'The Empire Strikes Back' director dies

Irvin Kershner – who directed the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, the James Bond film Never Say Never Again and Robocop 2 – has died at the age of 87.

Kershner died on Saturday in Los Angeles after a long illness, Adriana Santini, a family friend, said.

He had already made a number of well-received films when he was hired by George Lucas to direct The Empire Strikes Back, which was the second Star Wars film produced but fifth in the series chronology.

The 1980 production was a darker story than the original. In it, the hero Luke Skywalker loses a hand and learns that the villain, Darth Vader, is his father. The movie 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 original. He said: "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 he had only one sharp disagreement with Lucas. The script originally called for the heroine, Princess Leah, 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, the actor Harrison Ford improvised the reply: "I know." That became one of the best-known lines of the series.

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