It’s been well-established that the Star Wars series takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” so how did a short film set during the Crusades come to be part of the iconic space opera’s legacy?
For decades, Black Angel was only a hazy yet indelible memory for British geeks of a certain age. The 1980 short film ran in UK theatres before screenings of The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas himself commissioned Oscar-winning set decorator Roger Christian—who probably wishes everyone would forget that he also directed the 2000 debacle Battlefield Earth—to make a short film that would show before the first Star Wars sequel. Christian had written a short fantasy script about a knight from the Crusades saved from drowning by a mysterious maiden. Lucas decided it was a perfect companion to Empire and gave him £25,000 to make it.
The 25-minute short is visually striking, deliberately paced, and more than just a little bit arthouse. "I was very influenced by [Russian filmmaker Andrei] Tarkovsky at the time," Christian says in his director's introduction to Black Angel, "and I liked the way he made films to connect to the subconscious. I attempted to do the same with Black Angel." Christian's vision for the film made a big impression on other directors as well, saying that John Boorman had his crew on the Arthurian Excalibur watch Angel as inspiration; and Lucas himself borrowed from it to shape a surreal fight sequence in Empire.
Over the years, Black Angel’s original negative went lost when Rank Laboratories, who held onto the film, went bankrupt and threw everything out. By the time the Internet came about, all that was left of Angel were vague remembrances from Star Wars nerds who were all but convinced that they had hallucinated the film.
By chance, Black Angel’s original elements were found in 2011 by archivists at Universal Pictures. Christian spent the last couple of years first restoring the film and then screening it at various festivals. This week, he put it up on YouTube with a new introduction teasing some big news to come on June 2nd.
With a new Star Wars film coming in December, is it possible that Black Angel will screen with it? Or has Christian quietly made a sequel? No matter what, it looks like this curious bit of Star Wars lore has found a new life.