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There’s nothing quite like a bit of conflict between former creative partners to make a film’s backstory more interesting. George Lucas and Gary Kurtz famously split many years ago after The Empire Strikes Back, when the direction of the Star Wars movies took a turn that Kurtz didn’t like.

Some stories have been told of the split, and of what Kurtz saw as flaws of the Star Wars series. But now, in honor (might use that word lightly) of this weekend’s Star Wars Celebration V, Kurtz has said quite a lot about what he thinks of the Star Wars saga.

Kurtz talked to the LA Times, and said of the split:

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.

Kurtz isn’t saying anything there that we didn’t already know for the most part, but there’s a lot to be said for having the former partner of George Lucas open up in this way.

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.

There’s quite a bit more in the LA Times piece. (Including Kurtz on the prequels: “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.”)

Kurtz shrugs off stories that the films were planned as a series from the start, saying that after he and Lucas couldn’t get the rights to Flash Gordon, Lucas assembled a host of influences to create Star Wars, and named it Episode IV to evoke ideas of movie serials.

And Kurtz talks about the early plans for the film that became Return of the Jedi, saying:

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.

His take is pessimistic, but not inaccurate. Imagining what might have been had Star Wars not become a merchandising cash cow is interesting, but also futile and depressing. There’s quite a lot more in the LA Times article, some of which is new info, and some of which isn’t, but is known stuff filtered through Kurtz’s own perspective.

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