Gary Kurtz, the legendary producer of Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), died on Sunday, September 23. He was 78. A key figure in the history of Star Wars and Lucasfilm, Kurtz’s gifts for storytelling can be felt in all his work.
Kurtz first worked with George Lucas as a producer on the coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti (1973), which became a massive surprise hit. It would receive several Academy Award nominations, including one for Kurtz and co-producer Francis Ford Coppola for Best Picture.
Following the success of American Graffiti, Kurtz joined Lucas as a producer on his next film: Star Wars. With a budget of $11 million, Star Wars went on to become the highest grossing film ever at the time of its release, garnering 10 Academy Award nominations — including one for Kurtz for Best Picture — and winning six. He returned to produce the sequel to Star Wars — The Empire Strikes Back, a decidedly bigger and more challenging film than its predecessor. Today, both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are widely regarded as among the best motion pictures of all time.
After Star Wars, Kurtz produced The Dark Crystal (1982) and Return to Oz (1985), films that have become cult classics.
A man of immense talent and intelligence, Kurtz will be missed greatly by Lucasfilm, and we’ll remember his many contributions to Star Wars and film.