If you consider yourself a Star Wars buff, then you probably think you know everything there is to know about The Empire Strikes Back. The second film in the series is widely considered to be the best of the franchise, and with the movie celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, you’d think there wouldn’t be anything left to learn about it. But you’d be wrong.
A little-known tidbit about the film has arrived courtesy of the official Star Wars website, which has been sharing old stories as part of the film’s 40th anniversary celebration. This particular story is especially mindblowing, as the site revealed that The Empire Strikes Back initially had a different ending compared to the one you know and love. That may not seem like a big deal, as movie endings are often changed during either filming or the editing process. But this original ending actually screened in theaters when the movie debuted in 1980, meaning this isn’t some alternate ending that never saw the light of day, but an honest-to-goodness original ending that was actually witnessed by the very first fans who saw the movie.
The film’s original ending screened in 70mm format at around 100 theaters, and after seeing it, George Lucas felt that the characters’ locations could have been clearer. In that first cut, it wasn’t obvious that Lando and Chewbacca were on a different ship from the rest of the characters, and so the filmmaker enlisted his team at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) to produce three new scenes that would clarify that fact prior to the movie’s wide 35mm release. The team had just three weeks to come up with the new shots — which consisted of inserting more ships and different viewpoints to show that Lando and Chewie were on the Millennium Falcon while Luke, Leia, and the Droids were on a separate ship — but they managed to pull it off through a combination of existing footage and newly-created models.
“It was a real challenge that George had tossed us — and we wanted to show that we could do it,” said former ILM manager Tom Smith, who also recalls Lucas telling him, “Wait a minute. If you guys did this so fast, why did it take so long to all the other ones?”
You can read the full story about the edits and take a look at the original sketch designs of the scenes over on the official Star Wars website.