‘Black Angel’ (Roger Christian/Athena Studios)
By Alex Ritman
Thirty-five years after it screened alongside Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, fantasy short Black Angel is getting the feature-length treatment.
Roger Christian (Nostradamus, Battlefield Earth), who won an Oscar for his set decoration work on the first Star Wars (where he, among other achievements, helped design the first-ever lightsaber), is returning to write and direct the adaptation of his first effort as a director.
“It’s my passion project, has been for 35-36 years,” Christian tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I guess ‘patience is a virtue’ is a true saying.”
Originally commissioned by George Lucas who Christian claims “hated” the short that accompanied Star Wars: A New Hope, the 25-minute long Black Angel — about a Crusade-era knight on a quest to defeat an evil force to free a captured maiden — was shot in Scotland on a shoestring budget of just $38,000, much of which the director claims was spent on “two big horses.”
Watch Christian talk about creating the first lightsaber:
But it went on to be seen as a significant influence in fantasy films, such as John Boorman’s Excaliber (1981). Adding to the overall mystery, it enjoyed only a brief time in theaters before the negatives were considered lost, only to show up again more than three decades later in 2013 in Universal’s U.S. archives, with the film screening again in various film festivals.
“It kind of happened – serendipity of the universe – as J.J. [Abrams] was about to start filming [The Force Awakens], so it became this legendary story of a lost piece of Star Wars history,” says Christian.
The feature length version of Black Angel, which is expected to go into production later this year, will have a marginally bigger budget of “around $15 million,” says Christian, and is being backed by London-based sales and distribution banner Carnaby International. “I can make a huge epic film with that,” he adds. “I’m going down and dirty, I want the audience to smell the blood and the sweat and the tears. I’ll be doing fights in mud and rain.”
And in Rutger Hauer and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lord of the Rings), it already has two swords-and-sandals favorites lined up the cast, although Christian says more and younger cast members will be announced later. “These kind of faces fit into this ancient world so well, they’re powerful actors and I need that,” he says.
The eight-week shoot will take place again in Scotland, plus Hungary, Morocco and Belgium. “They’d be hurling haggises at me if I didn’t shoot in Scotland — they kind of own Black Angel.”
Backing up the production, a 45-day crowdfunding campaign has been launched on Indiegogo that is aiming to raise $100,000, offering perks including opportunities to be an extra in the film and a week-long mentorship with the audio department in post-production. An actual two-frame film negative from Star Wars: A New Hope, given to Christian by Lucas is also up for grabs.
“It may seem a small amount, but it all helps, and I think it’s very important to build you fanbase, and that’s what it does,” Christian says.
Although Lucas commissioned the first short, he isn’t involved with the full-length version of Black Angel (Christian says he’s actually busier than ever since selling his Star Wars universe to Disney).
“But I sat with George for about an hour and went through the film, and he said you’re doing the right thing keeping it smaller, he said that was a very important lesson.”