Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back's Changed Ending Forced Theaters to Dry Their 35mm Prints

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back turned 40 on May 21st, and has been sharing lots of interesting information about the beloved sequel's history. We've learned about some challenges George Lucas faced while filmmaking and fans of the movie shared their favorite moments. Yesterday, the official website for the franchise shared some facts that were learned during ILM's "Empire at 40" livestream. One interesting bit of information was that the ending of the movie was changed last minute, which caused a bit of a struggle for some theaters.

"There were still changes being made after Empire was in theaters, which meant projectionists had to dry the prints," wrote. "It was the hospital ship that was added," ILM's Lorne Peterson recalled, "when Luke and Leia were on the hospital bed, you know, when he lost his hand." According to the article, they made the change because test audiences were confused about where the Millennium Falcon was in relation to the hospital ship. That means, some prints were sent to theatres still wet. "The projectionist ends up having to get a hairdryer and as it's coming off the reel they would have to dry it," ILM's Phil Tippett added.

Last week, looked back at George Lucas witnessing how the final scene played out after the film landed in select theaters. The director found a way to tweak the ending before the rest of the world saw it. The film first debuted in 70mm in more than 100 theaters on May 21, 1980, with its 35mm release not happening until June 18th. In the final scene in which Luke, Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are on the medical frigate while Lando and Chewbacca are on the Millennium Falcon, Lucas thought the geography of the sequences was confusing as it played out in that initial release in regards to where all the characters were. Lucas then contacted the film's editor and the ILM team to let them know they needed to add some shots to help clarify the sequence before the film went wide. You can head to to see the full breakdown of the slight differences between that initial 70mm release and the modifications made for its 35mm release.

What are some of your favorite interesting facts about Star Wars: The Empire Strikes back? Tell us in the comments!


The entire Skywalker Saga is currently streaming on Disney+.