Irvin Kershner (who passed away today at age 87) likely raised many an eyebrow when he eschewed George Lucas’ demands that the sequel to his money-making behemoth Star Wars, a.k.a. The Empire Strikes Back, be lighter in tone and heavier on the F/X-driven action.

Kershner instead delivered a dark and thematically complex film that most fans (ourselves included) consider by and far to be not only the best entry in the Star Wars franchise, but one of the greatest sci-fi cinematic dramas ever created.

Born April 29th, 1923, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kershner was a graduate of the University of Southern California and began his filmmaking career in the 1950s, working as a documentarian for the U.S. government in the Middle East. He was involved in a handful of television series during the 1960s, including the Civil War-era drama The Rebel and the gritty crime series Naked City. He also worked in the USC film department as a professor, whose students included the likes of a young George Lucas.

Lucas later approached Kershner to direct The Empire Strikes Back as he felt his old teacher possessed the necessary background to helm a highly-anticipated blockbuster production, but would approach the project from a different angle than a longtime veteran of the Hollywood system.

While Kershner and Lucas were ironically at odds during the shooting of Empire Strikes Back (Lucas wanted more spectacle and was less than enthralled with the sequel’s murky atmosphere), cast and crew members have generally described Kershner as their favorite director involved with the original Star Wars trilogy.

Kershner, left, and Lucas, middle, on the 'Empire Strikes Back' set.

After tackling Empire Strikes Back, Kershner went on to direct the James Bond pic Never Say Never Again and became involved in a significantly different sci-fi franchise when he helmed the sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop in 1990. He retired from directing three years later, after completing work on the television show SeaQuest 2032.

We here at Screen Rant offer our sincere condolences to Mr. Kershner’s friends and family, and wish them the best in this difficult time.

R.I.P. Irvin Kershner: April 29th, 1923 – November 29th, 2010.