Under Kershner’s direction, Luke Skywalker learned that Darth Vader was his father and Han Solo delivered one of his most memorable lines, responding to Princess Leia’s “I love you” with “I know.”
Lucas, the “Star Wars” creator, said he didn’t want to direct the sequel himself.
“I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humor. That was Kersh all over,” Lucas said in a statement. “I didn’t want ‘Empire’ to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures. I was trying to build something.”
Released in 1980, “Empire” was a darker story than the original. It initially got mixed reviews but has gone on to become one of the most critically praised.
Kershner told Vanity Fair in October that he tried to give the sequel more depth than the 1977 original.
“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 Lucas. The script originally called for the heroine, Princess Leia, to tell space pilot Han Solo “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, actor Harrison Ford improvised the reply: “I know.”
Lucas wanted the original line but after test previews agreed to leave in Ford’s reply.
The Philadelphia-born Kershner studied music, painting and photography before turning to film. He attended the University of Southern California film school and in the 1950s made U.S. government documentaries in Greece, Iran and Turkey.