The untold truth of The Empire Strikes Back

Even in the Star Wars pantheon, The Empire Strikes Back stands apart. It's generally considered the best of the original trilogy, blending action with romance and mythology with elegant world-building. This is the movie that brought us everything from our first significant glimpse of Boba Fett (the Holiday Special doesn't count for a number of reasons) to Han Solo's infamous "I know" all the way to Darth Vader's revelation that he's Luke's father.

The movie is nothing less than a cinematic and cultural milestone, and it's natural to imagine that there's nothing new to learn about Empire Strikes Back. However, there are secrets about this movie hidden everywhere from the Rebel base on Hoth to Lando's beautiful Cloud City. Make sure your hyperdrive is working—you're about to go to lightspeed towards the untold truth of The Empire Strikes Back.

There was almost a Wampa army

Everyone remembers the scene when Luke encounters the Wampa. First, the creature demonstrates that Luke, hero of the Rebellion, is still very vulnerable, knocking the would-be Jedi out. Luke, in turn, demonstrates his growing powers by summoning his lightsaber via the Force, freeing himself from captivity and cutting his attacker's arm off (showing he really is a student of the Obi-Wan Kenobi school of self-defense). Afterwards, we don't see the frightening creature again. However, in earlier versions of the script, there would have been several more wampas.

Originally, Wampas were actually supposed to rampage through the Rebel base before the Empire arrives. They killed Tauntauns and soldiers alike, tore down walls, and generally made a mess of things; interestingly, they would have ended up being weaponized by the normally frightened C-3PO when he removed a warning label from a door so some unsuspecting snowtroopers would wander in and be slaughtered. For reasons ranging from special effects logistics to pacing, these scenes were cut, leaving Luke's encounter our only glimpse of these mysterious creatures.

Harrison Ford thought up his famous 'I know'

Star Wars is filled with wonderfully quotable lines, ranging from mystical encouragement ("May the Force be with you") to revelations ("No, I'm your father"). Perhaps one of the most moving comes from Han Solo. Moments before he's lowered into a pit to be frozen in carbonite, Leia finally expresses her feelings, telling Han "I love you." The dashing smuggler gives the best possible response: "I know." This has made hearts flutter for decades, and their exchange is now the stuff of romantic legend. Here's the thing, though: Harrison Ford came up with the line.

Generally speaking, Empire Strikes Back had a pretty tight script. However, Ford was given license to revise his lines at certain moments, and while you might think his version of the scene was an instant hit, you'd be dead wrong: to hear Ford tell the story, George Lucas was convinced it was inappropriate and audiences would hate it. Ford stood his ground, and Lucas went as far as to bring Ford to a test screening so the actor could see the audience's reaction. According to Ford, the crowd loved it, and just like magic (or maybe the Force), it stayed in.

George Lucas paid for the whole thing himself

By the time he started working on The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas was pretty wealthy, though nowhere near the multi-billionaire he'd become in later years—which is why it's notable that he invested a huge chunk of his relatively recent wealth in order to do something virtually unheard of, financing The Empire Strikes Back himself.

It was quite the bold move, and it gave Lucas some powerful negotiating power with 20th Century Fox. Ultimately, he worked out a deal where Fox had seven years of distribution rights for the sequel, and Lucas retained everything else (including any new merchandise). Things obviously worked out quite well for Lucas, but at the time, he was a young man who reinvested his small Star Wars fortune into a sequel many thought would end up disappointing after the stellar first film. Fortunately, it ended up being the best Star Wars movie for almost everyone…except for Lucas himself.

George Lucas thinks it's the worst Star Wars movie

Everyone has their own personal ranking of favorite Star Wars films, but The Empire Strikes Back is undeniably the consensus pick for the franchise's best entry. It's a movie that simultaneously enhances our understanding of the Force, broadens the scope of an already large universe, and makes its cast of epic heroes relatable and human. All of which makes it surprising that Lucas once declared it to be the worst installment of the saga.

At the Publicist's Guild luncheon in 2007, Lucas presented an award to Sid Ganis, who served as the publicist on Empire Strikes Back when it came out. By way of praise and introduction, Lucas told the crowd, "Sid is the reason why The Empire Strikes Back is always written about as the best of the films, when it actually was the worst one." Keep in mind that this was in 2007, so while there was no Rogue One or Force Awakens in the running, Lucas was consciously ranking Empire Strikes Back below the entirety of his much-maligned prequel trilogy.

Leia and Han were hung over when they met Lando

Despite their romantic chemistry together, there are very few times when Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher smile onscreen together during Star Wars. One of those instances came when they filmed the scene in which their characters meet Lando Calrissian, played memorably by Billy Dee Williams. However, it wasn't Williams' natural charm that made the two actors smile. According to Fisher, it was a combination of Monty Python, the Rolling Stones, and a mysterious alcohol Fisher dubbed "Tunisian table cleaner."

Fisher and Ford were hanging out one night with Python member Eric Idle, who'd recently finished filming the cult classic Life of Brian movie. Idle brought a weird alcohol he swore they'd given the extras in order to keep them energetic and motivated. The trio started drinking, and were eventually joined by the Rolling Stones, at which point it turned into an all-night party. According to Fisher, they finished the "table cleaner" and never slept, but still managed to make it to the set. As Idle had advertised, they actually felt energetic and eager to work, and she credits this weird evening with her and Ford's sunnier-than-usual dispositions in that first scene with Williams.

