Gary Kurtz, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Producer, Dies at 78

Kurtz died on Sunday after battling cancer

Gary Kurtz, Hamburg, 2002 star wars
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gary Kurtz, a producer on “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” has died. He was 78.

According to a statement by The Kurtz/Joiner Archive, the producer died from cancer on Sunday in North London, England.

“Gary Kurtz, Star Wars producer passed away on Sunday the 23rd of September at 4.47 p.m. after living with Cancer for the last year,” read the statement. “We have him to thank for these wonderful memories that he made for us all. Gary Kurtz helped to create the force and it is with us always. Gary Kurtz left behind Clare Gabriel, Tiffany Kurtz, Melissa Kurtz, and Dylan Kurtz. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Actor Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in various “Star Wars” films, tweeted Monday: “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.”

In addition to his work on the “Star Wars” films, which also included “A New Hope,” Kurtz also produced George Lucas’ “American Graffiti,” “The Dark Crystal,” “Return to Oz” and “The Steal.” Most recently, he served as executive producer on 2016’s “Gangster Kittens.” Before his death, Kurtz had various projects in development, including “The Chimeran” and “Offbeat.”

Gurtz was born on July 27, 1940, in Los Angeles, California. In the mid 1960s, Kurtz was an assistant director on a Monte Hellman western, titled “Ride in the Whirlwind,” starring Jack Nicholson. Then, he served as a production manager on “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” with Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue. In 1966, he was production manager on “Queen of Blood” starring John Saxon and Dennis Hopper and then worked on another Monte Hellman western titled “The Shooting,” with Nicholson starring again. He also served as production manager, assistant director and editor on the Harry Dean Stanton film, “The Hostage.”

In 1966, Kurtz joined the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in Vietnam. After his military service, he became an associate producer on “Chandler” and “Two-Lane Blacktop” in 1971. According to the statement, he first met George Lucas in 1971 through Francis Ford Coppola, which led to their decade-long collaboration.

When Kurtz and Lucas set up the Star Wars Corporation, Kurtz became vice president of the corporation where he supervised the development of “Star Wars,” which became a “troublesome production,” according to the statement.

“Gary Kurtz was considered by many as a pioneer in the film industry and a master of the art of filmmaking,” read the statement. “He found any opportunity to share his expansive knowledge of the film industry with budding filmmakers and those seeking knowledge. He was a real humanitarian and a gentleman; some have said that he is one of the gentlest souls in the film profession, modest and humble, and a very unique man.”

Representatives for Lucasfilm have not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment. However, released a statement, writing, “A key figure in the history of ‘Star Wars’ and Lucasfilm, Kurtz’s gifts for storytelling can be felt in all his work … 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.”

See the statement below.