It’s no secret that many films have been lost to the ravages of time — an estimated 90 percent of American films made before 1929 are believed to gone forever — but it’s hard to believe that an influential short film released in 1980 in front of showings of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” could be missing. But that’s exactly what happened though…until now. Wired is reporting that the original negative of “Star Wars” art director Roger Christian’s directorial debut, the 25-minute short film “Black Angel,” has been located.
The short film, which boasted George Lucas’ “financial assistance,” follows “a knight returning from the Crusades who is transported to a mystical realm where he must rescue a princess from a black knight.” After its initial run in front of the theatrical screenings of the ‘Empire’ in Europe and Australia, the short film faded into history despite influencing medieval fantasy films like “Excalibur” and “Legend” and pioneering a process known as “step-printing,” which Lucas utilized for the action scenes in his “Star Wars” sequel.
Christian couldn’t locate the original negative and it was assumed lost forever, until a Universal Studios archivist contacted Christian last winter saying, “We found this tin of film labeled ‘Black Angel,’ and it seems to point to you.” But this isn’t the first time prints of the movie have been found.
Back in 2010, Shadowlocked caught up with Christian who revealed a copy turned up in the hands of a colleague. “[Art Director] Les [Dilley] called me out of the blue after about a year and a half, two weekends ago. We were catching up and talking about ‘Black Angel’ and he said ‘Well blow me, I made a copy!’. I said ‘From what?’. He said ‘You gave me a print!’ ” Christian recalled. “I remember now that you got three prints, in the early days, from Rank. There was a bit of slight re-grading to do on his one, a few shots, so we gave him that print. So I’ve got a print of it now at my disposal. I have a half-inch copy. I regraded it – when I was doing commercials, somebody cancelled five hours of time at one of the best facilities in Los Angeles, and the owner, who’s a friend, phoned me up and said ‘Do you want to use this time?’, so I went and regraded ‘Black Angel.’ And I have a three-quarter inch of that in storage.”
While he’s talked about a possible graphic novel or feature film expansion of the short, currently the filmmaker has no concrete plans for a future release, still debating the proper venue to re-introduce his work to fans and newcomers alike. “Probably the best way is a downloadable version [but] I think it would be great to see it in a cinema again on a program with ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ That’s how it was intended to be seen.”
Seeing as the last two of the prequels are set to be re-released in 3D next year, with plans for the original trilogy to get “upgraded” to three dimensions, would Disney be willing to put an obscure older short film back in theaters to precede the inevitable theatrical re-release of ‘Empire’? What do you folks think? What’s the way you want to see the short film shown? Either way, here’s hoping “Black Angel” returns for audiences to see soon. Here’s a review of the movie from Showbiz magazine from back in the day (via Shadowlocked).