It’s become de rigueur to say that George Lucas sullied his Star Wars legacy through garish CGI revisions and lackluster prequels, but if this L.A. Times interview with producer Gary Kurtz is to be believed, Lucas gave into the dark side of marketing-driven decisions a long, long time ago.
According to Kurtz, after helping to create the first two Star Wars films, he became disillusioned with Lucas just before Return Of The Jedi, when he noticed that Lucas’ priorities had shifted away from story and character toward selling some toys. Eventually the two decided they couldn’t work with each other anymore, especially after finding themselves unable to come to an agreement over what form Jedi should take—particularly given Lucas’ idea of framing it around a second Death Star, which Kurtz felt was “too derivative.”
Things apparently came to a head over the ending, which Lucas completely rewrote—all because, as Kurtz avers, it might have affected the merchandising—and which he outlines here to give you a glimpse of what might have been, had Lucas not been guided by the all-powerful Force known as Kenner:
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it," Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy. The original idea was that they would recover [the kidnapped] 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.”
The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.
Kurtz said that ending would have been a more emotionally nuanced finale to an epic adventure than the forest celebration of the Ewoks that essentially ended the trilogy with a teddy bear luau.
Luckily, Lucas later turned his little teddy bear luau into an interplanetary rave and invited Hayden Christensen, so all’s well that ends well.