Black Angel was the opening act for one of the most popular films ever made, but unless you saw The Empire Strikes Back overseas you probably never heard of it.
The movie — about a weary warrior, a mystical, skeletal knight, and a damsel in distress, is not a Star Wars film, obviously. But it has Star Wars in its blood. Just glance at the evil knight, and it’s impossible not to see echoes of Darth Vader in his visage and similarities to the Tusken Raider weapon in his staff.
Short films had become a relic of the past when the Star Wars sequel opened in U.S. theaters on May 21, 1980, but in Europe and other countries around the world, shorts remained popular bonus attractions. George Lucas took a personal interest in which short played before his film, and selected a sword-and-sorcery saga written and directed by Roger Christian, who had won an Oscar for his art direction of the original Star Wars.
Master prints for Black Angel were subsequently lost, and although some lesser copies survived, Christian preferred that the movie remain fondly remembered rather than immortalized in a shabby format. But then — a clean version was discovered several years back, and the movie was refurbished and listed on iTunes … where it was still largely overlooked.
On Wednesday, Christian uploaded the restored version of Black Angel to YouTube, and after 35 years, it seems to have finally caught on. Check it out below, along with a new introduction by Christian, who explains how the short film’s dreamlike “step-printing” process on the sword fight inspired a similar presentation in Empire during Luke Skywalker’s hallucinated battle with Vader on Dagobah.