The Empire Strikes Back 34 years, 100 facts

Posted: May 21, 2014 in cinema, movies
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To celebrate the 34th anniversary of Episode V, here are a few things – 100 of ’em, actually – about the best Star Wars movie ever made.  This post is impressive… Most impressive. It will give you 100 rounds of ammunition, for the next time you challenge that guy in line at Comic-Con to a geek duel.


The original first draft of Empire was written by Leigh Brackett, a prolific science-fiction author, in 1978. The plot of the movie? Just a bit different: “While Han Solo goes in search of his Father-In-Law, Ovan Marekal, who has political ties with Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker heads to the Bog Planet where he meets a frog-like Jedi named Minch, who teaches him the ways of the force.”

The film would have opened with Luke on the ice planet (which was not called Hoth at the time), overlooking a massive ice ridge, fascinated with the scene like he was with Tatooine’s twin suns in Episode IV.

cloud-cityWe know the permanent ice planet to be called Hoth. But in the original script, Hoth was the name of the planet that houses Cloud City. And yep, Cloud City is no longer called “Cloud City.” Its name? Orbital City.

The Imperial Walker sequence and ensuing battle is not in this script.

In this version, the Empire does not attack the rebel base, ever. Instead, Wampas attack and infiltrate our heroes’ icy compound.

In Lawrence Kasdan’s draft of the script, commissioned after Brackett’s, the Wampas and the Empire attack the Rebel Base. There are images of the Wampa attack filmed floating out there somewhere. We hope and pray that footage of this sequence will be included on the Blu-ray release.

Once Luke is taken captive and turned into a frozen Wampa snack, the original draft deviates from the movie we all know and love. How so? Gone is the Jabba-Han subplot and the bounty hunters, and in its place is Solo going after his stepfather, a man named Ovan Marekal. Ovan is a huge political bigwig who’s carefully aligned himself with Darth Vader to protect the people of the galaxy. The Rebels believe that if Han can get to him, he may be able to convince him to fight against Vader, giving the otherwise helpless Rebel Army a fighting chance. Some of Ovan’s backstory would find its way into the character of Lando in the final film.

Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian was originally named Baron Lando Kadar.

In the Brackett draft, when we meet Darth Vader, he’s just kinda chillin’ in a castle (?!) on the planet of Ton Muund, a proto-Coruscant type city planet. We also meet the Emperor here for the first time, and he’s wearing a golden robe (cringe!). The Emperor tells him to go find Luke Skywalker, the man who destroyed the Death Star, because he believes he possesses the Force.

yoda1Yoda was originally a frog thing called Minch. And Minch/Yoda’s home was the Bog Planet, and not the galaxy’s Everglades equivalent known as Dagobah.

When Minch/Yoda is explaining the ways of Jedi sword fighting, he calls on Obi-Wan, who appears, and then Obi-Wan and Minch/Yoda have a lightsaber battle.

Luke’s fight with Fake “Force cave” Vader is actually a fight with a Celestial Vader! In the original story, the swamp and the cave disappear, and Luke and Vader lightsaber it out in deep space. Vader even grabs a handful of stars to show how powerful the Dark Side can be.

Hell hath no fury like a Wookiee scorned. In this version, Chewbacca gets jealous of Han and Leia spending so much time together. The Wookiee growls whenever the two are all Ross and Rachel with each other. And to add insult to injury, Threepio makes fun of the walking carpet for it.

The Bog Planet-Skywalker Family Reunion? Yep, that’s in here. Brackett wrote a scene where, before Luke leaves Swamptopia, Ben’s Force ghost introduces Luke to his father – Anakin, not Vader, and not the Mustafar’d version either. Before Luke takes off for Cloud City, his father tells him that he has a sister and that the Dark Side is bad news.

Avatar Strikes Back? Brackett wrote a scene where Solo, before going to Orbital/Cloud City, visits the planet’s surface and finds an ancient city occupied by Na’vi-like aliens called “Cloud People.” (Sigh.) These aliens are white-skinned, white-haired folk who travel by way of flying Manta Rays.

