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Irvin Kershner, director of the almost universally best-loved Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back, has died at age 87, according to The Associated Press. Taking over for George Lucas to make the sequel to the mega-hit Star Wars, Kershner crafted a film that felt far more grown-up and fully realized than its predecessor, setting a standard for sci-fi and adventure films that carries on to this day.
Kershner's career also included a Bond film, Never Say Never Again, and another less acclaimed sequel, Robocop II. Though he's been retired for nearly two decades now, he was recently back on a publicity tour to help promote the new 30th anniversary book, The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. He did an interview last month with my friend Mike Ryan at Vanity Fair in which he talked about that movie's enduring legacy compared to the mixed reviews it got at the time:
I have not given much credence to reviews of my films. Sometimes they’re wrong, but it didn’t matter to me. I have not been a follower of how many millions my films made or did not make. In this case, I wanted very much for the film to succeed because I knew that George was spending his own money on it. I think the critics felt that they were going to see an extension of Star Wars. In other words, they wanted another Star Wars. I decided that the potential was much greater than a rerun of Star Wars. When I finally accepted the assignment, I knew that it was going to be a dark film, with more depth to the characters than in the first film. It took a few years for the critics to catch up with the film and to see it as a fairy tale rather than a comic book.
Kershner's directing career was a brief one, but given that it managed to include one of the most adored, quoted and re-watched movies of all time, he did pretty well for himself in a short period of time. Share your favorite Empire Strikes Back memories in the comments-- or Never Say Never Again moments, if you've got 'em-- and join us in remembering a man who shaped American sci-fi, and many of our childhoods.