a lifelong friend” and said he was a better person because of Kurtz.