We love us some Empire Strikes Back. Seriously, who doesn’t? It was the one film that managed to overcome the sophomore slump that other sequels used to. It not only matched the quality of the original Star Wars, but many look at that entry and see it as the single best Star Wars film to date, as well as one of the best sequels ever created.
Of course, that doesn’t make the film perfect. While most of the visual effects hold up, it was still very much a product of its time, and the reality is that George Lucas and company were creating new technology and developing new processes. It was a real trailblazer on many fronts, and in a recent interview with Collider, special effects artist Dennis Muren revealed an interesting thing about some of the prints of the film back in 1980.
“Well you know we were worried about Empire because we had just moved up to Northern California and hired a lot of local people up here, and had to train them to be able to do the effects. I think there’s about maybe fifteen or twenty 70mm prints that went out that have about thirty temporary shots on them that are not finals. So we actually didn’t make it for the 70mm release, but then probably about a day later we got all those shots in, and all the rest of the prints were fine… I think some of it was in the Cloud City sequence maybe, and some of it might have been in a walker battle, the AT-ATs.”
That thought is absolutely insane nowadays. Sure, we may go to the theaters and see some films with bad visuals, but unless you’re going to an advanced screening, chances are you’re not going to see any unfinished effects. However, the reality is that today’s audiences are much more savvy to those things than most were back then, and that those lucky audience members who saw the unfinished print probably didn’t even notice.
“They saw shots, but they weren’t up to the quality that we wanted, not that anybody could tell the difference. We were told that, ‘Oh don’t worry about these, when we do the neck of the real ones the next day, and you get your shots in, we’re going to pull all those prints back, and we’ll replace them with all your perfect shots and everything.’ I don’t know if they ever did that, so they may still be out there.”
I want to see one of those prints. I wonder what these unfinished visual effects looked like, and how they would hold up today.
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