This year is the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, the high point for the Star Wars franchise and low-point for Luke’s right hand (which I like to imagine went on to picaresque adventures upon getting its freedom). To commemorate the moment this weekend Lucasfilm is staging Star Wars Celebration V, a lovingly massive nerd orgy in Orlando, FL, where the surprise big speaker will be Empire producer Gary Kurtz. I say surprise because Kurtz, who also produced American Graffiti, the first Star Wars, and stoner epic The Dark Crystal, parted ways with Lucas during pre-production on Jedi when the two passionately disagreed over the direction of the series. And if the interview Kurtz gave over at the LA Times is any indication, the panel at the Celebration should prove quite, uh, lively.

A few choice tidbits:

On the break up…

“I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.”

“We had an outline [for Jedi] 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.”

He was especially disdainful of the Lucas idea of a second Death Star, which he felt would be too derivative of the 1977 film. “So we agreed that I should probably leave.”

On the prequels…

“I don’t like the idea of prequels, they make the filmmakers back in to material they’ve already covered and it boxes in the story,” Kurtz said. “I think they did a pretty good job with them although I have to admit I never liked Hayden Christensen in the role of Anakin Skywalker. I just wished the stories had been stronger and that the dialogue had been stronger. It gets meek. I’m not sure the characters ever felt real like they did in ‘Empire.’”

A spokeswoman for George Lucas said he was unavailable for comment… because he was busy punching his pillow and screaming “I don’t need you Gary!”