Back in the days when short films were often screened before theatrical releases, a 25 minute fantasy epic called Black Angel was attached to some overseas prints of The Empire Strikes Back.
The film had been commissioned by George Lucas back in 1979 with the hope that its tone would complement the darker nature of the Star Wars sequel.
The task of creating the film fell on Roger Christian, who was an Oscar winner Best Art Direction for Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Christian was interested in trying his hand at directing, and he had wrote the script for Black Angel about a knight returning from the Crsades who finds himself in a magical realm where he must rescue a princess for the titular villain.
George Lucas was pleased with the script and the project was given the green light with a budget of $50,000. Christian had creative freedom over the project and, as per request, Lucas would be the first one to see the finished product.
Black Angel was shot in Scotland using leftover 35mm film from Empire. When Christian was told there wasn’t enough footage to meet the 25 minute requirement, he employed a technique known as ‘step-printing.’ The process creates a slow-motion effect by printing one frame repeatedly. Fans will recall that Lucas went on to use this technique for the famous Dagobah cave scene where Luke comes face to face with a vision of Darth Vader.
Pleased with the final product, Lucas showed Black Angel to Steven Spielberg, who reportedly said it was “one of the most enigmatic films’ he’d ever seen.
Black Angel was screened ahead of Empire in parts of Europe and Australia, but not in the United States. By that point, we had moved beyond showing short films ahead of theatrical releases – Unfortunately.
After it was screened, Black Angel was lost. No prints could be found anywhere until, mysteriously, a copy ended up with an archivist at Universal Studios. Christian was notified, and eventually Black Angel was digitally restored.
More than three decades after it disappeared, Black Angel was screened at the 36th Mill Valley Film Festival in California last fall and, just last week, it was screened at the Glasgow Film Festival in Scotland.
So, when can fans expect to see this film? Well, Christian is hoping to release Black Angel at some point later this year, either on Netflix or iTunes – or possibly with a re-release of The Empire Strikes Back.
Till then, you can see a few clips of the film here: