In the aftermath of the massive success of George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, it was somewhat surprising that for the sequel he chose not to direct it himself, but instead sought out an old mentor and respected director in Irving Kershner. As was remembered recently, it was for a couple of reasons: the motivation was because “if the second one worked, then he could make more. If the second one didn’t work, then that would be the end of Star Wars”, and the reason to choose Kershnerwas “because [he] knows everything a Hollywood director is supposed to know but [is] not Hollywood.”
Today we learn that Mr. Kershnerhas passed away after a prolonged illness. Here is the full release, cited at many different places:
US director Irvin Kershner, renowned for making the second Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”, has died in Los Angeles, his goddaughter Adriana Santini told AFP on Monday. He was 87 years old.
Kershner, who besides the 1980 sci-fi epic also directed Sean Connery as James Bond in “Never Say Never Again” (1983) and Peter Weller in “Robocop II” (1990), died at home after a long illness, said Santini, who lives in France.
Born in Philadelphia in 1923, Kershner trained as a musician and in photography before starting making documentaries and then feature films.
This year there have been many things written for the 30th anniversary of the release of ‘Empire’, but I figure it makes the most sense to take the words from Kershner himself, in an interview at StarWars.com:
What do you recall most about working on the film?
There were so many things that were happening every day. It was incredible. But, you see, I wasn’t trying to beat Star Wars. I was just trying to make a film and get the characters to come alive. I wanted to keep the rhythm going and watch the story — I was interested in telling the story and as economically as possible. And, of course, the one thing I looked for every day was humor. How can I get people to laugh? But not laughing at them, but laughing with them. That was important because you’re always skating on thin ice due to the fact that everything is so unbelievable. So you have to make some humor.
Also, a lot of things don’t work when you build them. Some of the best stuff was simply grabbing a hand-held camera and shouting, “Left, right” and the actors throw themselves to the left and throw themselves to the right and the camera moves in the opposite direction. That’s what we did in the scene where the Millennium Falcon is in the bowels of the giant worm. That was just a hand camera and me shouting, “Right… left… right.” And when we looked at it, it was perfect. You can’t move the ship set, which was 30 tons, so we found another way to make the scene look believable.
We did a lot of hand-held stuff. For instance, I needed the rocks to rise when Luke gets the power on Dagobah. Well, we didn’t have any rocks. It wasn’t prepared, so the art director on the set said “I can make them really fast.” He ran off and he made paper mache rocks with little wires on them and brought them back. It took about two hours, and we shot them. But this is how you make a film like that. You have to stay on top of it and you have to think constantly. You have to improvise every day but you tell your story. You can do all the playing around you want as long as you tell your story and you let the characters define themselves. You don’t depend on the action, you depend on the characters doing the action.
And let’s go out by looking at a clip of his most renowned work, the epic Empire Strikes Back!