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Fascinating Facts From ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ On Its 35th Anniversary

When it was released almost exactly 35 years ago in 1980, The Empire Strikes Back was actually met with the most mixed reviews of the initial trilogy. Over time, however, it’s become the critic and fan favorite. Sure, everyone knows the paternity twist now, but it’s still one of the greatest reveals in film history.

Director Irvin Kershner took the bones from A New Hope and truly fleshed them out to their full potential. Luke continued his transition from whiny farm boy who just wanted to go to the Tosche Station to pick up some power converters, to tragic hero with a heaping dose of daddy issues.

The evolution of Han Solo from scruffy scalawag to Rebel sympathizer amplified, and Leia continued to lead the Rebels in their seemingly endless quest to undermine the Empire. Two of the trilogies’ coolest characters, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett, were introduced. (OK, Boba Fett was in the Christmas Special, but does that really count?)

Kershner left everyone in crisis in the end: Han frozen in carbonite and shipped off to a notorious crime lord, Luke maimed, and the Rebels scattered. Fans agonized for three years before they were given any resolution. As fans eagerly await a return to the Star Wars universe, let’s revisit some behind-the-scenes facts and trivia behind one of science fiction’s greatest achievements. 

Harrison Ford ad-libbed “I know.” 

The original script had the more traditional response of “I love you, too,” but Kershner and Harrison Ford didn’t think the line worked at all. Han was a rebel, and that was not a rebel’s love confession. So, Ford tried out the cocky yet romantic “I know,” and Kershner knew the line worked. They ran it by George Lucas, writer and executive producer, who hated it. However, fan reception was very positive, so the iconic line was kept.

Yoda was almost a frog called Minch.

YES. In an early draft of the Empire script, Yoda was “Minch Yoda,” a frog-like creature who lived on Bog Planet instead of Dagobah. There was also an intended lightsaber battle between Minch and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The insane acrobatics in Attack of the Clones seem pretty reasonable now, right?

George Lucas chose to bankroll production himself to avoid studio interference.

George Lucas
Getty Image

He spent $33 million of his own money, a combination of profits from A New Hope and a loan, to finance Empire to maintain creative control. Luckily, his gamble paid off, and Lucas rode a train of money all the way back to Skywalker Ranch.

Darth Vader almost had a space castle.

Vader’s space castle probably would have been awesome. Sure, it seems like overkill when he’s already got a Death Star, but a fortress with lava and evil pet gargoyles sounds pretty cool. Luckily for us, Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Maz Katana, has a space fortress in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so the dream is not completely dead.

Empire was the only Star Wars film to have a full-sized model of the Millennium Falcon.

The Falcon was built in production for scenes in the Hoth hangar. It was 60 feet long and 16 feet high. How many fan tears have been shed over not being able to pilot the iconic ship?

Luke’s journey toward being a Jedi knight could have been even worse. 

In an early version of the script, Luke would fail in an attempt to use the Force to stop an attack from some ice monsters. Han was also supposed to rub salt in the wound by informing him that he “would never be a Jedi knight.” This seems unnecessarily cruel and out of character, so it was definitely for the best that it was cut.

Han Solo was the only non-Jedi or Sith in the original trilogy to wield a lightsaber. 

Han may have preferred a good blaster to hokey religions and ancient weapons, but a lightsaber gets the job done when they have to sleep in a tauntaun to hide from the elements on Hoth. Sure, he didn’t use it in a fight, but it still counts.

The story that Lucas added in the Wampa fight to account for Mark Hamill’s scars is a myth.

According to legendsrevealed.com, Mark Hamill was involved in a traumatic car accident, leaving some facial scarring. Popular consensus is that George Lucas included the Wampa attack into the script to account for Hamill’s scars, but this is untrue. The scene in the cave was already written before the accident. Lucas himself confirms this in the DVD commentary.

Darth Vader was not always intended to be Luke’s father. 

Leigh Brackett’s first script did not have the Skywalker paternity plot twist. Luke was going to meet up with his father later, who would administer the oath of the Jedi with the help of Minch Yoda and Ben Kenobi. With this plot line, the Luke-Leia-Han love triangle would be a much bigger deal. Thankfully, this was cut when they reconfigured the Skywalker family tree.

(Via Vanity Fair,  YouTube,  ign.com, inafarawaygalaxy.com,  io9.com and hitfix.com.)

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