The Gary Kurtz Chronicles: Origins of the Force
Ron Seifried | On 29, Sep 2014The mythology of George Lucas and Star Wars has been explored, analyzed, fantasized, regurgitated and dissected ad nauseam, that decades later, very few details are left unknown. Lucas himself is a walking contradiction that has become lost in his own legendary status. The prequels, fairly or unfairly, have tarnished his image as a contemporary J.R.R.Tolkien and instead revealed the fabled visionary as a corporate Emperor on a path toward the dark side. The Disney/Lucasfilm merger may rehabilitate his image, in part to his filmmaker disciples, but the road back to glory may be bumpy as an asteroid field. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor, includes some revealing interviews with Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, who left the saga prematurely due to disagreements with Lucas during pre-production on Return of the Jedi. The abundance of detailed insight from Kurtz will be explored in this first part of a multi-part series on the former producer’s revelations.
The Origins of the ForceKurtz talks about the Force and its evolution through the first drafts of Star Wars, thanks in part to his college textbooks on Comparative Religion. “At one time, the energy [of the Force] was all tied up in crystals, in the “Kaibur Crystal,” says Kurtz.”That was the source of the Force. But we had no time to deal with exposition about esoteric religion. What we were looking for was a simple handle on something that could be explained really quickly.” The broad, simple explanation of that “ancient religion” was matched with “frightening sorcerers ways,” in part because a detailed explanation would leave less to the imagination and potentially slow the story to the crawl of a theological lecture.
“We wanted something like that with a religion that nobody’s ever heard of. So the idea of the Force is this energy thing. The fact that Ben Kenobi could say in one sentence pretty much what it was all about, and then we move on….That’s how it got boiled down to practically nothing — and it worked much better that way, much better.” By introducing the scientific aspect of microscopic, sentient beings called the midichlorians in the prequels, Lucas condescended to his audience, feeding into the narrative that every little detail must come with a detailed explanation. This approach jumbled the original Force concept into a garbled mess that purposely had a broad, theological definition in the original trilogy. Kurtz continues: “You know, when you’re out in the real world, religion is identified by handles. You’re either a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or a Buddhist or Hindu. As soon as you say one of those words, you know what’s behind that, even if you haven’t studied any of those religions. You know kind of what that person might be like.” The theory that the Force was originally a floating metaphysical virus that only a few, lucky individual’s can be infected was never part of the original story discussions, according to Kurtz. The Force was a religion. A religion without a male spiritual leader, but a belief system created at the dusk of the 1960’s free love movement plugged into a space fantasy. Without the collaboration of Kurtz and later Lawrence Kasdan, Lucas had free reign over his church and meticulously dissected the frames of the holy celluloid reels to fit in with his new found “faith” of perpetual revisionism. Lucas himself has said his main inspiration for The Force was the Canadian short, abstract collage film 21-87 by Arthur Lipsett (2187 was Princess Leia’s cell block number on the Death Star). In one of the audio samples from the film, artificial intelligence pioneer Warren S. McCulloch and cinematographer/IMAX developer Roman Kroitor discuss the basis of living beings as complex machinery. Kroiter explains, “Many people feel that in the contemplation of nature and in communication with other living things, they become aware of some kind of force, or something, behind this apparent mask which we see in front of us, and they call it God.” Lucas used this quote and other similar phrases used over thousands of years as inspiration for the Force. Sometime later, after commercialism corrupted the once idealistic filmmaker, Lucas lost his way. Episode’s I-III became more of personal reboot than actual prequels because Lucas became the sole dictator of his universe by the late 90’s. Kurtz recently stated, “We did have long discussions about various religious philosophies, and how people related to them, and how we could simplify it. “May the Force be with you” came out of medieval Christianity, where “may God go with you” was a symbol that you would be safe. We wanted something as simple as that, an everyday expression that linked to the power of the Force that wasn’t overbearing.” One of the most iconic lines in film history was an allegory for Christianity. Somewhere along the way, Lucas’s misplaced faith and the gift of fictional storytelling became transformed into a school textbook editor.