The things fans love about The Empire Strikes Back are not things present in a live read: John Williams unbelievable score, the breathtaking action set pieces, and locations like Hoth, Dagobah and Cloud City. At a live read, it’s just the actors, the script, a few images and the audience. As a massive Star Wars fan that was my big concern going into the latest Jason Reitman Live Read, presented by Film Independent. Would The Empire Strikes Back hold up without so much of what makes it great?

The answer, as you’d expect, isn’t that straightforward.

Below, read all about The Empire Strikes Back Live Read which not only featured Ellen Page as Han Solo and Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker, but also Mark Hamill in a special appearance reading the Emperor, Boba Fett and Obi-wan Kenobi roles.

All images by Araya Diaz, courtesy of Wireimage and Film Independent.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"


Before the movie began, Reitman explained how this script was a hybrid of the original script infused some well-known additions made into the final film. So there were a few deleted scenes, added dialogue and more. He also revealed, for the first time ever at a live read, he’d be doing a role: R2-D2.

The cast, most of which had already been announced, was introduced:

  • Aaron Paul as Luke Skywalker
  • Ellen Page as Han Solo
  • Jessica Alba as Princess Leia
  • J.K. Simmons as Darth Vader
  • Stephen Merchant as C3P0
  • Dennis Haysbert as Lando Calrissian
  • Kevin Pollack as Yoda

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

Simmons was introduced last, and escorted through the crowd, surrounded by Stormtroopers with the Imperial March playing. Very cool.

But Reitman said he felt the cast wasn’t complete. He was missing someone. So a chair was brought out and Rainn Wilson was revealed to be playing Chewbacca. And only Chewbacca.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

But there was still a few major roles missing. The final addition to the cast was — cue dramatic pause — Mark Hamill as the Emperor and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The crowd predictably leapt out of their seats in crazy applause as the original Luke entered, hugged Aaron Paul and shook everyone else’s hand. It was time to read The Empire Strikes Back.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"


As you know, the film begins on Hoth with Luke Skywalker riding his Tauntaun. The script describes the animal as a “nervous lizard,” which made the crowd laugh hard. At the start, you could tell each actor was kind of flirting with what to do with their role. As Luke, Paul’s delivery was direct. Confident. Page as Solo was similar. Not cocky and comfortable, just simple and straightforward. When Han tells Leia he’s going to leave in the Rebel Base, the script has a bunch of other lines about Bounty Hunters before Han calls Leia “as cold as this planet.” Ouch.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

While those actors got comfortable in their roles, Stephen Merchant jumped right in. From the first line, it was like he was born to play C-3P0. His accented, high-pitched fast delivery was very similar to Anthony Daniels’ performance, but with a little more pizzaz. Through the very end of the read, Merchant got big laughs with every line, aided by the fact that 3P0 has more comic moments in the script than the final film.

JK Simmons was just as effective. Once Darth Vader is introduced on his Star Destroyer, Simmons almost willed his deep, staccato voice into the microphone, creating the menacing presence that is Darth Vader.

One big change in this version of the screenplay was that, when Luke is captured by the Wampa, Obi-Wan’s voice suggests he “think the saber into your hand.” Luke keeps saying, “Relax” to himself as he gets ready to use the Force. Once he escapes the cave and Han finds him, there’s also bit more interaction before Han cuts open the Tauntaun. Han slaps Luke and tells him it’s not his time to die, it’s an interesting change to the scene.

Film Independent Live Read: "The Empire Strikes Back"

Eventually, the Hoth battle begins and, as would happen a lot over the course of the evening, it became the Jason Reitman show. The director reads all stage directions in these readings and there are many in The Empire Strikes Back. Especially in the action scenes, which are pretty meticulously written. Occasionally, there’s a line thrown in from Luke or one of the gunners (of which Kevin Pollack voiced most as giddy school boys.) but for the most part it was rapid fire reading about the Imperial Walkers, tow cables and more. Another cool note, the falling walker is described as a “locomotive on stilts.”

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