BlogOn Movies & Media

Gary Kurtz: How Star Wars Lost Its Magic

What if there had been no second Death Star?

What if Han Solo had died heroically?

What if Luke had walked away like Caine in Kung Fu?

It’s strange to be reading these words 27 years after Return of the Jedi opened. But they ring true.

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “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.”

He added: “The first film and Empire were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.”

Previous post

Scott Pilgrim: Is it Twilight for guys?

Next post

Eat Pray Love: book, film, reaction

3 Comments

  1. August 13, 2010 at 6:05 am — Reply

    I remember reading a much more in depth interview with him back in 2002. He had a lot to say about Lucas’s dislike for directing (evident in the cast’s performance in Prequel trilogy) and some other interesting bits about how unhappy he was with “Empire.” Until now, though, I had trouble remembering the name of the interviewee.

    Great read, if it is frustrating and saddening!

  2. August 14, 2010 at 4:59 pm — Reply

    I’m…not sure. On the one hand, some of those proposed ideas might have made for a more dramatically complex story. A dead Han, a disillusioned Luke, a Leia forced to figure out how to govern in the wake of the destruction of an all-powerful dictatorship, and without either her lover or brother to help support her? Definitely heavy stuff.

    But what is there about the two previous movies that leads us into such bleak territory? Some of the appeal of “Star Wars” was that it was an old-fashioned “good guys save the day” yarn-spinning romp. Although “Empire” wove a much more nuanced tale, it really didn’t stray all that far from the classic Saturday-afternoon serial motifs. The characters remain either all evil or all good, in spite of the revelations about Luke’s parentage. “Jedi,” in fact, offers more actual nuance as Vader’s good instincts reawaken in the nick of time (But Ewoks still suck. No argument).

    I’m on board with the understanding that Lucas seems to be a *very* limited director most of the time (I really think he’s a hack who got lucky a couple of times, rather than a genius who made some missteps. Either way, though, he did a few good movies and a raft of stinkers). But I think he may have realized that two-thirds of his central trio would have been hopelessly out of their depth in a story as complex and nuanced as the one Kurtz describes, and that outline Kurtz mentions killed off the one who could have handled it. Hayden Christensen’s acting in the prequels deserves 98% of the derision it draws, but like “father, like “son” as well as “daughter:” Hamill and Fisher are just about as bad.

    Did Lucas sell his story out for a toy bonanza? Maybe. Kurtz was there and I wasn’t. But I’m not sure that every decision that went towards creating the “Return of the Jedi” we saw was a wrong one, no matter what the motivation. Nor am I sure that Lucas’s choices were as wide-open as the interview suggests. If he understood the root of “Star Wars” appeal and if he knew his cast simply couldn’t manage something with much more depth, then he may have had to create a movie pretty much like the one he did.

    The Ewoks, though, are all on him. And he has much to atone for there.

  3. Gaith
    August 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm — Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree with Brett. ROTJ could have been much, much more artistically accomplished, but I do like where it all ends up.

Leave a Reply

Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Novelist and critic Jeffrey Overstreet teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University) and film studies (Northwest University and Houston Baptist University). He's written a memoir of moviegoing and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a fantasy series that begins with Auralia's Colors (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He's worked since 2001 as a film critic and columnist at Christianity Today, and he's been a regular contributor to Image, Paste, and Christ & Pop Culture. His writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and The Seattle Times. He regularly speaks at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. Want to invite him to teach or speak? Email joverstreet@gmail.com.