Category Archives: The Multiverse

Short film that preceded theatrical Empire Strikes Back restored, on YouTube

Black Angel went missing for over 30 years; negatives were found in an archive.

(Admit it: pretty, isn’t it?)
Roger Christian

It seems like every Star Wars re-release in recent years has tagged on “never-before-seen” featurettes about the films’ creations, but none of them have ever touched upon a major tangential part of the original trilogy: Black Angel, a 22-minute short film attached to The Empire Strikes Back‘s European and Australian theatrical runs in 1980.

The short film had been considered lost for over 30 years, up until a chance 2011 discovery of a negative at Universal Studios. That film was created, written, and directed by Roger Christian—the Academy Award-winning set decorator of A New Hope and art director of such classics as Alien and Life of Brian. And after a multi-year effort to fully restore it, Christian has now uploaded it to YouTube.

The Tuesday upload was preceded by an introduction from Christian, confirming that Black Angel was made after George Lucas gave him a £25,000 grant to produce something for Empire’s theatrical run. “He read my story and commissioned it on the spot,” Christian said. As our own Nathan Mattise reported in a 2013 feature, after the negative was rediscovered, a volunteer restoration crew went to work and prepared it for public viewings at film festivals beginning that year.

Christian warned YouTube viewers to “set your clocks back 34 years,” but while Black Angel‘s pacing and content may not astound fans hoping for a blockbuster experience, the Scottish landscapes and moody setpieces have aged far better than the short film’s director lets on. The film’s influence alone may be worth a quick stream. Black Angel is where Christian showed Lucas step-printing, the technique that eventually made its mark during the lightsaber battle in Empire. From the Ars story that broke the discovery:

Christian was forced to employ some emergency techniques because there wasn’t enough initial material for Black Angel to fill the required 25-minute runtime. “So we slowed down fight scenes in it to build up the time,” Christian said. They did this through a technique called step-printing. Strategic scenes are shot at a slower film speed so action is sped up, then frames are printed at a slower speed onto the finished film. Action becomes very fluid, with individual moments seemingly smearing together with the next.

In his introduction to the film, Christian also hinted at an announcement coming June 2. Considering he previously expressed a desire to get Black Angel into the usual stream suspects and the film still hasn’t had a DVD or Blu-ray announcement yet, we wonder if that’s what we should expect. In the meantime, watch the film in its entirety below.