Irvin Kerschner, the acclaimed director of super sequel “The Empire Strikes Back”, has died aged 87 (after a three-and-a-half-year battle with Lung Cancer) – and as a die-hard “Star Wars” fan, can I just say this one stings like a probe droid antenna to the ass! I almost don’t believe it… I’m almost inclined to round up the rebels and head to Jabba’s Palace just to see whether he’s not there frozen in carbonite. C I
Kerschner never topped “Empire”, but so what? he gave us one of the best sequels, let alone films, of all time in his “Star Wars” sequel. Dark, Suspenseful, immaculately-performed and full of oh so many memorable sequences, “Empire” was light years what most of us expected it’d be.
George Lucas, who opted not to direct the film, ostensibly never expected the film to be as marvelous as it was either.
In a statement issued to E! News, Lucas said “The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Irvin Kershner was a true gentleman in every sense of the word.”
I also enjoyed a few of Kerschner’s other films, notably “Never Say Never Again”, the unofficial Jimmy B comeback film for Sir Sean; “RoboCop 2”, one of the hammiest and most entertaining sequels of the early ’90s; and the Richard Harris starrer “Return of a man called Horse”. Alas, none would top the magnificent “Empire”.
Billy Dee ‘Lando’ Williams said of Kershner, He was “an extraordinary mountain of a man with whom I’m proud to have shared the world of art. I bet he’s smiling at us right now with that wonderful impish smile”.
It’s ironic that “Empire Strikes Back” celebrated it’s 30th Birthday this year. It’s almost as if ‘Kersh’ timed his exit.
Trying to think when I first saw “Empire”…
I think I remember being in Melbourne (lived in the country). Maybe with the grandparents. We were staying at some flashy hotel. I’d spent the afternoon in one of the big department stores -likely Myer – where I’d managed to wrangle a few bucks out of “the olds” to pick up some new “Star Wars” action-figures for my now, rather immense collection (I kept them all in a huge case that was in the shape of Darth Vader’s upper torso). And if memory serves me right, it was that day that I picked up my ‘first’ Lando Calrissian. I didn’t know Lando yet – well, besides the glimpses of him that I’d seen on the TV spots (speaking of which, I remember it was always great going to Melbourne, or any big city for that matter, because TV was ‘so much better’ down there. Back in those days, we only one the one main commercial channel in the country – yes, one channel! – so to be staying in a hotel that offered up to 4 channels – yes, count ‘em, 4! – was always a treat.) but the packaging said he was one of the ‘rebels’, but besides, he had a cool flowing cape, he had to be cool.
But where was I?
Oh yes, ”Empire Strikes Back”.
It had started that Thursday nationally (and, I imagine, around the world).And, it wouldn’t at all surprise to me learn that the only reason we headed to Melbourne that weekend was so that I could see the film – being that our local country theatre probably wasn’t going to be screening it until a few weeks time (funnily enough, the same release pattern still exists). Just as they do with the “Twilight” films now, the cinemas in the city were also screening the other, earlier films in the series – in this case, “Star Wars” – in addition to the new sequel. Being that this was before the invasion of video (and the “Star Wars” series took years to come out on VHS anyway! I remember, I went in and asked our local retailer on a weekly basis when it was due), nobody much minded having to pay $5 to see a film that was now a couple of years old. So we did that – we started off by catching “Star Wars : A New Hope” again – my younger brother and I.
It was a Saturday evening. We had just washed down some pancakes at the newly-established ‘Pancake Parlour’. The cinema was next to the restaurant. And, from memory, it was packed – both the restaurant, and the cinema, for that matter. We were about ten minutes late to “A New Hope” because ‘the olds’ had to find themselves a film to go to whilst my brother and I got our Chewbacca on. They went with some little Australian film showing at an arthouse around the corner, I think.
But I digress, a couple of hours later, once Luke had blown that thing so they could “all go home”, we got our tickets for the most anticipated sequel of the year (“Grease 2″ was still a good 18 months away). Early evening it was – I assume about 6pm. And the theatre was packed with all ages, just as excited as I was to see… the next chapter.
I still remember when that rebel-beseeching droid popped out of the ice on Hoth. Magic.
I likely saw “Empire Strikes Back” another three or four times before it finished its theatrical run – which, in those days, usually lasted about twelve months. It was just one of those movies that blew me away – and stayed with me, as you can tell by fond memory of that first viewing.
There were other movies that I fondly remember seeing for the first time at the cinema – “Gremlins”, “Ghostbusters” (I remember the audience bursting into singing the theme song; I also remember my brother jumping so far out of his seat when the ‘librarian turned around’ that he landed in the one in front of him!), “Poltergeist” (For a PG film, boy that scared the bejesus out of me!), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (Will never forget my first glimpse of Freddy), “Footloose” (there was no stopping me from dancing afterwards!), “Urban Cowboy” (I was such a big fan of ‘Barbarino’ that I couldn’t wait to see it; I’d soon discover I should’ve at least waited till my voice dropped); “Two of a Kind” (I remember that first screening not because of how wonderful the film was, but how bad it was, and how disappointed I was in my ‘Livvy’ and – Barbarino, for that matter – for doing such drivel); “Romancing the Stone” (mud slide! Woo-hoo!); “The Last Starfighter” (I remember counting down the days to its release), and “The Breakfast Club” (Didn’t every ten-year-old want to be Judd Nelson!?) – but “Empire” is the one that likely made the biggest impression. And it’s a cliche, sure, but it’s likely true when I say it’s one of the film’s that pushed me into exploring my love of film (especially, ‘making them’) later on in life.
Thanks Mr Kershner, may you rest in peace.