Seems some things take 30 years go get out of your system, and the mystery as to why Gary Kurtz produced the first two Star Wars films (Episode 4&5 for you younglings who dont know what was “first” in the Star Wars films) and then dropped out completely for Return of the Jedi.
Well it seems he saw a sore spot that took years for others to see. Lucas was more interested in the merchandising of toys to take the risk of a dark bittersweet victory for his third chapter of the trilogy.
“The original idea was that they would recover Han Solo in the early part of the story and that he would then die in the middle part of the film in a raid on an Imperial base. … George then decided he didn’t want any of the principals killed. By that time there were really big toy sales and that was a reason.” Kurtz claims it was the toys that ultimately began dictating which direction Lucasfilm would go in, claiming that Lucas’ priorities changed heading into Return of the Jedi.”We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz told the Times. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy.”
Now its hardly news that Lucas’ empire is built on two things. Toys and toys.
Sure, the movies and tv shows bring in tons of cash, as well as his effects studio that is loaned out other productions like a stripper on cheap beer night. But the merchandising, and licensing is the bread and butter of his business.
He makes the shows and the movies to sell more toys. And he keeps tinkering with his franchise to sell more movies… but more on that later.
Now people call this a “sell out” and while technically true, he was never in the film making business to lose money, so its hardly derrogatory.
Back in the day when Return of the Jedi came out, the biggest selling toy for boys was Hot Wheels. George Lucas invented the “action figure” (essentially dolls for boys) and he continues to grow his money machine all the time.
So did he “sell out”. Yup. I would too. He is a smart businessman, inspired storyteller and terrible director. And I have nothing but respect for him.
I don’t think Star Wars would have been better or worse if they had gone with a gritty dark poignant ending.
It just would have been different. And likely less appealing to kids.