One of the most iconic scenes in the original Star Wars trilogy comes toward the end of The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo is about to be lowered into a Carbonite mold and frozen alive. Watching helplessly, Princess Leia rushes to her lovers’ side, passionately telling him for the first time “I love you.” Though the original script called for Solo to respond with a generic “I love you, too,” Harrison Ford instead decided in the moment to utter what is perhaps the most famous “improvised” line of dialogue in a major feature film, saying simply “I know.”
Over the years, much has been made of this purportedly ad-libbed line. Empire director Irving Kershner himself recalled, “I regarded that scene as entirely Ford’s …” Many websites and publications have also hailed the line as a brilliant, revolutionary piece of off-the-cuff improv.
But what if the line wasn’t improv at all?
Recently, I was watching an episode of the late ’50s sci-fi anthology show One Step Beyond titled “Legacy Of Love.” The plot revolves around Marianne Darrelle (Norma Crane), a young woman who finds herself drawn to a remote seaside town she has never visited before. There, she meets and falls in love with Norman Bromley, a married man who also was inexplicably guided to the town.
Toward the end of this hokey supernatural romance, Marianne and Norman dance romantically in a scenic courtyard, discussing their doomed love. I was practically dozing off from boredom, when I heard something that made me jolt upright in my seat: Norman tells Marianne he loves her, and she responds with none other than “I know!”
Now, this episode aired in early 1960, which would make Harrison Ford 18 years old at the time—surely within the range of One Step Beyond’s audience demographic. Could it be then that Ford saw this episode at the time of its original airing, then pulled this line out of the deepest recesses of his subconscious memory during the filming of Empire Strikes Back 20 years later? It may not be the likeliest story, but it’s certainly far from impossible.
None of this is meant to minimize Harrison Ford’s amazing prowess as an actor. That being said, what made Han Solo’s “I know” great is that it flew in the face of all the stodgy, hokey, old-fashioned tropes one would expect out of doomed lovers in their final moments together. However, some of that impact is lessened when you see that very line being said decades earlier in a hopelessly stodgy, hokey, and old-fashioned romance melodrama like “Legacy of Love.”