Rodrigo Vaz/FilmMagic
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November 29, 2018 at 12:22 PM EST

Gloria Katz, a screenwriter on American Graffiti and a secret force behind Star Wars, died Sunday after a prolonged battle with ovarian cancer, husband Willard Huyck told The Hollywood Reporter. She was 76.

Katz’s death, which occurred at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, coincided with her 49th wedding anniversary to Huyck. The two collaborated on a number of films together, including American Graffiti (directed and co-written by George Lucas), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (produced by Lucas), and Howard the Duck (directed by Huyck).

“Willard was George’s friend and after the debacle of THX 1138 [Lucas’ first feature film], he wanted Willard to write about cruising for American Graffiti, and I sort of came with the package,” Katz told The Mary Sue in a 2017 interview.

The relationship with Lucas also led to her contributions to Star Wars — polishing the script, contributing dialogue, and famously reshaping the character of Princess Leia.

Katz recalled, “George was writing the script and he had a lot of reservations about it, but he knew filming had to start. He said, ‘Polish it — write anything you want and then I’ll go over it and see what I need.’ George didn’t want anyone to know we worked on the script, so we were in a cone of silence.”

She explained how she and Huyck “tried to help with the characterization, to add as much humor as possible.” For Carrie Fisher’s Leia, Katz said, “When we talked to him about the character, we said Leia should be a more ‘Hawksian woman,’ with all the traits that that woman had: she can take command; she doesn’t take any s—, but at the same time she’s vulnerable and to write her as really focused, instead of just a beautiful woman that schlepped along to be saved. For her to be the one that initiated the action. And because Carrie Fisher was so young, the contrast between this young girl and her goals became more poignant.”

Actress Lea Thompson, who starred in Howard the Duck, wrote of her “friend” on social media after news broke.

“She was the producer writer of #HowardtheDuck she was funny and wry and beautiful,” Thompson tweeted. “She also worked on #americangraffiti and #StarWars this photo is from one of the long nights of shooting. #Rip Gloria. And thanks.”

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