The proof that George Lucas was never satisfied with the final results of his work were confirmed in 1997 when he released the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition, adding in new visual effects that he was unable to achieve years before when the Original Trilogy first arrived, but you may be surprised to know that wasn’t the first time he added something to a Star Wars film after its release. Writing over at StarWars.com, Lucas Seastrom takes a look at the additions to The Empire Strikes Back – 40 years old on Wednesday – and scenes added in after the films premiere.
(D)uring an early public screening, Lucas “realized that the end of the film was unclear.” After Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Luke Skywalker, and friends escape Cloud City, they reunite with the rebel fleet in the depths of space. From there, Luke (with a new hand) and Leia recuperate while Lando and Chewbacca set off aboard the Millennium Falcon to rescue Han Solo. But in the original release version of Empire (in the 70mm format at about 100 theaters), the geography of this scene was confusing to Lucas’ mind.
Where were Luke and Leia in relation to Chewie and Lando? Were the heroes on the same spaceship or two different ones? If the latter, where was the Millennium Falcon in relation to the rebel medical frigate? In the rush of completing the film, the potential hazard had been overlooked, but Lucas was never one to miss an opportunity for improvement. There was a generous three-week window before Empire’s wider 35mm format release on June 18, just enough time to create three new shots.
ILM effects cameraman Ken Ralston could hardly believe the news either. He was in Los Angeles enjoying a much-needed break after months of helming the night shift during Empire’s production. When he got the news about the additions, he recalled to J.W. Rinzler that he’d said, “’That’s funny, that’s a good joke!’ But it wasn’t a joke.” Ralston was asked to meet artist Joe Johnston and George Lucas at Lucasfilm’s corporate offices near Universal City in southern California (known as the “Egg Company”) to help design the new shots, which would then be filmed at ILM’s then-headquarters in San Rafael off San Francisco Bay.
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