Our first insight into the Clone Wars – rather, their cloning process – would have been seen in this version of Empire. Ya see, younglings, Lando was revealed to be a Clone Trooper, using his blood to make himself new versions of, er, himself…

duelLuke uses the Cloud People to help him get to Orbital City. Once there, he and Vader engage in an epic lightsaber duel.

How epic of a lightsaber duel? Well, Luke sets his Midi-chlorians to “Badass” and unleashes the Force on Vader – Force tossing equipment off the walls at Vader and just kicking ass. The fight’s big twist? Vader is letting Luke win. The number one cause of death for Imperial officers named “Needa” tricks Luke into using his rage as a means to expose young Skywalker to the Dark Side. The evil almost consumes Luke, as this movie proves to be a study focusing on how Luke resists the Dark Side’s temptations.

But what about getting his hand chopped off? Sadly, Luke retains his limb but does escape via the Falcon, just like in the final film.


Empire is the first Star Wars movie to have an episode designation (“Episode V”) precede its title in the opening crawl. Studio execs would not let Lucas put “Episode IV” before A New Hope as they feared it would confuse the audience.

The book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays reveals that, when the script for this movie was first written, the idea of it being “Episode V” of a 6 (or 9) part serial had not yet been established, and it was at one point called “Episode II.”

kershnerAlmost Career Fail: Director Irvin Kershner originally turned down the opportunity to direct the movie, telling Lucas that he didn’t know how one could make a movie better than Star Wars.

The Writer’s Guild and Director’s Guild were enraged that Lucas had all credits reserved for the end of the movie, allowing only for the prologue scroll to be shown after the title and before the action began. They were indifferent to this in Star Wars, because no one thought that it would be successful. In Empire, the two guilds lost their minds, since they were pretty sure that this one would make some money. They tried unsuccessfully to have the movie pulled, and fined George Lucas heavily. When they tried to fine director Irvin Kershner, Lucas went ahead and paid the whole fine himself, amounting to about $250,000. Lucas then dropped his membership from both guilds and the Motion Picture Association of America.

Of all the films in the franchise, Empire uses the most stop-motion animation.

Lando was made into an African-American character after Lucas had originally considered making Han black.

tauntaunThe hardest shot in the film to pull off? For ILM effects guru Dennis Muren, it was the sky-high view of Luke, riding his tauntaun across the snow. (The scene starts at the 2:58 second mark on your DVDs. )

A full-scale model of the Millennium Falcon measured 60 feet long and 16 feet high. Not bad for the chariot of a scruffy-looking nerf herder.

The battle between the Rebels and Imperial forces on Hoth was placed into the story by Lucas in response to the Death Star assault in Star Wars. Because Empire was the second chapter in the trilogy – without a traditional final showdown ending – Lucas wanted to put some sense of epic battle in the sequel so audiences would feel the same sense of awe and entertainment the Death Star sequence delivered in the first film.

Major Bren DerlinCheers barfly and frequent Pixar voice actor John Ratzenberger had a cameo as Alliance field officer Major Bren Derlin, stationed at Hoth’s Echo Base. You may remember him as the trooper who tried to talk Han Solo out of riding off in search of a missing Luke Skywalker. “Your Tauntaun will freeze before you reach the first marker!” he shouted. To which Solo replied, “Then I’ll see you in Hell!”

This is the only Star Wars movie to have a full-sized Millennium Falcon constructed for the production. (We would sell every one of our family members to own that sucker. Every. One of ’em.)


Not only was Treat Williams uncredited for his participation in the 1980 Star Wars sequel (you won’t find his name anywhere in the credits), but the actor actually played two bit parts in the film: Echo Base trooper Jess Allashane and Cloud City trooper Jerrol Blendin.

For the scene where Han returns to the hangar bay, riding his tauntaun, someone ran across the set with a cutout of the creature, so that ILM guys could use it for reference when they added the stop-motion tauntaun in post.

wampaFor Lucas, the hardest effect to pull off was a physical one – that of the wampa monster suit. Because they couldn’t get it to look right in the Original Theatrical release, the filmmakers did not shoot the wampa with a full reveal. It was only until the Special Editions when the wampa would get his deserved big screen showcase.

Ever wonder where the sound of the tauntaun comes from? Ben “Yep, I track down sound effects for a living” Burtt used a recording of an Asian sea otter.

