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celebrity news

Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back, passes away

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Monday, November 29, 2010

When he was hired to direct the sequel to Star Wars, no one in fandom knew the name Irvin Kershner. By the time Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back had rolled out in theaters in the summer of 1980, director Irvin Kershner had been assured of his slice of immortality.

Widely regarded by film critics and the general Star Wars fanbase to be a superior sequel to an already great first movie, The Empire Strikes Back took the characters that George Lucas had created and gave them maturity, inner complexity and raised the personal stakes that they were fighting for. Without Empire the final Star Wars film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, and even the following prequel trilogy, would have turned out differently.

Born in 1923, Kershner began his directing career by working in television in the 1950s. He began to build up a positive reputation as a solid feature film director throughout the 1960s with moderate dramatic comedies like Loving, The Film-Flam Man and the Barbra Streisand picture Up the Sandbox, but his career seemed to go up a bump with the 1978 supernatural drama Eyes of Laura Mars. After the stunning success of Star Wars, Kershner's agent received the directing offer for his client for the sequel. Instead of immediately leaping to do it, Kershner at first turned down the movie (even though he knew of Lucas and was one of his teachers while The Flannelled One went to film school.) Eventually, and after the second offer, Kershner signed aboard.

There's a personal story told to me by someone privy to the events of making The Empire Strikes Back. According to the person, whose identity I'm going to keep a secret, Lucas was far too busy to make The Empire Strikes Back because he was building the Lucasfilm empire, flying around the world to oversee the incredible licensing deals that were being struck. Kershner and his team were largely left to their own devices making Empire, and when Lucas returned back to watch the first rough cut of the film, the story goes that the creator of the Star Wars universe hated what Irvin Kershner had made. Kershner stuck to his guns and fought for the picture's darker story but at the cost of crippling his relationship with Lucas.

(To be fair, in an October 2010 Vanity Fair interview with Kershner about the creation of The Empire Strikes Back, he relates a kinder, gentler recollection of working with George Lucas. "George was the best producer I ever worked with," Kershner states. "He left me alone and only came to England a few times.")

Here's something that Kershner once said when interviewed about his contribution to Lucas' film saga: "I think [The Empire Strikes Back] went beyond Star Wars. You had some humor, you got to know the characters a little better. I saw it as the second movement in an opera. That's why I wanted some of the things slower. And it ends in a way that you can't wait to see or to hear the vivace, the allegretto. I didn't have a climax at the end. I had an emotional climax."

Tell me, how many other makers of science fiction films would even dare compare one of their pictures to the grace and sophistication of an opera?

After Empire, Kershner went on to make several other high profile sequels but none attained the critical or commercial success of his Star Wars chapter. He directed Sean Connery in what's likely to be that actor's final portrayal as James Bond, the stand-alone 007 adventure Never Say Never Again, and he also brought us RoboCop 2. The only other directing job Kershner had after RoboCop 2 was an episode of SeaQuest DSV in 1993.

News of Kershner's death broke earlier today from a report issued by his granddaughter. Kershner passed away in Los Angeles, the city of movies. He was 87 years old.

Posts: 213
Posted: 6 years 47 weeks ago

Damn.  Thank you, Mr. Kershner, for making the finest film of the Star Wars saga.

My friend and I camped out all night in front of the Highland Theater to see this movie.  We were 11 years old.  The world has changed, but that remains my favorite movie memory.

Posts: 7587
Posted: 6 years 47 weeks ago

Too bad he wasn't able to do with Robocop what he was able to do with Star Wars.

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline