The Iconic ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Line That Almost Didn’t Make the Movie


The Big Picture

  • “I know” defined Han Solo, setting him apart from Luke Skywalker and elevating the film’s status among fans and critics alike.
  • Brilliant collaboration between Harrison Ford and director Irv Kershner led to the iconic line making it into the movie.
  • George Lucas needed convincing on the change, but audiences loved “I know,” solidifying its place in
    Star Wars

In one of the most memorable scenes of not only The Empire Strikes Back but the entire Star Wars film series, Han Solo, smuggler and reluctant hero of the Rebel Alliance, stands shackled and defeated. Darth Vader himself is about to use Solo as a guinea pig to test a carbonite freezing technology intended for capturing Luke Skywalker. If the experiment fails, Solo will suffer an agonizing death. If successful, the technology will cryogenically freeze him for an undetermined period, perhaps never to be revived. Confronting certain doom, Solo looks to his beloved Princess Leia for comfort. She meets his silent plea with a sincere declaration, tell him “I love you” for the first time. And in that touching, heartfelt moment, Solo responded as only he could: “I know.”

Those two simple words — “I know” — helped define the character of Han Solo, further establishing him as the cool bad boy in comparison to the naive, innocent Luke Skywalker. Such exceptional dialogue elevated The Empire Strikes Back in the eyes of Star Wars fans and movie critics alike, with many considering it the best film in the series and one of the greatest sequels of all time. However, if not for a brilliant on-set collaboration between star Harrison Ford and director Irv Kershner, that now legendary line never would have made it into the movie.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

After the Rebels are overpowered by the Empire, Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training with Yoda, while his friends are pursued across the galaxy by Darth Vader and bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Release Date
June 18, 1980

124 minutes

Main Genre

The Original ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Script Needed Help

Image by TK

The smashing success of Star Wars raised the stakes for its eventual sequel. Creator George Lucas knew he had to deliver an exceptional script, so he hired screenwriter Leigh Brackett to produce the first draft. Brackett started her career as a novelist and pioneer of the space opera genre before writing the screenplays for such Hollywood classics as The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), and The Long Goodbye (1973). Sadly, Brackett died of cancer shortly after turning in her initial draft.

While he kept a few of Brackett’s concepts, including the Yoda character by a different name, Lucas ended up rewriting the script. He then turned it over to Lawrence Kasdan, who had just completed the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark, to punch up the dialogue. Kasdan’s involvement resulted in significantly improved dialogue from the first Star Wars film, which often featured clunky, stilted lines that thankfully got lost in the imaginative premise and spectacular special effects.

Despite working wonders with Lucas’s customary dialogue, even the talented Kasdan failed to write Han Solo’s iconic “I know.” In the original script, Han responds to Leia’s “I love you” with the somewhat awkward “Just remember that, ’cause I’ll be back.” Kershner recognized the missed opportunity. After shooting the original line, he tried various alternatives, hoping to find something that wouldn’t undermine the suspense of whether Han Solo would survive. Ford was the one to suggest “I know,” believing that it would add a touch of humor to the poignant scene.

Why “I Know” Is Exceptional Dialogue

Dialogue plays many critical roles in a screenplay, such as conveying information, advancing plot, and establishing a scene’s pacing. Of course, dialogue is also essential for characterization. Each character should have a distinctive voice. Young writers often struggle with their characters all sounding the same. This is usually a sign that they do not know their characters well enough. Individuals have unique backgrounds, life experiences, and personalities. Two people rarely react to the same situation in the exact same way. This should also be true for the characters in a screenplay. The words a character chooses to express their thoughts and emotions reveal who they are and create their unique voice. Luke Skywalker would never respond to an “I love you” with “I know.” Only Han Solo would say something that flippant in such a dramatic moment. Ford understood this because he knew his character. And because he chose those words, the audience knew his character.

“I know” is effective because it avoids the obvious. When writing dialogue, always strive to stay one step ahead of the audience. If moviegoers can hear the lines in their heads before hearing them on the screen, then the screenwriter isn’t doing their job. The obvious reply to an “I love you” is the breathtakingly boring “I love you, too.” That’s fine for a first draft. But writing is revision. Eliminating the obvious and staying one step ahead of the audience pulls them into the story and enhances their emotional experience. Han Solo’s “I know” does just that, surprising audiences with a hint of humor and bravado in the face of death.

George Lucas Needed Convincing on This ‘Empire’ Change

​Even though Harrison Ford and Irv Kershner knew they had struck gold with “I know,” George Lucas was not happy about such a significant change to the script. ​Lucas feared that audiences would laugh, making a mockery of the whole thing. ​​​​Kershner fought for the new line, arguing that it perfectly captured Han Solo’s rebellious nature.

It took some convincing, but Lucas ultimately agreed to hold two public screenings, one with “I know” and one with the original line. During the first screening, audience members did indeed laugh at “I know,” but they made a point of telling Lucas afterward how much they loved the line and how well it worked. Lucas canceled the second screening, and the rest is history.

Star Wars fans’ reverence for The Empire Strikes Back is rooted in its splendid script. The film is loaded with well-crafted scenes, such as the evil Empire’s thrilling assault on the ice planet Hoth, Luke Skywalker’s Jedi training with Yoda in the murky swamps of Dagobah, and Darth Vader severing Luke’s hand in a demented display of paternal pride. Yet, in a screenplay full of dazzling action scenes and groundbreaking special effects, two simple words from Han Solo steal the show, and they weren’t even in the script. The Empire Strikes Back is a wonderful example of why writers everywhere should have only one response when reminded about the importance of revisions: “I know.”

The Empire Strikes Back is available for streaming on Disney+ in the U.S.



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