'Empire Strikes Back' director Irvin Kershner dies

Associated Press Modified: November 29, 2010 at 2:17 pm •  Published: November 29, 2010
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Irvin Kershner, who directed the Star Wars sequel "The Empire Strikes Back" and the James Bond film "Never Say Never Again," has died at age 87.

Kershner died Saturday at his Los Angeles home following a 3½-year battle with lung cancer, said longtime friend and Hollywood publicist Dick Guttman.

Kershner already had made a number of well-received movies when he was hired by George Lucas to direct "Empire," which was the second produced but fifth in the "Star Wars" chronology.

The 1980 production was a darker story than the original. In it, hero Luke Skywalker loses a hand and learns that villain Darth Vader is his father. The movie initially got mixed reviews but has gone on to become one of the most critically praised.

Kershner told Vanity Fair in October that he tried to give the sequel more depth than the original.

"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," he said. "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 said he had only one sharp disagreement with Lucas. The script originally called for the heroine, Princess Leia, to tell space pilot Han Solo "I love you" and for him to reply "I love you, too."

"I shot the line and it just didn't seem right for the character of Han Solo," Kershner said.

Instead, actor Harrison Ford improvised the reply: "I know."

Lucas wanted the original line but after test previews agreed to leave in Ford's reply, which has gone on to be one of the best-known lines in the series.

"The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I've had the pleasure of knowing," Lucas said in a statement, adding that he considered Kershner to be a mentor.

Lucas said he didn't want to direct the "Star Wars" sequel.

"I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humor. That was Kersh all over," Lucas said. "I didn't want 'Empire' to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures. I was trying to build something, and I knew Kersh was the guy to help me do it. He brought so much to the table. I am truly grateful to him."

The Philadelphia-born Kershner studied music, painting and photography before turning to film. He studied at the University of Southern California film school and in the 1950s made U.S. government documentaries in Greece, Iran and Turkey.

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