A Star Wars Legend Has Passed Away

By Nathan Kamal | 2 months ago

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One of the most influential figures in Hollywood history has passed away. Alan Ladd Jr, the legendary producer and studio executive who greenlit the very first Star Wars movie, has passed away at the age of 84. Although he might not be a household name in the way that George Lucas, Mel Gibson, or Ron Howard are, he was crucial to all of their careers. Studio executives generally get a bad rap when the history of great films (and filmmakers) are written, but Alan Ladd Jr. was responsible for the creation of much of what we think now as fundamental pop culture. And not just Star Wars, though it is astonishing to think that he lived to see one of the biggest science fiction franchises of all time come from being the pipe dream of a young, bearded USC graduate obsessed with cars, and him saying: “Okay.” 

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Alan Ladd Jr. commissioned George Lucas to write up Star Wars after the young filmmaker gave him a vague outline of his idea for a space opera (which did not have much precedent in Hollywood, except for antiquated Flash Gordon serials from decades prior). And even though Lucas had only made an artsy dystopian film starring a blank-faced Robert Duvall and some silver robots and followed it up with a plotless period piece about teens cruising their cars in Modesto, California, he said go ahead. In this current risk-averse period of Hollywood, when projects guaranteed to have a built in global audience are in constant danger to being cancelled, it is hard to imagine a studio executive having that much trust in a director. 

And Star Wars is far from the only behind the scenes impact that Alan Ladd Jr. had in his long, storied career. The son of Alan Ladd, a movie star famous for westerns like Shane and film noir like A Gun for Hire, he apparently had no on-screen aspirations himself. Instead, he became an agent at a young age, representing Robert Redford and Judy Garland early in their careers, and eventually transitioned to independent producing in the United Kingdom. Following his return to the USA, he began working at ​​20th Century Fox. Within a few years, he was president of their film division. He would go on to greenlit Star Wars, Blade Runner, Alien, and after forming his own production company, Chariots of Fire, Thelma & Louise, and the Academy Award-winning Braveheart. Over the course of his career, his films were nominated for over 150 Oscars. 

There could have been no way for Alan Ladd Jr. to predict the success of Star Wars, which overcame production issues, multiple rewrites and Harrison Ford hating George Lucas’ dialogue to become the most financially successful film ever at that point. Even if that were his only contribution to film, it would be a monumental one. But Ladd Jr. was a beloved figure by the film industry for his entire life, and it was a life well lived. Rest in peace, Alan Ladd Jr. May the Force be with you.