Gary Kurtz, a producer of the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, has died. He was 78.
In addition to his work on Star Wars, his other film credits include American Graffiti (1973), The Dark Crystal (1982) and Return to Oz (1985).
Kurtz died on Sunday after living with cancer for a year. His family released a statement following his death (via Fantha Tracks):
"With deep love and respect, the family of Gary Kurtz is sad to share that he has passed away. He died from cancer on September 23rdin North London, England.
Gary was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, friend, colleague, and mentor, whose work and talent spanned filmmaking, photography, music, and cinema history. He was a Marine, a world traveller, an outdoorsman, and a kind, compassionate human being.
His life's work was to share the wonder of audio-visual storytelling through the art of film. Well-known for his work as the producer of American Graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Crystal, Gary was passionate about telling stories that shared the humanity of characters in entertaining ways for audiences around the world.
Gary was a magnificent man, who will be hugely missed. His whole family thanks you for your loving thoughts."
Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, offered his own remembrance of Kurtz.
"RIP Gary Kurtz. A great filmmaker and man has just passed," Mayhew tweeted. "Without him there would have been no "force". You will be remembered in the incredible films you made that touched the lives of millions."
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
Kurtz enlisted in the US Marine Corps and served during the Vietnam War. He was also a student of religion. Both experiences influenced his filmmaking, including his contributions to Star Wars. Kurtz helped George Lucas develop the concept of the Force, one of the most iconic ideas in the Star Wars franchise, as alluded to by Mayhew and noted in the post made to Kurtz's Facebook page:
"Gary Kurtz studied religion extensively in his early years. In the early stages of development on Star Wars he suggested to Lucas that he might give the film a sufficiently universal religion to help to give it more depth. That led to Kurtz working on the Star Wars screenplay and developing The Force which would go on to influence generations of fans. Lucasfilm was born under their banner, and went on to make some of Hollywood's most successful films of all time."
Gary Kurtz left behind a family; Clare Gabriel, Tiffany Kurtz, Melissa Kurtz, and Dylan Kurtz.