A very sad day for me, Sunday was. Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back, passed away at age 87. It’s hard for me to qualify how important that movie is to me. A New Hope, of course, was the first Star Wars film I ever saw. A New Hope is great. It’s absolutely amazing in fact. The Empire Strikes Back is so much better. After he finished directing A New Hope, George Lucas went on a hunt for a new director for the sequel.
I guess Lucas realized, and I’m going to try to be nice here, that if he touched another Star Wars project it would instantly turn to shit. He ended up choosing Kershner because he wasn’t a huge hotshot director, but rather an older man with a deep understanding of craft. Which is exactly what the story Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan had cooked up needed.
A sure, steady, confident, and compassionate hand to lead the audience through some extremely dark times. The original trilogy were all released by the time I saw them, so I had the luxury of being able to watch them all back to back. Now though, I sort of wish I had had to wait. A true understanding of The Empire Strikes Back requires an acknowledgment of the time that came both before and after it.
Anticipation for the film must have been absurd, and the tone of A New Hope, while flirting with darkness at times, is pretty much entirely upbeat. Empire, on the other hand, is almost unforgivingly bleak, and ends in the best cliffhanger of all time. Having to wait three years to find out what happened to Han Solo, and the rebels must have been insane.
But I digress. There’s so much stellar direction from Kershner here, but what stands out to me is the final confrontation between Vader and Luke. That thing is just immaculate. First, the lightsaber battle is staged perfectly. I still get goosebumps when they power up their sabers in silhouette. The whole fight is carried out with a quiet, foreboding patience. Plus, he makes the bowels of Cloud City look terrifying, like some futuristic funhouse.
Then, when the “I am your father” moment comes, Kershner really gets in on Hamill’s face and lets him do the heavy lifting as an actor. Kersher also got easily the best acting performances of the trilogy from everyone. I could go on and on about this scene, let alone the whole film. We lost a great talent in Kershner, though I’m happy he made it to the ripe old age of 87. I’m going to try not to make it a habit to end posts like this but, may the force be with you Irvin Kershner.- Whole Milk