Essays · Movies

The Lost Empire Strikes Back Short Film Black Angel is Now Online

By  · Published on May 13th, 2015

In his new introduction for Black Angel, writer/director Roger Christian warns us to set our expectations back by 34 years, but the short film doesn’t need any caveats. It stands up tall against modern scrutiny.

Commissioned by George Lucas, it originally debuted ahead of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, but then it was lost until 2011 when an archivist at Universal found the negative.

It must have been astonishing to be primed for the next adventure in the Star Wars universe, only to be greeted by a gorgeous, methodical story about a knight returning from The Crusades to find his ancestral home in ruins and an evil sickness plaguing the land. There’s something beautifully complementary here – two tales of fated adventurers battling against villains cloaked entirely in black. They are one soul separated by thousands of light-years.

Christian won his Oscar for art direction on Star Wars (he was nominated again for Alien), and he mentions briefly in his introduction here how his Black Angel shooting methods influenced both Lucas and Excalibur director John Boorman. Black Angel also features cinematography from Oscar-nominee Roger Pratt, who would go on to shoot Batman, several Terry Gilliam films and two Harry Potter movies. The high level they’re operating on is obvious in the visuals.

The short film itself is wondrous and fantastically atmospheric, capturing the Scottish landscape as a foggy enigma. The plot is well-worn ground, but the execution is subtle and deliberate in a way that sword-clashers typically don’t have the patience for. Again, I imagine a few minds were blown when they saw this lead into the lightsaber duels they were dying to see.

The short film’s presence online also comes with the promise for a larger announcement coming in June. Black Angel will only be available through the end of May 2015, and I assume it will disappear just in time for Christian to explain his plans for a feature-length version of the story. When you register at the project’s website, it proclaims “The Angel has returned…” so it’s not like they’re being too cagey about it. Enjoy the short film while you still can, and keep your fingers crossed for a longer reunion coming soon.

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