Another Burtt sound effect special? Using the sound of crashing waves in the mix for the sound of Hoth’s snow storms.

For Kershner, he wanted to make the closing of the shield door into an “event,” more than the script made it out to be. To achieve this, he added extra emotionality to Chewie, with that sad roar he lets out when the doors close.

When Han Solo uses Luke’s lightsaber to disembowel a tauntaun on Hoth, he became the only non-Jedi/Sith to use the weapon in the whole trilogy. It would not happen again until General Grievous used four lightsabers in Revenge of the Sith.

In the Rebel hangar on Hoth, the crates that are plainly visible contain fake snow, in case there wasn’t enough real snow. They were not needed, since the Hoth scenes were shot in Norway.

The Hoth set used by the stop-motion animators consisted of 15-20′ wide matte paintings surrounding a table built on tall legs, to allow the animators access to the set from underneath and through “trap doors.”

The snow on the ground for the stop-motion shots was made out of a variety of things, including paint balloons and carefully-placed flour.

walkersThe Empire Strikes Back animators studied the walking patterns of elephants in order to give realistic motion and movements to the film’s epic Imperial Walkers.

The tripods in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds inspired Lucas to come up with the idea of the Imperial Walkers (AT-ATs). He wanted to use these massive machines during the Hoth battle, instead of traditional tanks, in order to buck audience’s expectations and give them something new.

Rebel troops fighting in the trenches against advancing Imperial forces on Hoth were Norwegian skiers from a local search and rescue team.

You see those AT-ST Walkers during the Hoth battle? The two-legged bad boys? They were originally supposed to get more play in the film, but Lucas wanted the AT-ATs to ultimately take center stage during the battle. The AT-STs would get their due in Return of the Jedi.

When Luke magnet-cables himself to the belly of the AT-AT, Luke is actually a stop-motion figure. The cable is a physically animated cable.

Originally, when the AT-AT’s belly goes all explode-y, the Walker was supposed to collapse with its legs forward and on its backside. That was, wisely, deemed “not so much” and instead the Walker crumpled to its side.

wedgeThe character of Commander Wedge Antilles, the X-Wing pilot who helped Luke destroy the Death Star in Episode IV, was not supposed to be included. But by the time production began, Wedge had built up a cult following, so he made a little cameo in Empire.

The sound of the Walker’s blasters? It was derived from a recording of an old bi-plane’s engine.

The shot where Luke gets into his X-Wing with R2, moments before leaving Hoth for Dagobah, is the only shot from the Hoth sequence filmed in London. The rest of the Hoth scenes were filmed in Norway.

When the Rebel forces are evacuating Hoth, the announcement “The first transport is away!” was delivered by Mark Hamill.

Alec Guinness is said to have shot all of his scenes in six hours.

Guinness wasn’t enthusiastic about his role in the film. He was suffering from a severe eye infection at the time, and was still upset with Lucas over the director killing Obi-Wan in the first movie.

During the filming of the Bacta Tank sequence, where Luke is being treated for his post-wampa injuries, a massive light above the tank cracked, sending huge pieces of glass stabbing down into the water – moments before Mark Hamill was set to enter the tank for filming.


The Emperor that appears to Vader via hologram was actually a woman wearing the Sith Lord’s robe. Actor Ian McDiarmid (Palpatine) would later be added to the scene in the home video release of the Empire Special Edition. The 1997 theatrical release of the Special Edition featured the original scene, because Lucas had yet to film McDiarmid as production on Episode I had yet to start.

Dennis Muren and his effects team look creative liberties with the scene where the Falcon is trying to outrun the TIE Fighters in the asteroid belt. Muren expanded on what was written, adding the beat where the Falcon dives into a large crater and then through a narrow canyon passageway, too narrow for the TIE Fighters to maintain pursuit.

After the swamp creature spits out R2, Luke – in the original theatrical cut – says, “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good.” In the Special Edition, the line was changed to “You’re lucky you got out of there.”

When the Falcon is flying through the asteroid field, one of the floating space rocks is actually a potato.


Also in the asteroid field? A tennis shoe.

Slave ISlave I Begins. When coming up with designs for Boba Fett’s ship, the ILM gurus sought a “radical” look for Slave I. They settled on using the shape of a street lamp, taken from a post outside the ILM building.

