I remember The Empire Strikes Back premiere in 1980 like it was yesterday. I stood in line outside the AVCO Westwood for hours waiting to see the second chapter to the Lucasian epic. It was as magical as the first, and as everyone will tell you, it was even better (much to Lucas’ chagrin).
But what I missed was a medieval short film that showed with the film in United Kingdom, Australia, and Scandinavia. Black Angel would have a unique place in the Star Wars legend … mostly because it disappeared shortly after The Empire Strikes Back opened. But now, it’s been found, and director Roger Christian couldn’t be happier.
The film is a polar opposite to the high tech sci-fi epic that is Empire, but George Lucas wanted it that way. Talking to his New Hope art director, Roger Christian, Lucas said he wanted a medieval tale to show before Empire and gave Christian £25,000 to do it (it’s the equivalent to nearly $140,000 U.S. today).
So, with a small team of actors and crew, some costumes, and a VW micro bus, Christian took off to his native Scotland to tell the tale that became known as Black Angel, a 25-minute story starring Tony Vogel as a knight returning from the crusades, and sacrificing himself to a paranormal spirit to save a local child.
It’s got the look of a very dark and serious Monty Python and the Holy Grail kind of story, and Christian tells the tale well. So well in fact, that it inspired John Borman to make Excalibur… and I can see why, it’s got the same vibe.
The film did prove as a springboard, however, as Christian would go on to direct the box office bomb Battlefield Earth, Nostradamus, Stranded, and Prisoners of the Sun. He also was 2nd Unit Director on two other Star Wars films, Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace.
But the real epic of Christian’s story is what happened to the original negative of Black Angel after it premiered with The Empire Strikes Back. The story goes that the negative vanished when the post-house went bankrupt, and it would was relegated to a piece of Star Wars trivia, almost a myth.
That is, until a few years ago when a print reappeared and was showcased at a few local film festivals. Now it’s been remastered and put on YouTube for everyone to enjoy. Christian also hints that there’s an announcement coming on June 2nd that all Star Wars fans should be ready for.
Could there be a sequel “awakening?”