“Defining Moments” is a continuing series exploring key scenes or sequences from Lucasfilm’s many productions. It examines storytelling craft, behind-the-scenes insights, and cultural legacies from each selection. Revisit an old favorite or discover something brand new…
A Favorite Moment from The Empire Strikes Back Was a Risky Decision
Production: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Han Solo and Princess Leia had a contentious romance leading up to their fateful parting in the carbon freezing chamber. In what unit publicist Alan Arnold described as “symbolically, if not actually, [Han’s] execution,” the smuggler-turned-hero was to be frozen in carbonite, and handed over as a prize to Boba Fett. For Leia, it might’ve been the last time she saw him. Would they at last admit their feelings to each other? Leia took the risk, telling Solo, “I love you.” He responded, “I know.”
During production, it was scene 379, filmed June 21st, 1979 on Stage 5 at Elstree Studios (11 months to the day before Empire’s theatrical release). In the thick of the shoot, the situation was tense. In addition to being a film with unrivaled public anticipation, Empire was behind schedule. This key emotional scene still needed finessing. “It’s truly one of the few drama scenes in the picture,” director Irvin Kershner would later comment.
It’s truly one of the few drama scenes in the picture.
Together, Kershner and actor Harrison Ford imagined a new dynamic. Meeting briefly offset, they simplified the scripted dialogue. In response to Leia’s “I love you,” Ford initially recommended Han’s response be changed from “Just remember that, because I’ll be back,” to “Yeah, I know. Don’t worry because I’ll be back.” He then argued to refine it all the way down to a simple, “I know.” He told the director “it’s beautiful and it’s acceptable and it’s funny.”
It was a topic for press during Empire’s release in the summer of 1980. Han Solo’s “I know,” as one critic put it, was “an answer in character and delivered with just the right touch.” Harrison Ford told Rolling Stone, “I wanted the moment to have another complexion.”
The spontaneous dialogue change proved one of Lucasfilm’s boldest moments yet. It straddled humor and drama, eliciting both laughter and tears from the audience. That sense of balance, even when taking a risk, continues as a Lucasfilm trademark.