Howard G. Kazanjian
July 26, 1942
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation(s)||Film producer, author|
Carol Anne Eskijian
Howard G. Kazanjian (born July 26, 1942) is an Armenian-American film producer best known for the Star Wars films The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kazanjian was an originating member of Lucasfilm, Ltd., serving as its vice president for approximately eight years (1977 to 1984).
Howard Kazanjian is a published non-fiction author, with a focus on the factual Old West of US history. In 2021, Kazanjian also published his well-received 340-page memoir Howard Kazanjian: A Producer's Life, edited and compiled by prolific Star Wars historian J.W. Rinzler.
Kazanjian was born in Los Angeles County, California, and is of Armenian descent. He graduated from the University of Southern California. While there he first met a young George Lucas, and they became not only Delta Kappa Alpha cinema fraternity brothers but also long standing friends. They were members of a clique of filmmakers known to the Hollywood system and the university circuit as The Dirty Dozen. During those college years, Kazanjian and Lucas both met their respective future wives, and the couples would often double date.
Kazanjian's early credits include being First Assistant Director on Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot and Second Assistant Director on Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. He later worked with director Robert Wise on his production of The Hindenburg. Kazanjian eventually moved into film production rather than directorial work. He later stated, "The films offered to me I don't want to direct. The films I want to direct are not offered."
As Lucasfilm's Vice President of Production, Howard Kazanjian was intimately involved in the day-to-day strategic and practical operations of Lucasfilm during the times immediately after the 1977 release of Star Wars until approximately 1984 or 1985.
Kazanjian is most notable for having served as executive producer on Raiders of the Lost Ark and producer on Return of the Jedi. He is also recognized as an uncredited producer on The Empire Strikes Back, replacing producer Gary Kurtz midway through the production. For Jedi he came up with the idea of shooting the production under a fake name, Blue Harvest, in order to forestall any attempts at price gouging by suppliers. Blue Harvest was purported to be a horror film with the tag line "horror beyond imagination". Hats and T-shirts were printed up for the crew to wear and to further add to the authenticity of the ruse.
During the casting of Raiders, Kazanjian heavily campaigned for Harrison Ford to be cast as Indiana Jones, to the point he almost lost his job over it. Jones was intended to be a smoker and a drinker, but Kazanjian convinced Lucas and Steven Spielberg to remove that. The scene where sunlight passing through the Headpiece to the Staff of Ra reveals the location of the Well of the Souls was proposed by Kazanjian, who was inspired by the golden statues of Ramesses II at the Abu Simbel temples in Egypt. The temple was positioned so that sunlight would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the statues once a year.
The issue of whether Ford would reprise his role of Han Solo for the third Star Wars film arose during pre-production. Kazanjian was responsible for getting him to return:
I played a very important part in bringing Harrison back for Return of the Jedi. Harrison, unlike Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill signed only a two picture contract. That is why he was frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back. When I suggested to George we should bring him back, I distinctly remember him saying that Harrison would never return. I said what if I convinced him to return. George simply replied that we would then write him in to Jedi. I had just recently negotiated his deal for Raiders of the Lost Ark with Phil Gersh of the Gersh Agency. I called Phil who said he would speak with Harrison. When I called back again, Phil was on vacation. David, his son, took the call and we negotiated Harrison's deal. When Phil returned to the office several weeks later he called me back and said I had taken advantage of his son in the negotiations. I had not. But agents are agents.
The ending scene of Return of the Jedi was originally only going to show the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, but two days before the scene was shot, Kazanjian suggested that the ghost of Anakin Skywalker appear as well.
Kazanjian has authored books with Chris Enss. In 2004, they collaborated on The Cowboy and the Senorita: A Biography of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ISBN 0-7627-3053-6 and Happy Trails: A Pictorial Celebration of the Lives of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans ISBN 0-7627-3089-7; In 2006, The Young Duke: The Early Life of John Wayne ISBN 0-7627-3898-7; in 2009, Thunder over the Prairie: The True Story of a Murder and a Manhunt by the Greatest Posse of All Time ISBN 0-7627-4493-6.
He has been an instructor at "Act One", a group designed to train Christians entering into film and television, and was named by Beliefnet as one of the twelve most powerful Christians in Hollywood.
Kazanjian is an active member of the Armenian charity and cultural community, and a USC alumnus.
Since 1998 Kazanjian has been co-chairman and 50% shareholder of Tricor Entertainment, Inc, an independent production company, which owns and operates a 19,000+ seat theater chain in Southeast Asia and a film distribution company.
Kazanjian lives and works in the community of San Marino, California with his wife Carol (née Eskijian), and three children, Peter, Noah, and Andrew.
Kazanjian and George Lucas remain close friends to this day.
He was producer for all films unless otherwise noted.
|1979||More American Graffiti|
|1980||The Empire Strikes Back||Uncredited|
|1981||Raiders of the Lost Ark||Executive producer|
|1983||Return of the Jedi|
|1999||The Sky Is Falling||Executive producer|
|Carlo's Wake||Executive producer|
|2000||The Amati Girls||Executive producer|
|2001||Extreme Days||Executive producer|
|The Homecoming of Jimmy Whitecloud||Executive producer|
|2003||Shortcut to Happiness||Executive producer|
|2004||The Bridge of San Luis Rey||Executive producer|
|Worlds Apart||Supervising producer|
|2017||South Dakota||Executive producer|
|1967||The Cool Ones||Assistant director||Uncredited|
|1969||The Wild Bunch||Second assistant director||Uncredited|
|The Great Bank Robbery|
|Once You Kiss a Stranger||Assistant director|
|1970||The Christine Jorgensen Story|
|1974||The Girl from Petrovka||First assistant director|
|The Front Page|
|2001||All Over Again||Special thanks|
|2009||Sutures||Very special thanks|
|2016||Christmas Ranch||The producers wish to thank|
|1983||Return of the Jedi||Pilot||Voice role|
|1996||Rattled||Executive producer||Television film|
|2003−08||Danger Rangers||Executive producer|
|2016−17||Mark Hamill's Pop Culture Quest||Executive producer||Documentary|
|2017||Celebrate the World! The Hey Wordy! Movie||Executive producer||Television film|
|1973||Trapped||Assistant director||Television film|
|1974||The Rockford Files||Television pilot|