Long-lost short that screened with Empire Strikes Back will finally be seen again!

Contributed by
Sep 17, 2013

The Oscar-winning set designer for the original Star Wars made a beautiful short film that no one's seen in decades. But that's all about to change.

Black Angel may not be a film you've ever heard of before, but it was attached to one of the biggest movies of all time -- The Empire Strikes Back. It came out 33 years ago, has been missing for about 20, but now, around two years after it was rediscovered, it's coming back.

But what's the story behind this long-forgotten gem?

Not just any old short was going to play before The Empire Strikes back after Star Wars literally redefined movies. But then Roger Christian wasn't any ordinary guy. George Lucas had a bit of an attachment to the man who had been his set designer on Star Wars. Lucas also had a problem -- the short that went along with A New Hope wasn't well received, and he needed something better. So it was fortuitous that Christian had something in mind. Says Christian:

When I made it, George Lucas was wonderful. In a way it was a thank you to me because I stood by his side on the first Star Wars. They hated or disliked the film that went out with the first Star Wars. George felt it wasn’t connecting with the audience. It wasn’t right. He’d been searching for a short film to make with [Empire] and it was just sheer chance.

So what was this idea, and where did it come from? Well, Christian had had an idea since film school, which was a kind of medieval myth. It was, as you might expect, not the kind of concept that would be within budget for a college kid. The idea itself, though, was a good one -- a knight finds himself in a strange and alien world after seemingly drowning in a river while returning from the Holy Wars. There he discovers that a maiden has been captured by an evil, dark knight. That's where his quest begins. 

In 2013 that might seem a little derivative, but in context it seems like a pretty cool contrast to the futuristic Empire.

It was the then-president of Fox, Sandy Lieberson, who approached Christian with the idea of his directing something to open Empire with. So Christian submited this fantasy concept he had, and the response was overwhlemingly positive. According to Christian, Liberson said, "They love it. Make it. Here’s the money. I just have to tell you George told us that no one’s to see this film, no one’s to interfere with it. The first person to see it is him."

So that's huge. Significantly less huge, however, was the budget allotted. Christian would have about $50k to work with. That wasn't much, even in the early '80s.

But the benefit of small budgets and tiny crews is that you can slip into spaces where huge productions cannot always tread. And so Christian and company managed to land places like the historic castle Eilean Donan.

But there was a problem -- the film was supposed to come in at 25 minutes, and Christian had come up short. The solution? Step print. That's a fancy way of saying that they used an editing process to slow down the fight sequences without making them look ridiculous.

So now Christian is in a screening room with a print he hasn't even seen the final version of -- and he's terrified.

The first screening I ever had of this film was with George in theater seven in Pinewood. Roger Pratt was there, Gary Kurtz, Terry Gilliam got in there, Sandy Lieberson, I mean, all these people… I was under the desk in fright at the back of the theater.

Despite his concerns, though, the short when over well. So well, in fact, that Lucas would use step print in fight scenes between Vader and Luke.

That's how Black Angel was born into the world.

And now, all these years later, it's back. On Oct. 13, it will be screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival. And from there? Let's hope it makes its way to Blu-ray. Maybe they could attach it to a new release of The Empire Strikes Back -- the original, non-special-edition version. Wouldn't that be fitting?

(Via ars technica)

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