Gary Kurtz was George Lucas' partner in making the first two Star Wars films, but they had a huge falling-out after Empire Strikes Back. Now, for the first time, he's explained what went wrong with Star Wars.
When Kurtz and Lucas split, Mark Hamill reportedly said it was like "Mom and Dad getting a divorce." The two men had crafted the Star Wars universe together, with Kurtz serving as producer and second-unit director. In an enlightening — but depressing — interview in the L.A. Times, Kurtz explains what he thinks went south after the second Star Wars movie. In particular, he felt like Lucas started putting the toys ahead of storytelling:
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 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.
Kurtz also explains how Return Of The Jedi would have ended originally, in the outline that Lucas and he had come up with before Lucas decided to change everything to make it more of an upbeat toy-selling vehicle. Luke and Leia would have rescued Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, but then Han would have died halfway through the film, during a raid on an Imperial base. (This is something that Harrison Ford has mentioned before as well.) The film would have ended with the rebel forces in tatters, Leia struggling with her new duties as queen, and Luke walking off into the sunset alone, like Clint Eastwood at the end of a spaghetti Western. It would have been a more nuanced, muted ending to the saga, instead of the Ewoks dancing in the forest like a "teddy-bear luau." (Apparently that genius phrase is the work of the L.A. Times' Geoff Boucher.)
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The whole interview with Kurtz is well worth reading, including his demolishing the myth that Star Wars was always intended to be a multi-film saga. He explains that he and Lucas originally wanted to do a Flash Gordon movie, but couldn't get the rights free and clear. So they decided to do an original Flash Gordon-esque movie, and Lucas cooked up this mythology based on Flash Gordon, Seven Samurai, Arthurian legend and other stuff. They'd planned to do just one Star Wars movie, then go work on Apocalypse Now with Francis Ford Coppola, followed by a dark comedy in the vein of M.A.S.H. But the studio clamored for more Star Wars films, and Lucas ended up spending all his time on the series. [L.A. Times, thanks Jason!]