The Emperor was a woman

Arguably, the central character of the original Star Wars trilogy is Darth Vader, and the horror of his story is that he's been replaced with so many robot parts that there's little of the real man left. Amusingly enough, the original Star Wars trilogy is a lot like that—with a bevy of tweaks, special editions, and other changes that date back decades. Most of the attention is focused on head-scratching changes such as Greedo shooting first, but one change made to Empire Strikes Back is a bit more understandable: the Emperor is no longer played by a woman.

Ian McDiarmid has been the face of Emperor Palpatine for what feels like forever. He perfectly embodied the villain in Return of the Jedi, and reprised the role for the entirety of the Star Wars prequels, his performance a bright spot in some otherwise murky movies. However, in versions of Empire Strikes Back that younger readers may never have seen, the Emperor was different. During his brief hologram transmission to Vader, the Emperor that we see is played by Marjorie Eaton, with a male vocal dub provided by Clive Revill. Later, starting with the 2004 DVD release, McDiarmid was digitally edited in.

It drove away a founding father of Star Wars

Over the years, ardent fans have tried to understand what led to the crests of hits like A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back—and the valley of the prequels. Many names have been tossed around in an attempt to figure out which writers, producers, and directors bring out the best in Star Wars. One of the chief architects of the first two movies walked away afterwards, and he's largely been forgotten by the fandom. His name is Gary Kurtz.

Kurtz served as the producer of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but he wore many different hats as needed, from helping direct to coming up with the name for Empire Strikes Back. He was involved with bringing Star Wars to life from the very beginning, and he helped usher in two absolutely amazing movies. What drove him away from that galaxy far, far away? It turns out it was all those damn toys.

Specifically, Kurtz has spoken openly about something many Star Wars fans have griped about over the years. "I could see where things were headed…The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire," he lamented. "It's a shame." He clarified his stance at an event, saying "The emphasis on the toys, it's like the cart driving the horse … If it wasn't for that, the films would be done for their own merits. The creative team wouldn't be looking over their shoulder all the time." He left after Empire Strikes Back, and the next film was filled with toy-friendly teddy bears who ended up with a cartoon series and spinoff movies.

Darth Vader helped ruin the Darth Vader reveal

The revelation that Vader was Luke's father was as much of a surprise to most of the cast and crew as it was to audiences. Lucas really wanted to keep it under wraps, and he had something of a secret weapon: James Earl Jones had to dub in all of Vader's lines for the films, but the man inside the mask, David Prowse, spoke the dialogue on set so the cast knew when to speak, how to react, and so on. Lucas went so far as to give Prowse a fake line: during the filming of the "I am your father" scene, the line Prowse actually spoke out loud was "Obi-Wan killed your father." Lucas and director Irvin Kershner knew the secret, and they agreed to let Mark Hamill know before filming so he could properly emote. There was just one small problem: thanks to Prowse, the entire world almost found out years before the movie came out.

At the height of the original Star Wars' popularity, Prowse appeared at an event in Berkeley, California. The crowd understandably wanted gossip about the next movie, and Prowse told them Luke would find out that Vader is actually his father. This was in 1978, a full two years before Empire Strikes Back, and few plot details were absolutely set in stone. In fact, early drafts of the script submitted the same year Prowse was blabbing included Luke encountering a Force ghost of his father, indicating Vader was not Anakin. So, what was Prowse doing? Maybe he was making mock spoilers to thrill fans and ended up getting one right…which is one of the reasons he and Lucas have had bad blood for decades.

The real reason Han was frozen was contract negotiations

One of the most exciting elements of The Empire Strikes Back was that Han Solo's fate was left up in the air. We see him get frozen in carbonite, but we're also told that the process has occasionally been fatal—and his being hauled off to the alien who wanted him dead, Jabba the Hutt, seemed an ill omen for his future. Whether his friends would be able to rescue him and whether he'd even still be alive were left as surprises for Return of the Jedi. Interestingly, though, they were also surprises to George Lucas and the cast.

Harrison Ford, ever the iconoclast, hadn't signed multi-film contracts like his co-stars, and he'd vocalized concerns that he might not be up for doing another Star Wars movie. This was nothing new, as he'd previously expressed doubts that he'd return for Empire Strikes Back, but he left the filmmakers in something of a bind. How could they hedge their Han Solo bets? The carbonite freezing was a perfect way. If he came back (which, of course, Ford decided to do), they could simply thaw him out. If he decided not to, then he'd already been given a quotable sendoff.

Jim Henson Was Almost Yoda

Since his introduction in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda has been one of the most popular Star Wars characters ever created. From his weird syntax to his strange voice, Yoda has managed to captivate and delight children and adults alike for decades. Much of this stems from his amazing and memorable performance by Frank Oz. However, Oz was not actually Lucas' first choice; instead, he wanted to hire Jim Henson.

The ever-prolific Henson recommended Lucas hire Oz instead, but to hear Oz tell it, he didn't exactly win Lucas over right away. According to Oz, Lucas rejected him after he sent in a tape, and then Lucas spent a year auditioning different voices—only to conclude Oz was the best choice after all and call the veteran puppeteer while he was on his honeymoon to come back and record. History, the rest is.