For the past day I have been rewatching The Empire Strikes Back, both with and without the commentary track. I first got the DVD a few months ago, and it was one of the commentary tracks I hadn’t listened to. My first impression of Irvin Kershner that day was that he was a bit pompous, but by the time I’d finished, I was glad he’d directed it. On the second listening, I understood even better: if he was pompous, well, he’d only directed what was by then pretty much assured to be the best of the six movies that make up one of the most classic, history-changing franchises there’s ever been(I’m pretty sure it was recorded before Revenge of the Sith came out, but really, we knew it wasn’t going to surpass Kersh’s film).
Not only that, but while he was sure to acknowledge George Lucas as the man who gave him the universe in which he did what he did, he also knew, as Lucas did, that he could do what the more famous man couldn’t. He could take into the dark, apply a proper filmmaker’s technique to it, make a classic out of pulp. Much of his commentary focuses on how he wanted to develop the characters, how he wanted them, in their “improbable place,” to come off as real people. In other words, he approached it with the respect many would have given only to a more “realistic” film, and the world is by far the better for it.
Not only that, but we forget, after this past decade of trilogies being shot back to back as one good-quality movie and comic book sequels that signify a franchise improving as it finds its feet(the third movies of these franchises, on the other hand…), that once upon a time, a sequel was almost certainly considered to be, at best, a shadow of the first. Kersh’s sequel might have been the first to surpass the original. Who knows how movie history might have been different if he hadn’t pulled that off.
And that from a man who insisted that a movie will never be perfect, that it will always involve a lot of guessing, and that he had to go with what worked. What he went with seemed to work pretty durn well.
Rest in peace, Irvin Kershner. May the Force be with you; you will always be with history.