Black Angel: The Lost Star Wars Precursor Film

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So picture this: It’s 1980, and you’re sitting in a jampacked theater somewhere in the United Kingdom with a toy lightsaber in your hand and a bucket of popcorn in the other. Your eyes are glued to the screen as the lights go down and the film you’ve been waiting for for three agonizing years is about to finally see the light of day.

Only there is no triumphant fanfare, no aqua-green or yellow scrolling text, no starry vista. Instead, you see sweeping landscapes of emerald hills dotted with sparkling lakes. You see knights riding across a Scottish landscape on horseback, wielding swords and shields instead of sabers and blasters. You see crumbling castles and misty swamps instead of a blank snowscape.

It’s definitely a long time ago, but it’s not a galaxy far, far away.

This is what a select few audiences outside of the United States experienced when The Empire Strikes Back premiered 35 years ago. They may have waited in anticipation for the next Star Wars installment for three years, but they’d have to wait about 25 minutes longer, thanks to a short film called Black Angel.

The film was commissioned by George Lucas as a bonus program to tie in to Episode V, but only for theaters in the U.K., Australia and Scandinavia. It was written and directed by Roger Christian, who won an Oscar for his art direction on Star Wars and went on to enjoy a fruitful career. The movie never made it to home video or DVD, and it was thought to be lost until it turned up in an archive in 2011. It’s now been restored and posted on YouTube, with an introduction by Christian.

If this all sounds a bit loopy at first, the whole affair makes a bit more sense when you watch Black Angel, which clearly exerted some influence over Episode V. The plot concerns an aging knight named Sir Maddox, who returns from the Crusades only to find his home destroyed and overrun by a mysterious illness. He encounters a beautiful maiden, who he decides to save from the clutches of the imposing figure known as the Black Angel.

The mythic parallels to Star Wars are obvious, and they only become more noticeable when you watch the short. More than a few characters in Black Angel bear a resemblance to the franchise staples. There’s a frail-looking, old traveler who recalls a tiny green Jedi, and the Black Angel himself looks like a close cousin of Darth Vader. At times, the Scottish highlands morph into a foggy swamp that reminded me of Dagobah.

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But the most striking callback is the climactic fight between Maddox and the Black Angel, which is filmed in a similar way to Luke’s fight with “Vader” in the Dagobah cave.

Christian does mention that there’s big news concerning the short that will be revealed in June, but I still encourage you to check out the movie before it leaves YouTube at the end of this month. It’s incredibly well-directed, with a strong atmosphere and gorgeous cinematography.

Although the film may seem like an oddity now, it actually functions quite well as an appetizer of archetypes before the main course served up in Empire.

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