Strange, I was only thinking about putting this scene up yesterday from one of my personal favourites. The director of The Empire Strikes Back, Irvin Kershner died today at the age of 87. Kershner was a veteran film and television in his late fifties when he was approached by Star Wars creator George Lucas to direct the follow up to what was then the most successful film of all time. Kershner was known for his work on intimate, small scale character driven pieces such as A Fine Madness (1966), Loving (1970) and Up the Sandbox (1972).
Lucas was a former student of Kershner’s at USC and admired the veteran film-makers approach to character and story, feeling that he could bring another dimension to the series, a slightly more complex sensibility to the newly minted young moguls space opera universe. That he managed to pull off this feat and create what is easily the finest episode of the franchise and one of the finest escapist entertainments of any era is quite an achievement.
Amidst the special effects, bizarre creatures and action adventure spectacle, Kershner deepened the relationships between characters and brought the more tragic, darker elements within Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Bracketts script to the fore resulting in one of the more notably downbeat conclusions to a blockbuster franchise ever conceived.
Empire contains of the most famous reveals in cinematic lore involving Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and as mentioned before in a previous post,when I first watched the film on video as a six year old this left quite an impression. This combined with the what seemed like the demise of my favourite character Han Solo was too much for me to take. I was more than upset, I was traumatized, inconsolable.
This emotional response may have had more to do with the fact that my confused young mind thought that The Empire Strikes Back was in fact the final episode within the Star Wars trilogy. You see, I had watched the rather more jolly, optimistic fuzzy Return of the Jedi beforehand and it took an an explanation from my dad for me to realize my mistake and breathe a sigh of relief.
Despite my initial confusion , the romantic and mythic grandeur of the film never diminished on subsequent viewings. In particular the classic love/hate dynamic between the roguish space pirate Han Solo and the feisty, fiery Princess Leia and the scene above left it’s mark on my psyche and fueled my own pre-adolescent fantasies. This was my virginal, vicarious experience of romance in the idealized Hollywood sense. Throughout the film they try to resist their attraction; they fight, they bicker and inevitably they end up together. Only to have it cruelly snatched away in by a treacherous deception in the final act.