‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 40th Anniversary: More Details on George Lucas’s Last Minute Changes to the Movie
Today marks the 40th anniversary for the release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, on May 21, 1980. To celebrate we’re going to take a look at how the version most people saw wasn’t released until June 18! We’ve also got a special episode of The Resistance Broadcast where hosts John, James, and Lacey interview the former Lucasfilm executive editor J.W. Rinzler, author of The Making of the Empire Strikes Back, where he talks all things behind the scenes for the monumental film.
After the 70mm release of The Empire Strikes Back (to only about 100 theatres) George Lucas didn’t feel the ending scene was communicating to the audience properly. While the plot remained the way we still know it today, Lando and Chewie off to find Han while Luke, Leia, and the droids stay aboard the medical frigate, Lucas felt that the setting was confusing. It wasn’t properly established where Luke and Leia were in relation to Lando and Chewie. You can watch the original ending here.
Lucas assembled a team and devised three extra shots to answer the questions he felt were unanswered: that the two groups were on different ships but that they were in the same proximity and that the Millennium Falcon was leaving the Rebel fleet while the others stayed behind. They had three weeks to get this all completed before the 35mm wide release on June 18.
Lucas, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) effects cameraman Ken Ralston and Artist Joe Johnston (who would later go on to direct Jumanji and the first Captain America movie among other things) met in Southern California and got to work. Johnston sketched out the three shots that would be filmed at ILM‘s then headquarters in San Francisco.
This was no simple task though:
In a couple instances, ILM relied on stock material as well as a handful of newly-constructed models to complete the shots. And they didn’t just require new visual effects, but also modifications to the film’s score (which had to be carefully extended) and dialogue (which in part had to be re-designed to come from the commlink speaker), all tasked to the editorial department.
The team came together though and no-one on the wider release was any the wiser that they were seeing an entirely modified version of the end scene. Not only do the changes provide the geographical clarification Lucas wanted but they also add a but more breathing time between the lightspeed escape just moments before and the end of the movie.
For a detailed look at all three shots and how it was done check out the original article at Starwars.com
2010’s The Making of the Empire Strikes Back is a 372 page, full color, coffee table book that goes into the entire process behind the films pre-production, on-set stories, and beyond. The author and researcher behind this fantastic book (along with the New Hope and Return of the Jedi editions as well) is J.W. Rinzler.
Our Resistance Broadcast team had the pleasure of talking with him in an in-depth conversation about all things Empire for it’s 40th anniversary. You can watch that conversation below:
As the much anticipated sequel to the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back has aged amazingly and is often considered a favorite by fans, even forty years on. Whether it’s the fast-paced Millennium Falcon scenes, the introduction of so many iconic planets and characters or ‘No…..I am your Father’ the film has so much to love about it. So what will you be doing to celebrate?
Stay safe and may the Force be with you, always.
Alex Newman is huge Star Wars fan and loves to keep up to date with the canon. He’s also loved movies for as long as he can remember. He’s a massive Disney and superhero fan but will watch anything. He’s worked at a cinema, a comic book store and at Disney World but is currently working in radio in London!