It's a mythic piece of lost-and-found Star Wars history. Commissioned by George Lucas and exhibited before Australian and British screenings of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, the short film Black Angel was a hit. Then it mysteriously went missing. Black Angel was the directorial debut of Academy Award winner Roger Christian, who created sets and props for Star Wars: A New Hope, Alien and Life of Brian. After nearly 35 years, his lost negatives turned up in the archives of Universal Studios and were digitally remastered. Today, a full-length feature is in the works, funded in part by an Indiegogo campaign. Christian spoke to The Globe and Mail about Black Angel's long-delayed, epic return.
Your $100,000 Indiegogo goal has made more than $93,000 so far. [The goal has been reached since this interview.] What do you make of that?
There's a lot of excitement for the film. It's important to expose it through crowdfunding to build a fan base and audience as you go. [It] also helps to create the vision I want. I set out very clearly to go back to the way that Star Wars and Alien was made. I like the reality of these films. This is what is missing from today's cinema. It's also what the audience is telling me is missing. They ask me, "If you could have done Star Wars with CGI would you have done it?" No. I'm staying down and dirty, on location, like the first Star Wars was made. I want the audience to experience blood, sweat and tears, to be with our hero every inch of the way, because those are the films that stay with us.
Do you think Hollywood overdoes it with CGI?
I like to say the toy box is open: whatever you can imagine, you can do it. We've turned that technological corner, which is amazing. I love these big films, but there's something about [a director like Steven] Spielberg who limits himself to no more than 75 CGI shots for a film like Jurassic Park. He made it real. I'm not against CGI, I have to use it for a flying demon in Black Angel, but I do think it's left the audience behind. There's too much reliance on it to tell the story. People are more concerned about CGI than the actual drama and character in their films. I love what's organic, that visceral quality.
The tradition of short films preceding a feature has all but disappeared. Do you think this is a lost opportunity for projects like yours to find an audience? Any advice to aspiring directors who don't happen to be friends with George Lucas?
Making a short film is the best learning tool there is, but now I think with YouTube and Vimeo and other channels there is a new opportunity for people to make their work. Shorts got me launched, enabled me to practise my craft before going into the big world of feature films. But my advice is not to let anyone tell you that you can't. You can. You can make a film on your iPhone. Heck, you can edit it on your iPhone. What matters is the story – the content, the drama, the deeply subconscious things that will make us connect to it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.