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Watch the once-lost short film that ran before The Empire Strikes Back

Watch the once-lost short film that ran before The Empire Strikes Back

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Black Angel almost slipped into movie folklore. The 25-minute short film, directed by Empire Strikes Back art director Roger Christian, was played before the fifth Star Wars episode when Lucas' movie opened in Europe in 1980. While Star Wars went on to become a cultural juggernaut, the original prints for Black Angel were lost. Now, 35 years after it disappeared from movie theaters, Black Angel has arrived on YouTube.

The prints for the movie were thought lost

The movie, filmed among in the ruined castles and rolling hills of Scotland, tells the story of ageing knight Sir Maddox on his return from the Crusades. Unable to find his family, Maddox has visions of a woman being held captive by a skull-faced, cobweb-covered black knight. The short film culminates in a dreamlike battle between the weary Maddox and the implacable knight, who appears dark as death itself in a lush forest clearing. There's an easy parallel between Black Angel and the Star Wars movie it preceded — both feature hand-to-hand combat against silent figures in dark robes, filmed using a process called "step-printing" that gives the action a trippy vibe.

The movie's been available on iTunes for a while, but this new YouTube release makes it easier than ever to see a slice of film history for free, and in HD. Christian, who believed he only had sub-par versions available after the loss of the original prints, had preferred to let Black Angel fade into memory than release a poor-quality version of his movie. With his work still evocative and unsettling after three-and-a-half decades, I'm glad he brought it back.