Wait, George Lucas Changed Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’s Ending While It Was In Theaters?

Luke in Empire Strikes Back

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It may be hard to believe, but it's been a whopping 40 years since the release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Arguably the most popular entry in the entire Skywalker Saga, George Lucas' second installment in the galaxy, far far away has been praised and emulated countless times since it hit theaters. But Lucas was nervous for his sophomore entry into the franchise, and it turns out that he actually changed the ending once Episode V hit theaters.

Given the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars website has released some insider information about the movie's development and road to theaters. That includes the new revelation that George Lucas changed the film's ending after it already hit theaters. Specifically, he wanted to ensure that audiences understood where the heroes stood in the movie's final moments.

This news comes to us from the official Star Wars website, which has been a new set of interviews for the movie's anniversary called Empire at 40. Industrial Light & Magic’s general manager Tom Smith remembers getting a call revealing that George Lucas wanted to make some last minute changes to the ending of Empire Strikes Back. But there was just one problem: early public screenings of the movie had already arrived in theaters.

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When George Lucas attended one of those screenings, he realized that Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back's final moments were a bit confusing. In it, we see Leia and Luke recovering from their ordeal on a Rebel medic ship, while Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca depart in hopes of finding Han Solo's location. But he found their locations within the Rebel fleet unclear, and insisted on some additional footage. Just three weeks away from Empire's wide release, ILM had to piece together some additional scenes featuring the ships, and revealing the more specific location of the characters.

As a reminder, you can check out the scene in question below.

Ultimately these last ditch efforts to change Empire Strikes Back worked, and the new version of the movie's ending was used in its wide theatrical release. A number of the movie's final shots were cobbled together last minute, explaining exactly where characters like Luke, Leia, and Lando were located within the rebel fleet.

While Star Wars is arguably the most popular movie franchise of all time, they're still imperfect movies that are made by people doing their best. George Lucas' colorful world enthralled audiences, and he directed the first six installments in the Skywalker Saga before eventually selling Lucasfilm to Disney. The Empire Strikes Back is an extremely successful sequel, one that many filmmakers have taken inspiration from throughout the years.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming on Disney+. Check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.