Ed Driscoll

Ask Not Whom the Star Destroyer Klaxon Tolls For

It tolls for thee: Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, by far, the best of the Star Wars sequels, thought by some to be even better than the titular film which preceded it, is dead at age 87, according to AFP:

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.

Big Hollywood reprints an interview with Kershner describing the key moment from the making of the Empire Strikes Back when he and his cast transformed Empire into a pop culture icon:

There was really only one disagreement. It was the Carbon Freeze scene when Princess Leia says, “I love you.” Han Solo’s response in the script was, “I love you, too.” I shot the line and it just didn’t seem right for the character of Han Solo. So we worked on the scene on the set. We kept trying different things and couldn’t get the right line. We were into the lunch break and I said to Harrison try it again and just do whatever comes to mind. That is when Harrison said the line, “I know.” After the take, I said to my assistant director, David Tomblin, “It’s a wrap.” David looked at me in disbelief and said something like, “Hold on, we just went to overtime. You’re not happy with that, are you?” And I said, yes, it’s the perfect Han Solo remark, and so we went to lunch. George saw the first cut and said, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. That’s not the line in the script.” I said ““I love you, too’ was not Han Solo.” Han Solo was a rebel. George felt that the audience would laugh. And I said, that’s wonderful, he is probably going to his death for all they know. We sat in the room and he thought about it. He then asked me, “Did you shoot the line in the script?” I said yes. So we agreed that we would do two preview screenings once the film was cut and set to music with the line in and then with the line out. At the first preview in San Francisco, the house broke up after Han Solo said I know. When the film was over, people came up and said that is the most wonderful line and it worked. So George decided not to have the second screening.

As the AFP obit notes, later in the 1980s, Kershner would have the difficult challenge of directing Never Say Never Again, Sean Connery’s one-off return to the James Bond franchise, which holds up reasonably well, if only because of how much fun it is to see Connery back in full Double-Oh-Suave mode, and sadly for the last time.