US director Irvin Kershner, who made "The Empire Strikes Back," has died at the age of 87, Star Wars creator George Lucas said Monday, praising him as a "mentor" and a "true gentleman."
Kershner, who also directed Sean Connery as James Bond in "Never Say Never Again" (1983) and Peter Weller in "Robocop II" (1990), died at home in Los Angeles after a long illness, his goddaughter Adriana Santini told AFP.
Lucas, who hired Kershner to make the second Star Wars movie in 1980, said he had lost a friend.
"The world has lost a great director and one of the most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Irvin Kershner was a true gentleman in every sense of the word," he said in a statement.
"When I think of Kersh, I think of his warmth, his thoughtfulness and his talent. I knew him from USC — I attended his lectures and he was actually on the festival panel that gave the prize to my THX short (the film THX 1138).
"I considered him a mentor," he added.
Born in Philadelphia in 1923, Kershner trained as a musician and in photography before starting making documentaries and then feature films.
"The Empire Strikes Back" was his big break, followed by "Never Say Never Again" three years later. As well as directing, he also acted in Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 movie "The Last Temptation of Christ."
Lucas, who launched the blockbuster Star Wars franchise with the film of that name in 1977, said he chose Kershner after deciding that he did not want to direct it himself.
"I needed someone I could trust, someone I really admired and whose work had maturity and humor. That was Kersh all over. I didn’t want Empire to turn into just another sequel, another episode in a series of space adventures.
"I was trying to build something, and I knew Kersh was the guy to help me do it. He brought so much to the table. I am truly grateful to him. He was a friend as well as a colleague. He will be missed," he added.
Lucas’s cult sci-fi saga is currently being reworked for re-release in three dimensions starting in 2012, according to Lucas Films, the director’s film-making company.
The entire intergalactic saga — with six blockbusters filmed between 1977 and 2005 — has netted more than $4.3 billion worldwide.