When George Lucas changed the original ending of The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars creator George Lucas has a reputation for changing his movies after the fact. For example, when the original trilogy was rereleased in the ’90s, he infamously changed an early scene with Han Solo in A New Hope, inspiring a generation of fans to wonder exactly who shot first:

And there were other little changes, like the number of CGI rocks that appear behind R2-D2. And apparently he was changing things long before that.

This week marks the 40th anniversary The Empire Strikes Back, and StarWars.com offered up some interesting insights into the movie. Apparently, Lucas requested a small thing about the ending be changed. What’s odd is that he made the request after the movie had been released to theaters.

If you don’t remember, at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, both Lando and Chewbacca fly away in the Millenium Falcon to save Han, while Luke, Leia, C3-P0, and R2-D2 remain behind on a rebel frigate. But in the original 1980 version, Lucas wasn’t convinced it was clear enough that Lando and Chewie were on a different ship than Luke and company. And he thought the distance between the two ships seemed off.

ILM general manager Tom Smith recalled a phone call he received from Lucas after the movie had been released in 70mm format to 100 theaters in the U.S. “I don’t wanna tell you this. We need some more shots for Empire.”

When ILM effects cameraman Ken Ralston found out the news, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “’That’s funny,” he said. “That’s a good joke!’ But it wasn’t a joke.”

Eventually, the team managed to construct three new shots in three weeks to fix the problem. “It was a real challenge that George had tossed us — and we wanted to show that we could do it,” said ILM’s Tom Smith. He also recalled what Lucas said when the team managed to complete the project so quickly: “Wait a minute, if you guys did this so fast, why did it take so long to all the other ones?”

You know what they say: necessity is the mother of invention!

When you consider the resounding success of The Empire Strikes Back, I’m sure all involved can appreciate Lucas’ choice to change up the ending.

Everyone’s looking back at Empire about now. Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan talked to Entertainment Weekly about what may well be the most iconic twist in movie history: the revelation that Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s father. “It blew people’s minds,” he remembered. “I have never gone to a screening of the movie where people weren’t shocked, where they didn’t gasp. I would say that was the most successful secret ever kept in movies. People were amazing about not telling other people.”

And they kept the secret by the skin of their teeth. Lucas and Kasdan even wrote fake script pages with a wholly different twist: instead of Darth Vader revealing that he was Luke’s father, he tells Luke that Obi-Wan Kenobi killed his father. Even Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) was only told of the twist moments before he filmed the scene:

[Director Irvin Kershner] pulled me aside and, and said, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you something, and I know it and George knows it, so if it leaks, we’ll know it was you.… We’re going to dub in [the line] I am your father.’ I thought, ‘Oh my God, I was as shocked as the audience would later be. This is so primal, nothing could top Darth Vader being your father.

And the secrecy worked: a British tabloid got ahold of the fake script and published the false twist. When the cast watched the movie, even the famously unflappable Harrison Ford was bowled over. “Harrison turned to me and said, ‘Hey, you didn’t f—ing tell me that,’” Hamill recalled.

If Harrison Ford is stunned, you know you did something right.

Next: Every numbered Star Wars movie, ranked worst to best

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