Gary Kurtz passed away last night at the age of 78, from cancer, in Northern London, U.K.
Kurtz was important to every person reading this, right now. Certainly, as STAR WARS was important to the Knowles family, so was Gary Kurtz's contribution important to Ain't It Cool News. Those fandoms of the late seventies and eighties are the fuel which started this site going. I don't believe this place would be the same if THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK had been as reckless a commercial outing as, say, the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL had been.
Kurtz was the real deal. A Vietnam vet (Marines) and a Quaker. A kind, guiding force who insisted on getting it right. From a wing, he could look across a set, or a cast, or a crew, and determine what was out of place and get it fixed. George Lucas was the father of the Force, but Kurtz was its chief Shaman.
He was important to STAR WARS-- and not just A NEW HOPE. If Lucas was the complex architect, he was the building foreman, making sure things worked. He pushed the soul, and the morality, of the narrative. If he hadn't been around for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, we might not be awaiting the 9th film. The fanbase would be very different. The story mattered to him. He went to bat for Kasdan and he went to bat for you, me, and everyone who loved A NEW HOPE dearly and waited for more. And in doing so, he ruined his relationship with George Lucas.
In this dry BBC interview, Kurtz answers the question, "Is the morality in Star Wars clearly defined", so patiently and evenly. That's maybe a question an adult not paying close attention to the STAR WARS films might have missed, but something every child already understood. Kurtz patience with the question and his redirect of the erroneous follow-up show the kind of class Kurtz lived by.
Gary Kurtz in 1980, discussing the importance of morality in Star Wars. pic.twitter.com/CfYIuBCW5e— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) September 24, 2018
Kurtz was a great producer: calm, assured of himself, and very focused on the path ahead of him. His decision to leave the franchise at RETURN OF THE JEDI could not have been an easy one.
His explanation to Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times on the split with George Lucas will sound sage and familiar to those who have heard Kevin Smith's account of working with Jon Peters on the SUPERMAN LIVES! film:
"I could see where things were headed. The toy business began to drive the 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."
Twitter is echoing with praises for Kurtz tonight.
RIP Gary Kurtz. A great filmmaker and man has just passed. Without him there would have been no "force". You will be remembered in the incredible films you made that touched the lives of millions. #ESB #starwars #americangraffiti @starwars pic.twitter.com/0D9RyP3DJH— Peter Mayhew (@TheWookieeRoars) September 24, 2018
RIP Gary Kurtz: 1940-2018 pic.twitter.com/OoLvBHBXvL— Ralph McQuarrie (@RMcQArchives) September 24, 2018
I've lost a lifelong friend. The world has lost a kind, wise, multi-talented artist & filmmaker whose contributions to cinema cannot be overstated. It was an honor to have worked with him & I know I am better man just for having known him.#RIPGaryKurtz pic.twitter.com/1tNRAgCGbq— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) September 24, 2018
On behalf of Ain't It Cool News, our staff and our Talkbackers, rest in peace, Gary. The Force Will Be With You... Always.
-- Precious Roy