The Empire Strikes Back Saved From George Lucas

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

What if we told you the best Star Wars film ever made was very nearly ruined by the creator of the franchise? After the first movie, George Lucas famously neither wrote nor directed The Empire Strikes Back, but in retrospect, most fans still credit him with the film’s success. In reality, Lucas constantly clashed with director Irvin Kershner and writer Lawrence Kasdan, and the fact that they kept overriding what Lucas wanted to do with the movie played a huge role in making this sequel such a critical and commercial success.

George Lucas Was Brushed Aside

To understand why George Lucas might have clashed so much with the director and writer of this legendary sequel, you need to understand more about the Star Wars creator’s directorial style. At a press conference for The Force Awakens, Princess Leia actor Carrie Fisher revealed that the only directions she recalled Lucas giving to his actors in A New Hope were “faster” and “more intense!” That approach may have worked well for the first Star Wars movie (a film legendarily saved in post-production by editors such as Marcia Lucas, George’s ex-wife), but it nearly killed The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Is Not Flash Gordon

For example, the Star Wars creator really wanted The Empire Strikes Back to have the fast pace of the Flash Gordon serials he loved as a kid. That may sound fun on paper (after all, the franchise is full of awesome action moments), but those serials were notoriously short on one of the things Star Wars does best: character development. Both director Irvish Kershner and writer Lawrence Kasdan wanted to add plenty of character development to The Empire Strikes Back, and this led to frequent clashes with Lucas.

The Best Parts Of Empire Strikes Back Almost Never Happened

Kershner is a slow and methodical director (one of the main reasons that The Empire Strikes Back blew past deadlines and went way over budget), but that worked out well because it led to the sequel film having a slower pace that gave us great scenes of character development, including Luke Skywalker’s iconic scenes with Jedi mentor Yoda and Han Solo’s burgeoning romance with Leia. 

The Perfect Character Moment

star wars quote

Speaking of that romance, Han Solo’s response to Leia’s declaration of “I love you” was originally “I love you, too.” Ford didn’t like it and ad-libbed the now-famous line “I know,” which Kershner (rightfully) thought was absolutely perfect for the character, but George Lucas fought him on this decision. He didn’t relent until they held test screenings where audiences were overwhelmingly positive about the ad-libbed line.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark Influenced Empire Strikes Back

raiders of the lost ark

Before he came to Star Wars, Lawrence Kasdan worked on the very character-centric film Raiders of the Lost Ark. When he started writing Empire Strikes Back from a previous draft written by George Lucas, Kasdan thought much of it was terrible and worked hard to add more complexity and characterization to the film.

During filming, he shared Kershner’s concerns that Lucas was more focused on moving the plot forward and meeting deadlines (“faster” and “more intense” reared its ugly head once more). Still, he and the director were adamant that the film needed a slower pace, allowing the story and characterization to breathe.

George Lucas Is A Creative Visionary That Needs An Editor

None of this is meant to detract from the brilliance of George Lucas: without his creativity and vision, we would never have the amazing pop culture gift that is Star Wars. However, the full extent of that vision would have turned The Empire Strikes Back into a fast-paced mess of a movie with none of the characterization we love so much. Fortunately, Lucas was constantly overridden by the film’s writer and director, learning that “always two there are” refers as much to good writing and directing teams as it does to the Sith.