No, we’re not making this up: If you freeze frame it during the Cloud City evacuation scene (in the original theatrical cut) you can see an actor running around with what looks like an ice cream maker.

executorThe movie introduces us for the first time to Lord Vader’s personal Star Destroyer: The Executor.

In the original film, when Vader is leaving Cloud City, the Sith lord says, “Bring my shuttle.” In the Empire Special Edition, the line has been changed to “Inform my command ship that I will be arriving shortly.”

In between shooting A New Hope and Empire, Mark Hamill was in a terrible car accident. But contrary to popular belief, according to Lucas himself on the DVD commentary, Luke’s violent encounter with the Wampa was always in the script and not added to account for the scars on Hamill’s face.

scene-deletedKeen observers may recall seeing evidence of the deleted “Wampas Attack the Rebel Base” scene in an early trailer for the movie. In the trailer, there is a quick beat featuring C-3P0 tearing a decal off a door where the Rebels have trapped the wampas. C-3P0 removes the warning sticker in the hopes that Imperial soldiers will open the door and become wampa chow.

It was so cold during the Hoth sequences, that the “breath” that came out of the life-size tauntaun’s nose always froze.

Scenes set on the planet Hoth were actually shot in Norway. At a recent charity screening of Empire, Harrison Ford revealed that it was snowing so badly and was so cold, that some moments during the tauntaun rescue scene were shot with cameras placed looking out from the back door of the cast and crew’s hotel.

r2d2Sixteen different models of R2-D2 were used in filming. Two were remote-controlled, and three were dummy versions which could be damaged.

In many of Princess Leia’s scenes with Han Solo, actress Carrie Fisher stood on a box. She was a foot or so shorter than Harrison Ford, and Lucas feared that the difference in height might make her seem weaker.

Right before he took a dip into the carbonite freezing chamber, Solo was supposed to say “Just remember that because I’ll be back” in response to Leia’s “I love you”, in the original draft of the script. Han’s line was later changed to “I love you, too,” according to both the annotated script and an interview with Kershner. But no one liked Solo’s response, especially Harrison Ford, who improvised “I know” instead. Lucas was not a fan of Ford’s improv.

By the end of the shoot, over 120 hours of film was used.

Two actors in this film also appear in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Admiral Ozzel, who gets Force choked by Vader moments before the Battle of Hoth, is played by Michael Sheard, who also played Hitler in Last Crusade. Julian Glover, who plays General Veers during the Imperial Walker sequence, plays Walter “I Want The Holy Grail!” Donovan, Indy’s main baddie.

Rebel Alliance General Rieekan says, “Send Rogues 10 and 11 to Sector 38.” This is a subtle reference to Lucas’s THX 1138.

vaderStar Wars introduced us to Darth Vader, but we didn’t know just what this guy was – A robot? A man? To help clarify that, and to set up story threads for the third film, director Kershner came up with the idea to show Vader in his private meditation chamber, sans helmet, and show that Vader is indeed human, albeit with terrible scarring on his head.

Empire sports the lowest body count in the entire film series: 30.

Ben Burtt originally doubted the pulp-y sound of the film’s title when George Lucas first presented it to him. (Get it? The sound guy didn’t like how the title sounded.)

The scene in which a swamp creature grabs R2-D2 was filmed in George Lucas’ unfinished swimming pool.


While the uninitiated may disagree, The Empire Strikes Back did not introduce everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Boba Fett, to the mainstream masses. The character actually appeared two years prior, albeit in an animated form, in the much-maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.

The original-issue toy tauntaun, made so that action figures could “sit” atop its back, came with a closed belly. However, it was later released with a pliable membrane so kids could recreate the scene from the film where Han Solo slides a hypothermic Luke Skywalker into the creature’s stomach (after cutting it open with a lightsaber) in order to keep his friend from freezing.


Rocket-firing Boba Fett: Fact or fiction? An action figure of the infamous bounty hunter was originally made available through a mail-in offer printed on cards from the second wave of Star Wars action figures (with four proofs-of-purchase!). The offer was printed showing a rocket firing out of the figure’s backpack at the push of a button. The concept was scuttled, however, when reports of children being injured by firing projectiles from another line surfaced. The result: The rocket was permanently glued into the backpack and no “firing” Fetts ever made their way to consumers.

