On March 2, 2022, Alan Ladd Jr. passed away at the age of 84.
Ladd was a respected film producer who ran 20th Century Fox in the 1970s, greenlighting films like Star Wars and Alien. He would later go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture as the producer of Braveheart in 1995. He had an eye for talent and for taking chances on talent he trusted, and that was never more evident than when he took a chance on a young filmmaker named George Lucas.
Impressed with American Graffiti, Ladd asked Lucas if there were any other projects he had in mind, and Lucas brought up his long-dreamed space opera in the vein of Flash Gordon. The project was Star Wars, and while other studios weren’t interested, Ladd was. “We had a meeting, and George said, ‘Well, I’ve been thinking about this thing called Star Wars,'” Ladd said in the Empire of Dreams documentary in 2004. “And he told me about it, and I said, ‘That sounds terrific.’ I mean, the technology part of the whole thing was completely over my head, but I just believed in him and his genius. I sort of recognized off of American Graffiti that he really was a genius, so I just flew with it.”
What he may not have understood about the project itself, he did understand about the filmmaker – and he knew that George Lucas was someone he wanted making this movie for 20th Century Fox. “He understood what talent was, he respected talent, and he was able to say, ‘I think this guy’s talented. I think we’re gonna invest in him,'” Lucas said in that documentary. “So Alan Ladd Jr. invested in me. He did not invest in the movie. And it paid off.”
In a time where few people believed in the project, Alan Ladd Jr. did. And he continued to throughout its very troubled production, which had Lucas despondently believing the film would be an utter flop and the Board of Directors at 20th Century Fox wanting to pull the plug. But Ladd stood firm. “I just sat in one executive committee meeting while they’re hauling me over the coals,” he said. “I just said, ‘It’s the greatest picture ever made.’ That ended the conversation. They were afraid to say, ‘Well, you’re stupid and you’re wrong and we want you out of this building by 5:00 this afternoon. So, uh, there were some tense moments there.”
Star Wars premiered on May 25, 1977 and became an instant sensation. It would become the highest grossing film ever released to that point, and it remains widely considered as one of the greatest and most significant projects in movie history. “Everybody was standing up and applauding,” Ladd said of the audience reception. “Never seen this before in my life. And I’ll never see it again. We released it in, I think, 37 theaters initially, and broke 36 house records.”
There was a huge team that pulled off Star Wars and made it what it was, and there are many people to thank for it becoming the massive franchise that it is today. But one of the people in the background who quietly played a significant role in getting the film made was Alan Ladd Jr., who fought for it at a time when very few would.
“Laddie loved film and believed in filmmakers,” George Lucas said in a statement on StarWars.com. “He was one of the few executives who bet on the person rather than the project. Without Laddie there would be no Star Wars. He didn’t understand what Star Wars was about, but he believed in me and supported my vision. Quiet and thoughtful, he had an independent spirit that gave so many storytellers a chance. He stood up to the studios and went with his gut instinct. Laddie took a great personal and professional risk on Star Wars, and on me, and for that I will be forever grateful.”