It is a common theme of this series. Some amazing Geek property is developed, and the main creative driver gets the lionshare of credit; while others involved blend into the background. It’s not unfair, really. George Lucas, for all his modern sins, was the visionary who brought us the Star Wars universe. He does deserve to be credited with that amazing achievement. But it is not like the movies got to the bigscreen and DVD (not digitial…) with only Lucas at the helm. Others were involved. Others helped not only in the production/business side, but they also made key creative choices. I think it is fair to say Star Wars would not the same without our Background Geek of the Week. Who is this geek who has done so much in the shadows?Our geek this week is Gary Kurtz! Kurtz is a longtime producing partner of George Lucas; dating back to their time on Lucas’s first critical and commercial hit, American Graffiti. He stayed with Lucas through the amazing Empire Strikes Back, but bailed before RotJ.
He was definitely be gone before the dreadful Prequels. Many feel that Kurtz’s departure was the end of any real checks and balances on Lucas’s shortcomings as a creator.
Kurtz has claimed that he and George Lucas clashed over how to progress the Star Wars series. Kurtz recalled that after Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Lucas became convinced that audiences no longer cared about the story and were simply there for thrills and entertainment, and began to deviate from the originally planned plotlines for Return of the Jedi, at which point Kurtz quit the series. Kurtz has also claimed that Lucas changed the emphasis from storytelling to prioritizing toy merchandising. Kurtz has expressed his dissatisfaction with Return of the Jedi and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Kurtz was particularly displeased with Lucas’ decisions in Return of the Jedi to resurrect the Death Star and to change the plot outline from one that ended on a “bittersweet and poignant” note to one having a “euphoric ending where everyone was happy”.
It seems without Kurtz pushing Lucas to stay grounded, Lucas strayed into the territory that we criticize him for to this very day. Of course, most of this is from Kurtz’s perspective. Lucas typically doesn’t answer to his critics. In fact, I’m guessing Lucas used CGI to remove Kurtz from any photos in George Lucas Scrapbook: Special Edition. We do not know this for a fact, but we believe the CGI would look something like this.
After Lucas, Kurtz would go on to produce other genre properties, such as: Dark Crystal, Little Nemo, and Return to Oz.
For more on Gary Kurtz, check out his Wikipedia page.