Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Dear awesome movie people:
Irvin Kershner is dead now. As with Leslie Nielsen, I won't pretend to be an authority on the man or his life, so much of this will be based on hearsay and conjecture. It's just my personal reaction to the news of his death.
This is the man responsible for the best of "Star Wars" and a lot of aspects of the series that we take for granted, which were not present in the first film. Darth Vader, for instance, was a very different character under the direction of George Lucas. It wasn't until Kershner directed "The Empire Strikes Back" that Vader became the inscrutable, emotionless killer that we know him as today. Lucas directed Vader as a much angrier, more typical villain, whereas Kershner's film benefits greatly from the emotionally muted physical and vocal performance of its much more sinister and insidious antagonist. The look of Vader was iconic from the start, but Kershner made him an indelible character.
Of course, much of the production of TESB has passed into movie legend and should be treated as such, but it's hard to believe that it would be half the film it is with someone else at the helm. The legend dictates that Kersh would actually stand up to Lucas, fighting for what was best for the film over what George wanted.
This included, again legend has it, allowing Harrison Ford the freedom to improvise the single greatest line in Star Wars history after a dispute over the fact that "I love you too" would be a very un-Han Solo thing to say.
The story goes that Kersh was essentially hired by Lucas to deal with the actors whilst he dealt with the special effects. This is the way it should've stayed. If Lucas had had the sense to take a back seat on both the directing and writing as he did with this film, allowing Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to fashion a script ripe with witty, occasionally profound and always quotable dialogue, thrills, spills, drama and tragedy, then who knows how the prequels would've turned out?
Kershner's success, apparently, was the franchise's downfall, however, as Lucas was allegedly unhappy with the film. He famously claimed that it was the marketing that allowed TESB to be thought of as the best of the series when it was in fact the worst, and the myth continues that he hired a rookie named Richard Marquand to steer "Return of the Jedi", simply so he could boss him around with no back-chat.
Kershner deserves infinite props for being a consummate film-maker, even in the face of George Lucas' demands for his brain-child. Lucas was ploughing his own money into the film and still Kersh would dig in his heels. I genuinely don't believe anybody has called bullshit on Lucas on a "Star Wars" set since. More's the pity.
So here's to a nerd champion. The man who beat George Lucas at his own game. The man who directed the best episode of the Star Wars saga. Irvin Kershner.
He also made Robocop 2, but nobody's perfect.
You can read George Lucas' response to Kersh's death here.