The Star Wars movie Empire Strikes Back is widely considered to be the very pinnacle of the Star Wars franchise. It blends action, tension, family drama, romance, fantasy elements, and war, and wraps it all up into a neat science fiction movie package. What could be better?
Amid all that, there are also wonderful character moments. The core triumvirate of Star Wars characters Luke, Han Solo, and Princess Leia especially have to deal with ever-mounting challenges and use them to grow. One of the best examples of this is that, while Luke is training on Dagobah with Yoda, Han and Leia are hashing out the beginnings of a difficult (and ultimately doomed) romantic relationship.
The relationship between the two grows throughout the movie, starting with Leia rejecting Han’s advances on Hoth before eventually softening on him as plot progresses. This all builds to a climax at the end of the epic action movie, when Han is taken away from Leia to be frozen in carbonite. In their last moments together, Leia tells Han that she loves him and he replies “I know.”
The moment is exquisite, working so well because – despite the threat of imminent death – Han is able to remain his arrogant-but-charming self. Without him saying it, you can also clearly see the feelings reciprocated in his eyes.
So it’s no surprise that it’s one of the definitive lines in the Star Wars original trilogy, effectively encapsulating Han Solo’s character in two words. But, as it turns out, George Lucas hated the piece of dialogue and wanted it scrapped, as revealed by the movie’s director Irvin Kershner in an interview with Vanity Fair.
The director explained “Han Solo’s response in the script was, ‘I love you, too. I shot the line, and it just didn’t seem right for the character of Han Solo. So we worked on the scene on the set. We kept trying different things and couldn’t get the right line. We were into the lunch break, and I said to Harrison try it again and just do whatever comes to mind”
That’s when Ford came up with “I know,” and the director though it was perfect. However, Lucas noticed the change, complaining that it wasn’t what was in the script. Kershner responded to Lucas, saying “‘I love you, too’ was not Han Solo[.] Han Solo was a rebel.”
In a 2010 interview with Jon Favreau, Ford himself then picked up the story and chronicled Lucas’ reaction to the new dialogue. He said “It’s fair to say [George Lucas] went apeshit. he though it was horrible, and that it’d get a bad laugh.”
Thankfully, Lucas eventually came around to the change after seeing test audience reactions to the dialogue. But, without Ford’s improvisation, we’d be without one of the best in all of Star Wars