The Sword and Sorcery short film that released alongside Empire Strikes Back has been rediscovered. Black Angel originally screened before Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back in the UK, Scandinavia, and Australia before mysteriously vanishing and staying that way for three decades (it wasn’t shown in the US because we had stopped screening short films before the feature film by this time).
In 1979 George Lucas commissioned 20th Century Fox to create a short film that would fit the overall tone of Star Wars (apparently the short film that screened before Star Wars: a New Hope was had a pretty jarring tone). Robert Christian, the Academy Award winning set designer and the man that made R2-D2 and the lightsaber hilts, had written a script about a knight that was traveling home from the Crusades when he was transported to a fantasy realm in order to save a princess and wanted to get a chance at directing a film.
The script was sent to Lucas who gave it the go ahead as long as Christian was given full creative control and that Lucas would be the first to view the finished product. So with a $25,000 budget, Christian went to Scotland and started work on Black Angel with an 11 person crew.
When he completed the film, his editor informed him that there wasn’t quite enough footage to meet the 25 minute requirement so Christian implemented a process called “step-printing,” which is a slow-motion effect. You’ve probably seen it used because George Lucas liked it so much he used it when Luke met Vader in the Force Cave on Dagobah (Reading that back I realize that if you haven’t actually SEEN Star Wars that last sentence sounded absolutely ridiculous). After a screening by George Lucas (who showed it to his friend Stephen Spielberg) Black Angel shipped out with Empire Strikes Back in Europe and Australia. Then it was apparently transported to a mythical realm in order to save a princess or something and was gone for over three decades.
Christian’s original negative was kept in Boss Film Studios, but when it went bankrupt they got rid of everything (instead of, I don’t know, letting everyone know that they should come get there stuff). The same thing happened at Fox’s Studio Rank, which shut down at the same time.
Somehow, a copy was found at 20th Century Fox’s rival, Universal Studios in 2011 (although no one is really sure how it got there) and the archivist got in touch with Christian. David Tanaka, a visual effects editor at Pixar, and Brice Parker, a producer at Athena Studios, told Christian that they wanted to digitally restore Black Angel for screening at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival. So that’s how Black Angel made it back to theaters 33 years after being lost to the void.
“That’s great and all, but how do I get to see it?”
Christian wants to release Black Angel to the general populace later this year either on Netflix or iTunes, but he would really like it to make it back with Empire Strikes Back on a DVD re-release. “I would like it to be with Star Wars, because it’s history. It belongs there,” Christian said.
I know it’s a late 70’s Sword and Sorcery flick, and the production levels are pretty low due to budgetary restraints, (Christian used the majority of the budget on big horses) but I am definitely looking forward to it’s release later this year, if only for the historical significance with the Star Wars franchise.