Highlands & Islands

Maker of cult Star Wars film to return to Scotland

Scene from short film Black Angel Image copyright Roger Christian
Image caption A scene from the original Black Angel that was shot on the shores of Loch Eck in Argyll

A double Oscar-winning filmmaker is returning to Scotland to shoot scenes for a feature-length version of his 1980 cult short, Black Angel.

Roger Christian always intended to make his dark fantasy adventure, which was shown as part of screenings Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back, into a full-length movie.

But a lack of funding and little appetite for the genre among cinema audiences always seemed to be against him.

Black Angel began life in the late 1970s when Christian's friend and Star Wars' creator George Lucas handed him the opportunity to turn his idea into a 25-minute short.

Lucas's offer was in part a "thank you" for Christian's work on original Star Wars - A New Hope, for which Christian won one of his two Academy Awards for his set design.

Pulling together a small production team and with a budget of just £25,000, Christian headed to Scotland in the final months of 1979 to shoot the short.

Image copyright Roger Christian
Image caption Filming Black Angel in a swimming pool in Dunoon in 1979

Black Angel is an Arthurian tale of a knight who rescues a princess while he is returning home from a campaign.

The short film was made entirely in Scotland on a shoestring budget. The locations included Eilean Donan near Dornie, Bernera Barracks at Glenelg, Loch Eck in Argyll and a swimming pool in Dunoon, where underwater scenes were filmed.

It was shown the following year in cinemas in the UK, Scandinavia, Japan and Australia as part of screenings of The Empire Strikes Back.

Londoner Christian is now preparing to return to Scotland this autumn.

And his old haunts of Eilean Donan, the wider Lochalsh area and also Skye are on his film location wish list.

Image copyright Roger Christian
Image caption Underwater scenes were filmed in the Dunoon pool

Most of the film is being made at a studio in Budapest in Hungary where Christian and his production team have been able to take advantage of incentives to keep costs down.

But he said Black Angel cannot work without Scottish landscapes.

"I have to film in Scotland, and in late September and early October as I did the first time," says Christian.

"The quality of the natural light at that time of year in Scotland is like nothing else in the world.

"It allowed us to shoot scenes that would have required CGI, technology that was not available to us at that time."

"I have also found my Obi Wan Kenobi," adds filmmaker.

A wise and powerful wizard-like figure, Obi Wan is one of the best known characters of the Star Wars canon.

In the early films, the Jedi knight was played by Sir Alec Guinness and in more recent episodes by Ewan McGregor.

Christian says: "From Scottish legend there is a figure called Myrddin, who some people believe to be an inspiration for stories of the wizard Merlin.

"In Black Angel, the character is a wandering sorcerer, a half-god/half-man, who lives under the castle of Eilean Donan."

Image copyright Roger Christian
Image caption A photograph taken at the spot where Christian and his team stood while working out how to film Eilean Donan in 1979

Christian has written of working on Star Wars, Black Angel and other films such as Alien in his newly published memoir, Cinema's Alchemist.

In the book he tells of making weapons such as light sabres and blasters for Star Wars and also working on some of its most iconic creations, such as the Millennium Falcon space ship.

Scotland features prominently in a chapter devoted to Black Angel.

Christian said: "I went to Scotland to make Black Angel by design, rather than accident. I already knew Scotland at the time and what it had to offer."

Image copyright Roger Christian
Image caption An illustrated concept for a scene in the new Black Angel

Influencing this choice in locating the short in Scotland were the works of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, whose most famous films include Seven Samurai.

Christian says: "I wanted to make a film in the style of Kurosawa, who used epic landscapes. I knew that I could find similar landscapes in Scotland."

Several factors convinced Christian that now was the right time for a feature-length version of his cult short.

First, there was the interest in social media and film fans in the rediscovering of Black Angel in 2012 after years being lost in an archive, and subsequent screenings of it in Scotland in 2014.

Interestingly, a TV series that could have been made in Scotland but ended up using locations in Northern Ireland instead has helped Christian and his team secure investment - and a potential audience - to his new film.

"Game of Thrones has created huge interest in the fantasy genre," said Christian.

"This is the right time to be making the film."

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