More Boba Fett trivia: Kenner and Lucasfilm used the mystery surrounding the character to help market the film. The toy company made it possible for kids to send in proofs-of-purchases from other toys in order to receive the Fett figure when it was available.

The very first The Empire Strikes Back action figure made available to the general public was that of reptilian bounty hunter Bossk. Diehards could get the toy early through a “secret action figure mail-in offer” printed on the back of Star Wars action figure cards (with four proofs-of-purchase).

coca-cola-posterCollectors? Start hitting up your folks for some cash. In 1980, Coca-Cola released a now-very rare promotional poster featuring a recreation of Han’s carbonite freezing (above) with Lord Vader’s dome presiding over it. This piece of win will run you $350.

The last mail-in offer for a figure from The Empire Strikes Back toy line was for bounty hunter 4-LOM and required five proofs-of-purchase.

At 17.5″ tall, 22″ long, and four” wide, the AT-AT (All Terrain Armored Transport) is the biggest – and most expensive – toy vehicle in the entire Star Wars line.

Playsets were all the rage during the hey-day of The Empire Strikes Back, offering kids a way to recreate scenes from the film itself. And while the “Imperial Attack Base” playset resembles the Alliance’s Echo Base/trench from the Hoth battle, the photo on the box depicts Rebel action figures attacking an Imperial station.

Of all the action figures in the entire Star Wars line, The Empire Strikes Back’s Yoda experienced the greatest variations. These included the figure’s skin color (which started at a very light green and got darker with subsequent releases), pet snake accessory (which was originally orange and later became brown), and cane accessory (which went from a lighter to a darker brown). The snake’s sculpting was also altered to change the way it wrapped around the action figure’s body.

Question: What is the name of the glass tube of water that Luke is put into for rehabilitation after his encounter with the Wampa? Answer: The Bacta Tank.

The original commander of The Executor was Admiral Ozzel. After his death at the Force-choking hands of Darth Vader, Admiral Piett was put in command.

Remember Rogue Two? The snow speeder pilot who locates Solo and the tauntaun sleeping bag used to keep Luke warm? His real name is Zev Senesca.

In the development of the first Boba Fett action figure, reference photos of the suit created for the Holiday Special were used.

Originally, Boba Fett was supposed to sport a flamethrower gauntlet. This weapon did not make its first appearance until Attack of the Clones, where it was sported by Jango Fett.

A few things to note about the first Super-class Star Destroyer, The Executor. This giant pizza wedge of death is 8,000 meters long (so says the Encyclopedia), or about five times the size of a normal Star Destroyer. It was presented to Vader shortly after the Battle of Yavin, where the first Death Star was destroyed, according to The Star Wars Encyclopedia.

Action figure collectors, assemble: The Luke Skywalker figure wearing Dagobah fatigues was not available in the original Kenner line. It was included in 1996, with Wave 3 of the toys.

landoLando’s our Constant.Early Lando action figures did not have white paint on his eyes or teeth. Later figures would feature the white highlights to detail the face.

Original Yoda figure delayed, it was. It was released late in the Empire’s toy run to preserve the surprise for filmgoers.

An action figure of C-3P0 was re-issued, with a new removable-limbs feature and a plastic carry net. And yes, we made our Chewie action figure carry the broken droid.

Yes, fanboys. There is a name for Han’s new Empire look: It’s called the Bespin Outfit and consists of a new blue jacket (no vest) and brown pants. Empire is the only Star Wars movie to feature the Bespin look.

Here’s the lowdown on Lobot: He is a cyborg with no emotion. The reverse Geordi LaForge visor thing he wears on his bald dome? Yeah, that sucker’s permanently fixed to his head, and it allows him to work closely with Cloud City’s computers.

Yoda’s face is a combination of the faces of Irvin Kershner and make-up artist Stuart Freeborn.


In the original Kenner line, Leia Hoth can be found with, ahem, two different hair colors: A dark brown and a lighter, more reddish color.

From Empire to Jedi, Leia’s name changed on her action figure’s card packaging. Her title and last name were added.


The End.

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