Although there’s some scary stuff in them, the Star Wars movies have long had a reputation for being family-friendly. The darker side of the galaxy far, far away was perhaps never on display more than in 1980's The Empire Strikes Back. The original Star Wars got fans used to the idea that the good guys will always triumph in the end, no matter the odds. But The Empire Strikes Back turned that notion on its head. After being tortured, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and abducted by the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Luke Skywalker abandons his Jedi training to save his captured friends, only to lose the battle (and a hand) to Darth Vader. And of course, there was that huge reveal that Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke’s father.
All in all, it’s up there as one of the darkest endings of any Star Wars film. But according to Luke Skywalker himself, actor Mark Hamill, The Empire Strikes Back originally had an even more “downbeat ending.”
From the sound of things, the studio was concerned about the tone of the film’s final moments, and encouraged an extra scene to “reassure the audience” that all was not lost for our heroes.
Hamill recently confirmed this long-running rumor on Twitter. When asked whether the final scene of The Empire Strikes Back was a re-shoot, Hamill clarified that "it wasn't a 're-shoot,' it was an entirely added scene," which was shot four months after filming had ended. He noted that the studio was "Concerned about the downbeat ending and thorough defeat of the protagonists [and] wanted to add an uplifting moment of hope and rejuvenation to reassure the audience."
The scene in question is the one where Luke, Leia, C-3P0, and R2-D2 regroup in a ship’s medbay following the devastating events on Bespin. Luke tests out his new robotic hand while he and Leia hatch a plan with Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca to rescue Han Solo from his carbonite imprisonment. It gives the audience a glimmer of hope that even after getting beaten by the bad guys, Luke and company are already laying the groundwork for their comeback.
For most fans, these brief few moments did reassure them that the game wasn't over yet. The scene has resonated with audiences for decades, so the studio clearly made the right decision.
Speaking of dark endings: Another Star Wars film that had a pretty dark ending was Revenge of the Sith, which ended with Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) becoming Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) going into hiding on Tatooine. The story of those brothers-turned-bitter-enemies will be explored further in Obi-Wan Kenobi, the limited series coming to Disney+ on May 25.