Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz has died at the age of 78.
Kurtz, who had been diagnosed with cancer last year, worked with director George Lucas on his breakthrough film American Graffiti, followed by Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
He began his career in film in the 1960s, working as assistant director on the Jack Nicholson western Ride the Whirlwind.
Producer Gary Kurtz was a force behind “Star Wars,” “American Graffiti” and “The Dark Crystal,” and a friend to so many in our industry. He will be greatly missed. pic.twitter.com/RUwt2kzRYF
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) September 24, 2018
Kurtz worked on a number of other movies before joining the US Marine Corps in 1966 and serving in Vietnam.
After leaving the military, he began working as an associate producer for Universal Pictures.
In 1971, Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola introduced him to George Lucas and the two men would embark on a decade-long collaboration that would transform cinema.
After the success of American Graffiti, he agreed a deal with 20th Century Fox to make Star Wars for a budget of just $11 million.
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 Foundation (@TheWookieeRoars) September 24, 2018
The film endured a troubled production and Kurtz was required to direct a number of scenes to help get the movie finished.
He is also credited with encouraging Lucas to create a universal religion – The Force – for the movie.
Star Wars became one of the most successful films of all time and Kurtz then produced its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back.
But he turned down the offer to produce what would become Return of the Jedi as he felt it too similar to the previous films.
Kurtz then worked with Muppets mastermind Jim Henson on The Dark Crystal and went on to work on a number of other movies including Return to Oz and Slipstream.
Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew led tributes to Kurtz yesterday.
He posted on Twitter: “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.”
A statement issued by his family said: “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.”