Irvin Kershner, who directed the “Star Wars” sequel “The Empire Strikes Back,” has died at age 87. Kershner died Saturday in Los Angeles after a long illness, said Adriana Santini, a family friend. His agent, Derek Maki, also confirmed the death Monday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Kershner’s “Empire,” the second “Star Wars” movie made and the fifth in the chronology, has become the most critically respected and fan-favored film in the franchise.
The Philadelphia native told Vanity Fair in October that he tried to give his 1980 follow-up more depth than the original film, 1977′s “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,” 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 “Star Wars” creator George Lucas. The script originally called for the heroine, Princess Leah (Carrie Fisher), to tell good-hearted scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford) “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, Ford improvised the reply: “I know.”
Lucas only agreed to accept the changed after test previews. It has become one of the best-known exchanges from the franchise.
A graduate of USC film school – he also was on the USC faculty – Kershner got his first movie break in 1958 when Roger Corman hired him to shoot a low-budget feature called “Stakeout on Dope Street.”
He went on to direct a number of noted features in the 1960s and ’70s, including “A Fine Madness” with Sean Connery, Joanne Woodward and Jean Seberg, “The Flim-Flam Man” with George C. Scott, “Loving” with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint, and “The Eyes of Laura Mars” with Faye Dunaway.
The 1976 television movie “Raid on Entebbe” earned him an Emmy nomination for direction.
Besides “Empire,” his big-budget work included the 1983 James Bond movie “Never Say Never Again” with Connery and “Robocop 2″ in 1990.
Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans.